Although he’s still only 25, it feels like Phil Hughes has lived a baseball lifetime with the Yankees. He’s gone from first round pick (2004) to top prospect (2005-2006) to disappointing rookie (2007-2008) to dominant reliever (2009) to dominant starter (early-2010) to disappointing starter (mid-2010 to present) with a lot of injuries in between. The Yankees have him penciled into a rotation spot for next season at the moment, but Phil is aware that he’s passed of the point of getting by on potential.
“I’m at a point where the patience is running out,” he said to Mark Feinsand on Wednesday. “I’m not a prospect anymore and I’m not 21 years old anymore. You’re gauged on what kind of year you had, not what you’re capable of doing.”
Like he said, Hughes is not a kid anymore. His big league career is 120 games and 443.2 IP old already, he’s no longer cheap (MLBTR projects a $3.4M salary next season), and he’s now just two years away from free agency. The training wheels are off, at least to a certain extent. Given their current rotation situation, it makes sense for the Yankees to give Phil yet another chance at starting rather than banish him back to the bullpen, where he looked quite good at the end of the season and in the ALDS. That is subject to change depending on how the offseason plays out, though.
After coming to camp out of shape last year, Hughes has been working out with Ricky Romero at Athletes Performance Institute near his Southern California home this winter. Feinsand says he started throwing three weeks ago, a full month earlier than usual.
“I want to make sure to get that out of the way now so there are no lingering effects when we start camp in February,” said Hughes, referring to the dead arm phase that hits most pitchers at some point in Spring Training and hurt him in the first half of this past season. “I want my arm to be in shape and be ready to go full-bore when we report.”
That’s great to hear, but words aren’t worth very much. Spending the offseason at API speaks to his (re)commitment to conditioning more than anything else, you know, the whole “actions speak louder than words” thing. Hughes has to treat next season as his last chance (not that it will be, but that’s how he should approach it), because he’s going to have a rotation spot barring some unexpected and significant pitching additions in the coming weeks. He’s going to have the opportunity to help the team as well as himself in a big way, by potentially establishing himself as a bonafide big leaguer starter and earning himself a nice payday in the following season.
“It’s always good to hear your manager say that he expects you to be in that spot,” said Hughes, referring to some recent comments made by Joe Girardi. “But at the end of the day, if you don’t do what you’re expected to do, there’s going to be somebody that will.”