This article is part of our Scouting Pitchers series.
Statistics through 5/25/09
Hughes (6-5, 240, born 6/24/1986) is one of the hopes for the future of the Yankee rotation. He is a budding strikeout pitcher has thrown some good games for New York this year after missing May through July 2008 with a fractured rib.
The Yankees drafted Hughes with a first-round pick (23rd overall) of the 2004 draft out of a California high school. He reached high-A in 2005, his first pro season, and dominated at Double-A in 2006 (10-3, 2.25 in 116 innings). The prospect buzz around Hughes started to build in earnest in 2007. In just his second major league appearance, he threw six no-hit innings at the Rangers on May 1, but pulled his hamstring during that game. He then sprained an ankle on May 27. Hughes returned to the Yankee rotation in August (6.40 ERA) before finding major league consistency in September (2.73 ERA).
In 2008, Hughes opened the year in the Yankee rotation but was ineffective in April (0-4, 9.00 ERA). He worked his way back from the stress fracture in Triple-A (1-0, 5.90 in six starts) and the Arizona Fall League (2-0, 3.00 in seven starts). He posted a 2.19 ERA his spring, won all three of his starts at Triple-A (1.86 ERA) and was recalled on April 28. After shutting out the high-powered Rangers through eight innings on May 25, he is 3-2, 5.16 through six starts. Hughes will remain with the Yankees until it is clear that Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain are both 100%.
Phil Hughes: (Lifetime G/F 0.60) Rating: %Thrown: Fastball 65 75 Curveball 60 20 Slider 40 0 Changeup 55 5 Control 60 Delivery 50 Composure 60
The Yankees rushed Hughes to the majors, but he has come through his nagging injuries with a 91-94 mph four-seam fastball he can command all over the strike zone. It has natural tailing action away from left-handed or toward right-handed batters. He crowds hitters and goes up the ladder with it for strikeouts. Hughes is throwing four-seamers about half of the time, and with his feel for pitching, he can throw it in hitters' counts. He usually keeps it down, which is essential given the new Yankee Stadium's preference for the home run hitter.
Hughes also throws an 88-89 mph cut fastball mainly to left-handers, against whom he has struggled in 2009. He will come inside to left-handers with it to keep them honest before going away with the four-seamer. He can also work it away to right-handers. This surprises them, as the ball doesn't move in on them as his four-seamer does. Hughes also throws a 90-91 mph two-seam sinking fastball. Given that he is a flyball pitcher, it would help to work this pitch more.
Besides his assortment of fastballs, Hughes has tightened up his 75-79 mph curveball and uses it as his primary off-speed pitch. It was 72-73 mph in 2008, so the Yankees have worked with him to turn this into a hard curveball. Hughes catches right-handed hitters looking by throwing it up and in, and it helps him to get the call on it by commanding the rest of his pitches. He can also make right-handers swing at it as it dives into the dirt, and he has enough feel to tilt it away from right-handers now and then.
Hughes throws an occasional 80-83 mph changeup, and seems to have junked his low-80's slider, which wasn't a good pitch anyway. If he can control it, Hughes' cut fastball will fill the same role as a slider. His curveball is hard enough to make the lack of a slider acceptable.
Hughes has a coiled motion in which he drops his forearm slightly and comes through somewhat stiffly. He does repeat it well for all his pitches. Hughes has good success when he stays on top of the ball, although he gains movement on his four-seamer by coming across his body. His low arm position midway through his delivery makes him vulnerable to elevating the ball, especially his curve. He appears focused and works quickly. This quick tempo works to his advantage when Hughes has his command and against him when innings snowball. He fields his position well and will take chances throwing to bases.
As he is young and a quick worker, Hughes starts to lose his control when his pitch count piles up. The opposition has taken the strategy of waiting him out until he tires and starts to elevate the ball. With a lifetime average of 17.8 pitches per inning, Hughes needs to improve his efficiency. He pitches too much like a true power pitcher, but doesn't throw hard enough to pitch like Justin Verlander. Hughes' May 25 start was very encouraging, as he threw just 101 pitches in eight innings.
Hughes might become Chad Billingsley - a modified power pitcher who can conserve his pitch count by making quick work of weaker hitters with his cutter and curve. Hughes' cutter command is still a work in progress, though. Throwing more changeups might help him against left-handers, and modifying his approach in general more toward contact would benefit him.
Radar Love - May fastballs:
91-97: Felix Hernandez against the Giants on May 24.
91-97: Manny Acosta against Toronto on May 24.
93-95: Scott Linebrink against the Pirates on May 23.
90-95: Scott Feldman in Houston on May 23.
90-94: Clayton Richard against the Pirates on May 23.
90-93: Ross Ohlendorf in Chicago on May 23.
89-95: Jair Jurrjens against Toronto on May 24.
88-92: Scott Richmond in Atlanta on May 24.
88-92: Wandy Rodriguez in Cincinnati on May 25.
88-92: Joel Pineiro against the Royals on May 24.
87-91: Brian Bannister in St. Louis on May 24.
Next week: NL East: Josh Johnson and Stephen Strasburg
Article first appeared 6/2/09