Prospect Q&A: Philip Hughes

The top-rated prospect in the Yankees organization, Philip Hughes came into the season with high expectations and exceeded them. The Yankees' first-round pick in the 2004 draft (23rd overall), the 20-year-old righthander began the year in high Class A Tampa but was promoted to Trenton after five starts. After joining the Double-A Thunder in early May, the Californian continued to impress, going 10-3, 2.25 with 138 strikeouts in 116 innings.  Hughes made one appearance in the Eastern League playoffs against Portland, earning a no-decision while pitching six innings of one-run ball with 13 strikeouts. Including his playoff start, Hughes' final line for the season was 12-6, 2.13 with 181 strikeouts in 152 innings.
Baseball America: How would you assess your 2006 season?
Philip Hughes: "I feel that it's been successful. I pitched well in Tampa, and was able to iron out some mechanical issues that I wanted to work on. They weren't anything major, just things like staying back and getting my arm in the proper slot. I struggled a bit off the bat when I got (to Trenton], but was able to put together a few good starts and build on them. Things started clicking, with a big part of that being the improvement of my curveball."
BA: Has that become your primary offspeed pitch?  
PH: "It has. My curve has come a long way, so I've pretty much steered away from the slider. I'm throwing it on the side a little to keep it fresh, but I'm not using it in games right now."
BA: Tell us a little about your curveball.
PH: "I'm comfortable throwing it for strikes, and I'm also relying on it as an out pitch. I throw more of a 12-to-6 when I'm mostly looking to get it over, and then with two strikes I throw one that has a little more plane to it; more of a 1-to-7."
BA: How would you assess your changeup, and how often are you using it?
PH: "It's coming along, although it's not where I want it to be.  I consider it a solid pitch for me, though. I'd say that I throw it about 10 percent of the time, maybe 8 times out of 80 pitches. I throw my curve more, maybe 20 to 30 percent of the time, if I had to guess."
BA: Where is the velocity of your fastball right now, and do you consider it your best pitch?
PH: "It's always my ‘go to’ pitch, because a well-located fastball is the best pitch in the game. I'm generally sitting between 92 and 94 (mph) with it, and I'll touch 95-96. I'm mostly going with 4-seamers, although I'll throw a few 2-seamers that are closer to 91-92."
BA: Is there a certain style of hitter that gives you the most trouble?
PH: "Not really. I think I'm pretty evenly spread out against everyone: lefties, righties, power-hitters, and slap-hitters. It's just a case of making my pitch.  If I do that, I'm going to get guys out."   
BA: Do you primarily stick with your own strengths, or do you like to study charts and try to expose a hitter's weaknesses?
PH: "A little of both. I know how to attack hitters with my stuff, and I can pick up things the first time I face a guy. Charts are great, but what they are is one hitter and many different pitchers. I need to focus on what is going to work for me."  
BA: Being the top prospect in the Yankees organization, are the expectations and media attention difficult for you to deal with?
PH: "Not really, at least not on the field.  I guess that maybe it can get a little overwhelming off the field. The press and people looking for autographs can get out of hand at times, but it's something you have to deal with. And it's only going to get worse as I move up the ladder, so you have to be able to handle it."
BA: Do you hear much from Red Sox fans?
PH: "There have been a couple of fans saying things here in Portland. They've heard that I have family in Rhode Island and grew up rooting for the Red Sox, so they'll say things like, ‘We'd love to have you here someday.’ Stuff like that. Nothing bad, though."
BA: Most players say that their childhood allegiances go out the window once they sign a professional contract. What are your thoughts on that?
PH: "It's kind of the same way with me. When a team gives you a lot of money to do a job for them, that's what becomes most important. I pay attention to how the big league teams are doing, but there really isn't too much time for that with our schedules. In the clubhouse we're too focused on doing our own jobs, because we’re trying to get there ourselves."
BA: How close do you feel you are to being ready for the big leagues?
PH: "I think it's just a matter of innings and gaining more experience.  I'm young and have time to mature, but I also think I could handle if it they called me up now. Whenever it happens, I'm looking forward to my debut."