Left-hander Eric Stout had to make a choice. The Cubs and Royals held pre-draft workouts on the same day leading up to the 2014 MLB Draft.
“I told [the Royals], ‘I’m going to Wrigley, I have to go to Wrigley,” recalled Stout, a Glen Ellyn native. “And they ended up still picking me, which I’m blessed that I had that opportunity as well.”
It rained during the workout, so Stout didn’t get a chance to pitch off the Wrigley Field mound, a lifelong dream, back then. He’s looking at another chance now, as the Cubs open a four-game series against the Padres.
The Cubs selected Stout’s contract from Triple-A Iowa on Monday, while in need of a reliever who could throw multiple innings. In a corresponding move, they designated left-handed reliever Sean Newcomb for assignment.
“I would probably say it’s better than my first call-up with the Royals in 2018,” Stout said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.”
Stout hasn’t pitched in the majors since his debut season four years ago, when he appeared in three games. He spent some time in the Reds’ and Marlins’ organizations, independent ball, and Winter League in Puerto Rico, before signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs in March.
“I credit a lot to my family and my support staff,” Stout said. “My dad – I had a lot of nights where I thought I was done playing, and he pushed me to keep going. So, stuff like that makes me a little bit emotional.”
Stout also added to his game this spring, changing his slider grip.
“That’s definitely, I felt like, put me on the map,” Stout said.
Cubs assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos was behind the switch. Moskos had worked with Stout at Driveline Baseball, so when he heard the lefty was going to be in minor league camp with the Cubs, he invited him to dinner in Arizona.
At one point, the conversation turned to Stout’s slider.
“I’ve seen over his career over the years that his slider was somewhat inconsistent movement-wise,” Moskos said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. “And he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t really trust it. I don’t have a ton of confidence in it.'”
Stout’s curve ball, on the other hand, he could “grip it and rip it.” That gave Moskos the idea. A good curveball is a “requirement,” as Moskos put it, for a sweeper.
The steps for adding a pitch or changing a grip varies. But instead of a more common process of gradually integrating it from catch play to the bullpen and finally into games, the new slider clicked for Stout almost immediately.
“The next day in spring training, I threw it, and it was just kind of like, ‘Whoa, that actually moves a little bit,'” Stout said. “And then just over the last two and a half months in Iowa, developing it, trying to throw more for a strike, back door, back foot to righties.”
It’s now the secondary pitch Stout goes to most often, Moskos said. And it consistently generates whiffs.
“The big thing for him is he’s found something that he has confidence in, he’s comfortable with,” Moskos said. “And that’s really all that I can try to do for him, is just give him weapons to help him have confidence in what he’s doing.”
Stout has parlayed that confidence and success into another shot in the big leagues, with his hometown team.
“When you hear a name keep popping up that’s not on the 40-man [roster],” Cubs manager David Ross said of recent roster move conversations, “you know he’s pitching pretty good.”
Stout has a full contingent of family and friends, including his 91-year-old grandmother who hasn’t had the chance to see Stout pitch since college, planning to attend the game against the Padres on Monday.