GENEVA – Pierce Johnson playfully mimicked the South African accent of fellow Cougars right-hander Tayler Scott this week, dropping a broad, “Ello, Taylaa,” as Scott walked past.
Scott returned Johnson’s smile, and that was that. It won’t be their last such encounter this season.
Assimilating with teammates has come easily since Scott left his family to play Arizona high school baseball four years ago. He realizes ascending the parent Cubs’ minor league system likely won’t be so seamless, but is greeting his first full professional season just as openly.
“Great guy. Good character. Awesome guy to have in the clubhouse,” Johnson said.
Call that distinct brogue a signing bonus.
The Cubs drafted Scott out of Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the fifth round in 2011 and began the hopeful process of grooming him for success. Leading the rotation alongside Johnson, a 2012 first-round pick, Scott went 5-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 15 starts for Short-A Boise last season, helping the Hawks advance to the Northwest League championship series.
A soccer forward for various select clubs as a child in Roodeport, South Africa, Scott began playing baseball recreationally when he was 10. He soon learned he liked baseball better. His parents had a hunch about what that eventually would mean.
“Playing there and getting started, I knew if I wanted to pursue this, I have to go to America. That’s where baseball is,” Scott said. “So we looked up on the Internet, saw a couple camps and decided to go there. And that’s pretty much how it wound up happening.”
Scott was 14 when he traveled to Syracuse, N.Y., and the University of Southern California for separate camps in the summer. At USC, former major league left-hander and noted pitching guru Tom House marveled at Scott’s velocity and raw talent and told his parents the best course of action – if Scott were serious about a possible career – was to send him to an American high school.
The Scotts followed through less than two years later, as Tayler arrived in Arizona midway through his sophomore year of high school. He brings a low-90s fastball, slider and sinker for Cubs coaches to mold, and is eager to start meeting the projections several scouts have set.
Working in foreign conditions (read: cold, wet weather) in both his 2013 starts to date, Scott debuted with a six-inning no-decision against Quad Cities on April 5, spacing one run, four hits and six strikeouts. He wasn’t as sharp on Wednesday, taking the loss after allowing four runs and three hits while walking five Clinton batters in two innings.
“You know, it’s a learning process. You have to understand that we’re here to learn baseball just as much as pitching,” Cougars pitching coach Ron Villone said.
“Tayler, he’s a good athlete and he’s a smart young man. I think he’s going to learn a lot from himself this year.”
Scott already has found his pitches move better in cooler conditions. He may or may not have been sly with that information while visiting with countryman and Clinton righty Dylan Unsworth this week.
Unsworth, who sputtered during Monday’s start against the Cougars, knew Scott casually growing up. These days, they’re corresponding regularly while charting the pursuits of fellow South Africans in pro ball. Scott said there were seven at his last check, with Altoona, Pa. (Double-A PIttsburgh Pirates) shortstop Gift Ngoepe among the most prominent.
The Cubs politely declined Scott’s opportunity at some potential TV time this spring. South Africa inquired about including Scott on its World Baseball Classic roster, but the Cubs didn’t want to compromise Scott’s season innings limit.
Either way, Scott’s teammates are talking about him. They hope “Taylaa” doesn’t mind.
“We just give him a hard time, mostly, about his accent,” Johnson said. “Just because we all wish we had one, honestly.”
Cougars game postponed
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Friday’s doubleheader between the Cougars and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers has been postponed because of snow at Time Warner Cable Field. The Cougars and Timber Rattlers will make up the contests as part of doubleheaders at 1:05 p.m. today and at 1:05 p.m. Sunday.
The Cougars will play two seven-inning contests each day with their pitching staffs to be determined. Right-hander Jose Arias (0-0) was the scheduled starter for the Cougars on Friday in game one while right-hander Ian Dickson was supposed to pitch the second ballgame.
Wisconsin will likely throw right-hander Tyler Wagner in game one today and southpaw Mike Strong in the second contest.