Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Seeeing the Hughes Half-Full

All the plans were to be protective of Philip Hughes. The number two prospect in the minors last year--pretty close to a consensus, although Delmon Young and Homer Bailey may still want to be heard on that issue--Hughes is a guy that a lot of teams would have had up in the Show last year, when he was beating the everlovin' crap out of the Florida State and Eastern Leagues. But the Yankees had different plans, particularly after the wunderkind's control abandoned him during Spring Training. Hughes would get the Yankees' full course of patience--spending most, if not all the season in lovely Scranton, PA. It was possible he'd get a September call-up, but the Yanks figured they'd picked up so much pitching depth that if he was called up, it wouldn't be out of necessity.

Fast forward to mid-April (trust me, it doesn't take long) and the depth is toast. I've already talked about 60% of the rotation going down to injury--if there's one thing that Hughes's call-up tells us, is that the Yanks maybe aren't too optimistic that Carl Pavano will return quickly from his latest owie. Then there's been the none-too-inspiring early returns on Kei Igawa. There's the injury to Karstens and the general ineffectiveness of Karstens and his baseball twin Darrell Rasner. There was the rushing of Chase Wright to the majors after two career starts above A ball.

Down on the farm, bad things have been happening. Last Wednesday Humberto Sanchez, the top pitcher (and boogie-down Bronx native) the Yanks picked up for Gary Sheffield, had ligament replacement surgery for his pitching elbow. He joins Christian Garcia and Mark Melancon among the top Yankees prospects to have "Tommy John" surgery in the last few months, and J.B. Cox makes for an even four Yanks prospects to have elbow surgery.

Of the remaining healthy advanced pitching prospects in the Yanks system, the early returns haven't been awe-inspiring. Tyler Clippard has a 5.12 ERA at AAA, and Ross Ohlendorf has walked more guys (14 in 20 IP) than he's struck out (12). Steven Jackson couldn't get out of the fourth inning of his last start. Other than Hughes, Matt DeSalvo is the only starter pitching well at Scranton--but giving how low he is on the prospect totem pole, DeS is going to have to
show his stuff for a while longer before the Yanks believe he's major league ready.

So the Phil Hughes era starts on Thursday.

In addition to forcing the Yanks' hand into bringing up Hughes now, Sanchez and the others' elbow injuries reinforce an idea--that pitchers are largely on borrowed time, and sometimes the best you can do is get major league innings out of them while they're still effective. That's a rather dark take on carpe diem, I know, but the point is, if Phil Hughes could be getting major league hitters out now--and there's plenty to indicate that he's ready to do so--then what's he doing in the International League, other than running up the odometer?


It's rainy and cool today in New York, and I'm hoping they can get the game in. After the Yanks' disastrous two-game set in Tampa Bay, Andy Pettitte could do Hughes a real favor by winning tonight. It's enough pressure to be the Golden Child, the savior of baseball's most storied franchise. It's quite another to make your first major league start with the pressure of having to end a five- or six-game losing streak on your shoulders.

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