Today, friend of RAB Keith Law examines the rise of White Sox ace Jon Danks (apologies, it’s behind the pay wall, but you can still read the first few graphs). The 6’2″ southpaw was the ninth pick of the 2003 draft by the Rangers, and had a tough time in the upper levels of the minors. In search of a more big league ready chip, the Rangers dealt him to the Sox in a deal for Brandon McCarthy. He struggled in his major league year, posting a 5.50 ERA over 139 innings. The White Sox, though, added a cutter to his repertoire, and he delivered big time in ’08 with a 3.32 ERA in 195 innings. He’ll be 24 in the middle of April 2009.
Why is this noteworthy? I seem to remember another pitcher, drafted a year after Danks, who had some initial troubles at the major league level. The fans of the team were all over this guy before he hit the DL with a rib injury at the end of April. Yet he came back and was highly effective in his minor league stint, and had one “meh” and one superb start upon his return to the majors. Yep, it’s Phil Hughes, and yes, he added a cutter to his repertoire. Perhaps Danks’s tale will allow us to exercise a little more patience in judging the 22-year-old.
This, of course, is not to say that Hughes will develop in the same way, or even that his cutter will equal that of Danks. It’s to say that young pitchers take time to develop. I’ll be the first to admit that we were a bit overzealous in our praise for Hughes and Kennedy. However, I still have faith in both of them, especially Hughes. It was wrong of us to expect him to slot into the rotation last year and become a mainstay without any major bumps. The past year has helped temper our expectations, but long term I think our enthusiasm still stands. With Philly now rocking a fastball, cutter, monster hook, and a work-in-progress change, he can make better use of his repertoire and stay on top of major league hitters.