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February 1, 2007

by Fabian

Phil Hughes, 20, RHP
Previously Ranked: 1st prior to 2006, 9th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 1st, Baseball America 1st, John Sickels 1st (A)

Physical Ability: Phil Hughes has the ideal pitcher’s build. He stands 6’5’’ and weighs in at about 220 pounds. A lot of that weight is in his lower body, allowing him to get good drive on his pitches. Hughes currently works off of 4 pitches: 2 seam fastball, 4 seam fastball, curveball, and change-up. While the slider was his best pitch as an amateur, he has all but abandoned it in the professional ranks, though he will toss one in from time to time. While Hughes’ curveball isn’t the 12-to-6 most commonly associated with big time pitching prospects, he has good movement on it as it goes 11-to-5. What sets the curveball apart is his impeccable control and command of the pitch. His control and command helps all of his pitches to be graded higher. Hughes utilizes the curveball for strikeouts. He also uses his 92-95 MPH 4 seam fastball for that purpose. When he wants to get a quick out or induce a groundball, Hughes will toss in a 2-seam fastball, which typically gets clocked at 89-93MPH. Finally, Hughes’ changeup is used to keep batters honest, but in time may become a strikeout pitch as well. Outside of his repertoire, Hughes also does a good job of controlling the running game and fielding his position. In the past he has been placed on the disabled list with soreness, but that has been attributed more to Yankee organizational methodology than actual worrisome physical trouble. Still, as a pitching prospect, this should be noted.

What Happened in ’06: Hughes began the year in Tampa, and as was expected, made quick work of the league. Advancing to Trenton, he struggled at first, but once he made the adjustment he dominated the league with ease. He dominated left and right-handed batters. He dominated at home and on the road. He dominated every regularly updated “Hot Prospect” chart. He dominated the eventual champion Portland Sea Dogs in his lone playoff start. What happened in 2006 was that Phil Hughes simply ravaged his opponents.

What Lies Ahead: Hughes is somewhat of a boring prospect to write about. I said this last year and I will say it again: statistically, he has no flaws. There is nothing about his performance record that you can point to and say “You know, if Phil is going to be a good major league pitcher, or even pitch well next year, he really needs to work on X”. The only thing you can wonder about is how well he is going to hold up to a major league workload. The Yankees had an innings cap of 150 for Hughes last year (he pitched 152, playoffs included) and have the set the cap for this year at 180. This is interesting to me because it has been speculated in the past that amount of innings pitched in a year should not be as closely watched as changes in workload from year to year. If that is the case, Hughes’ jump from 86.1 innings to 152 innings between 2005 and 2006, may be reason for caution. However, given that the Yankees seem to have Phil’s future (Phil...phiiiiiiiiiiiiiil of the future) as organizational priority number 1, I’m going to grant the benefit of the doubt on that issue. I expect him to begin 2007 pitching extremely short outings for Scranton as the first 2-3 months of the season are used as an extremely long spring training for him. Then, when the summer heats up, the Messiah will arrive and post an ERA of 3.89 in 100 innings with 97 hits allowed, 32 walks, 7 home runs allowed, and 99 strikeouts. In the postseason He will be named the LCS and World Series MVP as He pitches 35 scoreless innings with 57 strikeouts and the Yankees win their 27th championship.

Grade: Grade-wise, the only things holding Phil back are the whispers of workload concern in the back of my head as well as my wariness about any prospect being an A+ (i.e. no chance of missing). A

Jose Tabata #2