For Hughes, it’s the third time around

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

Later tonight, Phil Hughes will make his 11th start of the season, and he is fast approaching a personal milestone. If all goes according to plan, on June 25, one day after his 24th birthday, Hughes will make his 14th start of the season. For the youngster, that start will mark a career high, and Hughes will be in uncharted Major League territories. For the Yankees, it’s time to see what Hughes can do as the league adjusts to him.

Tonight, Hughes draws the Orioles, a familiar opponent. This is the second time in two starts Phil will face the punchless O’s, and it’s his third appearance against them this season. In fact, Hughes has thrown more innings against Baltimore than he has against any other team during his career.

This year, Hughes has enjoyed success against Baltimore. Overall, he is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings. The Orioles have knocked out eight hits while walking five times and striking out nine times. During last week’s outing, Hughes went seven strong and gave up a run on six hits and a walk while K-ing seven. In April against Baltimore, Hughes gritted through 5.2 innings without his best stuff. He walked four and struck out two that day.

For Hughes, then, tonight is a challenge. It is only the second time in his career that he is making a third start against the same team in one season. The last time that happened was in 2007, and Hughes was barely 21 years old. It is also the first time as a starter that he is facing the same team in back-to-back outings. What can we expect then from the Yanks’ emerging ace?

A few weeks ago, Hughes faced a somewhat similar situation. After dominating the Red Sox in Fenway on May 7, he faced them two starts later on May 17, and the outcome was ugly. He allowed two home runs — half of the taters he has surrendered all year — and got a no-decision after allowing five runs on six hits in five innings. He struck out just three and couldn’t locate his cutter effectively enough. Boston had good swings against Hughes, and even the outs were loud.

Tonight, the Orioles, at 16-41, losers of nine of ten and with a Major League-worst 186 runs scored, are the team we would want Hughes facing in his third time through the league, but we shouldn’t write them off quickly either. As always, Hughes will try to establish the fastball early, but the Orioles will have a better sense of his pitch selection. According to Pitch f/x, Hughes has thrown change-ups just 1.6 percent of the time this year, and that figure might be generous. If that change-up is going to be deployed this season at all, tonight would be the ideal time to work it into a game.

If Hughes is going to develop into an ace, tonight then is a test. It’s not a definitive test, but it will start to show us how Hughes adapts to a league that is in the process of adapting to him. It is but another step as the Yanks try to turn their former first-rounder into a front-line starter.

2010 Draft: Day Two LiveBlog

The draft resumes at noon ET today, though there’s no television broadcast or anything. You can listen in to the conference call via MLB.com, or follow along with Draft Tracker. Rounds two through 30 will go down today, so this is the meat of the event right here. The first rounders get all the recognition, but the other single digit round guys are important as well.

Use this as your open thread to talk about all things draft. We’ll have regular Yankees-related content sprinkled throughout the day for you. Please follow our Ground Rules and keep your conversations in the appropriate places. Thanks in advance.

2010 Draft: Day Two Links

We’ve all had a night to sleep on the Cito Culver pick, and from what I can gather many fans are still miffed about the selection. It’s over and done with people, once he signs he’s a Yankee just like the rest of ’em, and we should all root for him to do well. There’s still 98% of the draft left to go. Look ahead, not back.

Before we get to some draft links, let’s give it up to commenter Meat Loaf, who kinda called the Culver pick six hours before the draft yesterday. Someone buy that (wo)man a lotto ticket. Anyway, here’s some links to check out before we kick off our Day Two coverage when the draft resumes at noon ET…

  • In his day one winners and losers article (sub. req’d), Keith Law says of the Yanks’ pick: “The Yankees see Culver as a shortstop with a chance to hit for average and some power, and he has a plus arm, but there are mixed opinions on whether or not he’s going to stay at short. On the flip side, the Yankees had Culver on their Area Code Games team last summer and probably knew him as a player and as a person better than any other team could have.”
  • Meanwhile, Frankie Piliere had this to say in his Day One analysis piece: “It’s easy to bash, but teams have a solid feel for signability players who will be available further down the line. Culver was evaluated high on their board and got stellar grades from the MLB Scouting Bureau this spring, grades that could have pushed him into the top 25. This is an example of a club not worrying about public perception and taking the guy scouts evaluated as being best for the organization.”
  • With a hat tip to Bryan Hoch, here’s a recent article on Culver and his troubled family life, including a video interview.
  • J.J. Cooper at Baseball America lists the best players still on the board, led by Ohio prep RHP Stetson Allie. I’m not an Allie fan, but there’s plenty of other great players available, including RHP Brandon Workman of Texas, Florida prep RHP A.J. Cole, and (personal fave) former Kentucky LHP James Paxton, who spent the spring in an indy league.
  • The Yanks got their high school hitter in the first round, and are rumored to be targeting a high school pitcher for their second pick. One name to watch is Robby Rowland, a big power arm with a diverse repertoire and lots of room to fill out.
  • No link for this one, but from what I can gather MLB’s recommended slot bonus for the 32nd overall pick is about $954,000. Don’t quote me on that though, it’s just an estimation based on the last few years. Chances are Culver will crack a mil.

Where the Yanks stand in the AL East, Part 2

An off-day is a good time to reflect on where the Yankees stand. We can see in the standings that they’re 35-22, second place by two games in the AL East. But plenty has changed since the last off-day. Here’s where the Yankees stand among their peers during this break in the action.

