One thing I’ve heard and read a lot over the past couple of days – people saying that they were wrong about Phil Hughes. I’ve read that they didn’t think he could ever be this good and that they are glad the Yankees held on to him when they had advocated that he be traded for Johan Santana or Roy Halladay.
Well I’m not here to say I told you so, but I do want to point out that with young pitchers fans and members of the media are far too impatient. In six starts this season he is a perfect 5-0 with an amazing 1.38 ERA, but that wasn’t going to happen right away and that also doesn’t mean that he is free from any future growing pains. That also doesn’t mean that more people shouldn’t have seen this coming.
The Yankees saw a lot of potential in Hughes, enough to give him a $1.4 million signing bonus after he was drafted 23rd overall in the 2004 amateur draft. That alone isn’t reason enough to think that he would make it in the majors as many draft picks sign for a lot and fizzle out, but it should tell you the type of talent he was at a very young age.
Hughes also took to the minors very quickly and was often among the younger players at each level he made it to. That didn’t stop him from dominating. As a 19-year old he put up a 1.97 ERA in Low-A Charleston, he then dominated High-A Tampa so quickly that he was promoted to Double-A Trenton after only 37.2 innings. In Trenton he dominated too, 2.25 ERA over 116 innings at the age of 20.
This is where some people started to doubt him, even though they shouldn’t have. At 21-years-old, an age where most of his peers are only just getting drafted, Hughes was rushed through the system faster than even the two years before. After he pitched only 28.2 innings in Triple-A, he became the youngest pitcher in major league baseball.
It was at this point, after the 2007 season, that the Yankees nearly traded Hughes for Santana and this is when many fans had decided that since the Yankees hung-on to this still very young pitcher he’d better pay off soon. When he struggled after being trust into the rotation way too early in 2008 he was labeled a bust and many fans claimed he would never be successful.
This was clearly unfair, but when Hughes struggled to stay healthy and continued to struggle in the minors it didn’t matter to most fans. They hated him mostly because he was not Santana, not an ace, and ignored the fact that his minor league success predicted that he would eventually pan out. In reality, he was rushed through the minors and not given enough time to develop.
Even after he dominated out of the bullpen in 2009 it wasn’t enough to convince a large portion of fans. There were claims that he couldn’t stay healthy, he didn’t have a deep enough repertoire, people constantly pointed to his poor track record as a starter and his poor showing in the playoffs last year.
What he really needed was time and seasoning. It has taken a while, but he’s gotten that. Pitching out the bullpen last year he started in low pressure situations and slowly gained experience and confidence that has obviously carried over into this season.
Nobody could have really predicted the start he is off to this season, but there was reason to believe this was possible. It is a hard adjustment from the minors to the majors and it takes time. If most fans had their way though he wouldn’t have been given that time. Hanging onto and producing Phil Hughes is probably the single hardest thing general manager Brian Cashman has had to do in his career.
Because of that patience though, it is starting to pay off for the Yankees in a huge way. Take a lesson from this – be patient with young pitchers.