The Yanks have always been good at building up hype over their prospects. Guys like Kevin Maas, Ricky Ledee, D'Angelo Jiminez and even Oscar Azocar have had come to the bigs with a reputation in tow that they never lived up to.
It's with this doubt in mind that I've been watching the Sport Illustrated list of the 100 best prospects unfold over the past week. They counted down in a daily story, 15 prospects at a time. I figured Philip Hughes would probably be in the top half, with his ceiling projected as a solid number 3 starter. I couldn't have been more wrong. It wasn't until today, when SI released its top 15 prospects that Hughes' name finally showed up, at #4. Here's what they had to say about the righty:
4. Philip Hughes, 21, RHP, New York Yankees
2006 Stats (A+/AA): 2.16 ERA, 92H/146IP, 168K/34BB
If Roger Clemens does not return to the Bronx in 2007, Hughes will be the hot-button issue in New York come June. By then, Hughes will be dominating AAA with every outing. The Yankees have done a fabulous job preparing Hughes for his midseason call-up, slowly increasing his workload in the minor leagues. With 146 innings last year, Hughes should be able to pitch consistently through October, by which time he might already be the Yankees' No. 2 starter. Far more impressive than Hughes' heavy sinker or jaw-dropping curveball is his understanding of pitching; he is the most intelligent phenom in recent memory. Hughes does not give in to any bat, rarely allows free trips to first base, and gets groundballs consistently from the stretch. Hughes is as good as a New York pitching prospect has been in a long time.
I read an article a week or two ago that basically said the Yanks' panic button this year is going to have the name Philip Hughes carved into it. Going into the season Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa occupy the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation. That's a huge concern. If the team as a whole gets off to a good start, no one is going to care about those two guys, they'll basically be what Jaret Wright was last year. A garbage arm to throw out there every fifth day, hold the other team to 10 runs or less, and give the Yanks bats a chance to win the game. If the team stumbles, however, and Clemens isn't coming to save the day, the NY Post will be calling for Hughes early and often. To be honest with you, I probably will be too.
The Yanks have tried to avoid baptism by fire with their young pitchers, but if not for necessity Chien-Ming Wang may still be in the minors. They needed an arm, called him maybe a little too early, and now he's their ace. If Hughes is as good as everyone seems to think he is, I say bring him up. It's a much better option than overpaying for someone who may become available via trade. I realize there are drawbacks to bringing young players up too early, but this team, with this lineup can lessen the impact of a bad outing on a young pitcher. It would also be nice to see a pitching prospect pay off for the Yanks. In the past 11 years, Pettitte and Wang are the only home grown guys to make an impact on the rotation. Hopefully, we'll be able to add Hughes to that list sometime this year.