CHICAGO -- Gray Fenter let out a laugh when asked on Thursday if he knows much about the Chicago Cubs. His reaction was not about the team, rather it came from knowing how his circle will be responding to the news that he is now with the North Siders after being picked in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
"I know that I'm going to get a bunch of crap," Fenter said, "from all of my family back home and all of my friends, because they're diehard St. Louis [fans]. But I'm OK with it. They can get over it."
After not pitching in any games in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the right-handed Fenter now finds himself in the competition for a spot on the Cubs' pitching staff for '21. It costs a team $50,000 to make a Rule 5 pick in the MLB portion, and the player must remain on the active roster all season or be offered back to his original team.
Fenter (selected from the Orioles) was the only player plucked by the Cubs in the big league phase; Chicago added right-handers Nicholas Padilla (Rays) and Samuel Reyes (Pirates) in the Triple-A rounds. Chicago lost righties Yunior Perez (Tigers) and Jeffrey Passantino (Pirates) in the Triple-A selections.
"We really like the stuff," president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Fenter. "We kind of had consistently good reports on him throughout his Minor League career, and we liked the fact that he's got an explosive fastball and has the ability to throw two different breaking balls with a slider and a curveball. And all the makeup stuff we got on him was really positive."
For Fenter, who can now more realistically dream about pitching in Wrigley Field, Thursday's news was a big deal.
"Man, honestly, it put me in awe," he said. "I didn't really know what to think. I'm just glad that somebody sees something in me, and I'm willing to do everything I can to prove them right."
The 24-year-old Fenter was not stationed at Baltimore's alternate training site during the abbreviated '20 season. Instead he went home to Arkansas, where he teamed with a trainer and focused on workouts. Rather than overthrow in the down time, he said, he wanted to get his body in better shape for '21.
In '19, Fenter was brilliant in 22 games (17 starts) for Class A Delmarva in the Orioles' system. He has a predominantly fastball-curve combination that helped him pile up 123 strikeouts against 43 walks in 94 1/3 innings, recording a 1.81 ERA. That included a 0.75 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 24 innings in his final six appearances.
"The Orioles got some new coaches in that really preached numbers and TrackMan," Fenter said, "and how to actually spin a baseball over just throwing it. And I think that once I got a hold of the access to that technology, that really helped me, because I do enjoy looking at numbers and figuring out how to move the baseball around."
The Cubs will no doubt continue that process with Fenter in their pitch lab in Arizona this spring.
Over four professional seasons after he was taken by the O's in the seventh round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Fenter has turned in a 3.21 ERA with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 230 innings (49 starts and 21 relief outings).
The Cubs have a need for rotation depth, but Fenter could also find himself in the mix for a spot in the bullpen.
Asked what role he envisions for himself, Fenter let out another laugh.
"I'm at their pleasure," he said. "Whatever it is they want me to do, I'll pull the pants up and go do it."