1st Place: Tampa Bay Rays

Photo credit: Tony Gutierrez/AP

Their place in the standings hasn’t changed, but their pace has. Last time we checked in the Rays were 32-13 and running away with the AL East. They’re now 37-20, meaning they went 5-7 in their last 12 games. They have slowed from a 115-win pace to a more reasonable 105-win pace. The biggest difference, unsurprisingly, has been their pitching.

Last time we looked at the Rays they had three starters with an ERA under 3.00, and two not far above. Still have two starters under that 3.00 mark, David Price and Jeff Niemann, but the other three starters have seen their ERAs balloon in the past two weeks. Matt Garza is up to 3.31, James Shields is up to 3.64, and Wade Davis has launched into orbit, hitting 5.03 after being at 3.35 last time we checked. It’s the same as it ever was; pitching has determined the Rays’ fate.

On the offensive side, the Rays have seen a few contributors step up. Ben Zobrist was already on his way back up after a slow start, at least power-wise, last time we checked in, and he’s been as good as ever during the past few weeks. John Jaso has maintained excellent production and has even moved into the leadoff spot. He has all but assured that Dioner Navarro will hit the waiver wire, via designation for assignment. I can’t see the Rays carrying three catchers once Jason Bartlett returns, and it’s tough to find any way to justify Navarro over Jaso.

Contributions from a few unexpected players, including Jaso and infielder Ben Zobrist, have help offset disappointing production from Carlos Pena (.646 OPS) and B.J. Upton (.229 BA and .318 OBP, though he’s hitting for power). They could use a bit more from those guys, but as long as Zobrist and Jaso keep producing the Rays offense will keep rolling. Especially because their anchor, Evan Longoria, continues to smash the league.

2nd Place: New York Yankees

Again, we’re not here to talk about the Yankees. They were 26-18 at the last check-in, and have moved that to 35-22 after Sunday’s win, so they went 9-4 after dropping two of three to the Mets. The difference, as with the Rays, has been starting pitching. Their guys have, for the most part, turned in quality performances and it has shown up in the win column.

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2010 Draft: Yankees’ First Round Pick

Photo Credit: MLB.com

With their first pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, the Yankees selected shortstop Cito Culver from Irondequoit High School in Rochester, New York.

Scouting Report
If there’s one thing we know about scouting director Damon Oppenehimer, it’s that he loves up-the-middle high school athletes, and that certainly describes Culver. Standing 6-foot-2 and checking in at 175 lbs., Culver has premium athletic ability that will allow him to stay at short long-term and also opens up the possibility of a move to centerfield. His foot speed is good, and his defensive abilities are all very good except for his arm, which is a true cannon.

At the plate, the switch-hitting Culver generates good bat speed with an easy swing, though his power is mostly into the gaps and he’s a little bit better from the left side. He has lots of room for growth and has a chance to develop into a top of the line defender at a premium position with an average or better bat down the road. There are some reports of a troubled home life regarding his parents but not Cito himself. He’s committed to Maryland but is considered signable if taken high enough, which he certainly was.

Here’s some video via Baseball Beginnings.

My Take
I’m not a big fan of the pick; it’s definitely a reach. For what it’s worth, Oppenheimer called it an “easy decision.” Whenever a guy’s best tool is his throwing arm … well it’s always a cause for concern because you’d like the other skills to be refined. It’s not an indefensible pick though; there’s nothing wrong with selecting a premium up-the-middle athlete that will stay there for the next decade-plus.

I’ve seen some people quick to dub this another C.J. Henry pick, but the only similarities between the two are that they’re African American shortstops taken out of high school. Henry was more of a hacker who projected to hit for power but not average, and wasn’t guaranteed to stay at short. Culver’s basically the opposite.

There were definitely better players on the board, and so it’s not the best pick they could have made. No need to declare this one a bust yet. The last thing prospects provide is instant gratification. Frankie Piliere noted that Culver got huge grades late in the year, so he peaked at the right time.

Heathcott gets back in the swing of things in a loss

Hector Noesi is your Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week while Zoilo Almonte, Luke Murton, and Ryan Flannery will participate in the Low-A South Atlantic League All Star Game. Corban Joseph and Jose Ramirez got hosed.

Here’s a roundup of the night’s action, bullet pointed because of the draft. Double-A Trenton had a scheduled day off.

Yanks draft Cito Culver in the first round

Surprising just about everyone, the Yankees selected Cito Culver, a high schooler out of the Rochester, New York, area, with their first round draft pick tonight. While Bud Selig announced Culver as a short stop, the Yankees’ PR team initially called him a right-handed pitcher but later clarified Culver as a short stop. Scouts believe Culver’s value lies at short.

Interestingly, Culver was projected to go in the fourth-to-sixth round range, and his choice is certainly raising some eyebrows among Yankee-watchers. Here’s MLB.com’s draft profile:

Culver is a switch-hitter who’s better from the left side of the plate, showing more bat speed from that side. He has some gap-to-gap power right now. He looks like he should have above-average speed, but his run times haven’t been great and he’s better underway. At times, scouts have questions [sic] his effort level on the field, though they don’t question his natural gifts. He has the tools, especially his arm strength, to perhaps stay at shortstop, though a move to center field would make some sense. He has a Maryland commitment, but there was some buzz that he’d be willing to forego that for the right price.

Mike will have a full player profile ready to go shortly, and I’m left wondering if the Yanks aimed low in the first round to go after a few signability guys in the later rounds. Remember, though, that Culver was born on August 26, 1992. He won’t turn 18 until after the signing date, and it’s nearly impossible to know now what he ceiling will be.