Sports Outside the Beltway

Wrapping up Phil Hughes’ spring

Phil Hughes will be sent (across the street) to the Yanks minor league complex after he throws a bullpen session today under the eye of Ron Guidry. What can we conclude from his spring, and what are we unsure about?

- The thing we all have to remember is that Hughes worked only 4.2 innings this spring. That’s nothing. That’s less than one full start. It’s far too small a sample size to take the stats (although ugly) into account. The only real info we can gleam from his 4.2 ip is that he does indeed have great ‘stuff.’
- He got unnerved a few times, but mostly showed excellent command of a 91-95 MPH fastball. He consistently hit corners, and moved the ball inside and out. We finally saw his good curve in his last outing (vs. Cleveland), which had tremendous drop and, when thrown over the plate, induced incredibly weak grounders. He didn’t use his changeup much, but it had good ‘deception’ in that it was at least 10 MPH slower than his fastball. Overall, his fastball is ML ready, but his offspeed pitches need work. Once he can throw them all for strikes, he’ll become the Yanks ace.
- The reason he hasn’t mastered those pitches yet is that Hughes is still just 20 years old, and has only pitched the equivalent of one ML season in his minor league career (237.1 innings). It’s only natural that he needs more time to refine his game.
- Another characteristic of Phil Hughes is the adjustment period that he (and most) minor leaguers go through every time they jump a level. It happened at AA Trenton when he allowed 19 er in his first six starts (34.1 ip). But then he adjusted and allowed only 11 er in his final 16 starts! Considering Hughes jumped from AA to ML hitters this spring, the learning curve is even steeper. A few months in AAA will do wonders for Hughes. If he’s pitching well and called up in June or July, it should give him enough time to adjust again to ML hitters before the stretch run.
- Last thing: Hughes is not the only pitching prospect struggling this spring. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Homer Bailey and Tim Lincecum have all underwhelmed so far (the first, third and fifth pitching prospects respectively). Mats has allowed 3 er in 7 ip, Bailey has allowed 8 er in 2.2 ip (much worse than Hughes), while Lincecum has allowed 3 er in 5 ip. (For comparison, Hughes line: 4 er in 4.2 ip.)

Random thought.
Matsuzaka (who isn’t even a ‘prospect’ really) got roughed up his last outing: 4 ip, 4 r, 3 er, 6 h, 2 HRs. When I saw Mats’ groundout/flyout ratio from his first outing, it was 1/5, that’s high. In his most recent game, it was 1/7 (not including 2 HRs), so for the whole spring it’s 2/12! – I have a good feeling Mats will have trouble with the longball this year. Hughes, consistent with his minor league stats, has a 9/3 groundout/flyout out ratio. Good to see he’s still getting those grounders.

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