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April 2, 2005

by Fabian

2005 RLYW Staff Predictions

Phil Hughes, 18, RHP

Hughes was seen as one of the best HS talents available in the draft and like Eric Duncan before him, the Yankees were the beneficiary of him sliding back to their first pick. Hughes signed quickly, but unlike many who sign early, he was not able to get much work in. This was because Phil Hughes seemed to just have really bad luck in the year ’04. On his way to an appointment with the Yankees, Hughes was involved in a minor accident, which fortunately, did not slow the timetable for his GCL debut. Then, after two starts in the GCL, Hughes was shut down with a sore elbow. While some feared the worst, considering the history of high school pitchers (looks around nervously…raises hand), Hughes was eventually diagnosed with just having a slight case of tendonitis. After some extra cautious rehab, the Yankees felt comfortable enough to let Hughes return to the mound. He put together a great start and then was never heard from again in the GCL box scores. This time, the issue was that Hughes, was running to answer the phone while in a hotel and broke his toe when his foot a wall. Hopefully for the Yankees, all these occurrences are just bad luck, because there are enough natural injury concerns to think about with young pitchers.

While Hughes only managed to take the GCL mound 3 times, each time he was dominant. *Ridiculously, almost comical in fact, small sample size alert* In 5 GCL innings, Hughes allowed 4 hits and struck out 8 with an otherwise clean statistical record.

Though he throws a low 90s fastball, what always stood out about Hughes was his control and command. In his senior year of high school, Hughes allowed 41 hits, 12 runs, 6 earned runs, 3 walks and struck out 83 in 61 innings. While some may feel that I am overly concerned about strikeout rate, I still think it is worth noting that Hughes “only” had a K/9 of 12.2 in his senior year, while other top prep prospects had rates of 23.4 (Mark Rogers), 19.6 (Homer Bailey), 19 (Scott Elbert) and 13.9 (Eric Hurley). Of course, I have no idea about the relative quality of competition that these players faced, other than guys in warm states tend to face the best players, so this could mean nothing. In addition, Hughes’ control was much better.

Hughes was primarily a fastball-slider pitcher in high school and this may present some problems in 2005. Since the Yankees want their pitchers focusing on fastball, curveball, changeup trio before anything else they will limit or disallow Hughes’ use of his slider, which means he will have to adjust the way he has pitched throughout his career in addition to making the amateur to pro adjustment. While this may slow his initial performance, I have little doubt that Hughes should get better as the year goes on and hopefully his mature physical build will allow him to hold up down the stretch. Given how advanced he is, I would not be shocked to see Hughes end the year in Tampa, assuming all goes well with him learning and utilizing the curveball. Though he is still far away in the overall big picture and is thus vulnerable to the injury and performance pitfalls of a young pitcher, Hughes has the look of a stud.

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