The New York Yankees’ #1 pitching prospect, in fact, the top pitching prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America, Baseball Digest, MILB.com, and Baseball Prospectus, among others, will make his major league debut tonight against the Toronto Blue Jays. Hughes was the Yankees’ best prospect a year ago, and nothing has changed except that he showed that he could get both Single-A and AA batters out with remarkable aplomb. This year, he struggled a bit in the spring and at the beginning of the AAA season, giving up 7 runs in 10 innings over his first two starts, but then shut out
Syracuse for six innings, striking out ten, allowing only two hits and no walks.
With that said, it should be noted that the Yankees’ move has more to do with the desperation of the major league coaching staff to find somebody, anybody, who can keep the team in the game for more than five or six innings. Indeed, as a team, the Yankees rank dead-last in the major leagues with only five Quality Starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer earned runs). The Colorado Rockies, that legendary model of pitching prowess, have 13. Granted, the Yankees did just get tricksy “ace” Chien-Ming Wang back, and Mike Mussina is slated to come back next week, assuming his AA rehab start goes well, but even when healthy, most of the starters haven’t exactly pitched well. Kei Igawa has only one Quality Start in four outings, and so far only Andy Pettitte has been reasonably reliable.
The Yankees had a plan. They intended to use Pettitte, Wang, Moose, Pavano and Igawa as their five starters, with Jeff Karstens as a back-up #5 starter, if Pavano broke down. Unfortunately, all of those except Pettitte, have either spent time on the DL this year, or are on it now, so they that plan isn’t working. And given that the AAA starter with the most “experience” in the majors is Darrel Rasner (4 starts, 7 relief appearances, 4.23 ERA in 27.2 total innings), the Yankee Brass figured that they might as well go with the guy who has the most upside. So while this is a move of desperation, it’s only desperate in that it’s a few months ahead of schedule, and not a year or two ahead of schedule, like Chase Wright was. As you may recall, with only two starts above High-A ball in his professional career, Chase Wright was called upon to pitch in the majors, and he won his first major league start. After that, however, he surrendered four consecutive homers to the Boston Red Sox, and Chase Wright was chased right back to Double-A
For his part, Phil Hughes looks like the real deal, though it should be noted that he is more handsome than Evander. He’s got excellent mechanics, throws a consistent 91-93 mph fastball that touches 96 on occasion and moves, plus a 12-to-6 curve and a slider, both considered above average, and a good change-up. Essentially, at age 20, he has the complete arsenal it takes many pitchers until age 27 or 28 to master, and most never do. Whether he can use them effectively against major league batters is another story, and Page One begins tonight at 7PM.