Hughes ready for coming-out party
Prospect ready to step onto game's grandest stage
NEW YORK -- Phil Hughes is in an elite class. Not because of his mid-90s fastball or his sharp breaking pitches, or even his early showing of Major League poise.
When he takes the mound against the Blue Jays on Thursday, Hughes -- the Yankees' No. 1 selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft -- will become just the second first-rounder since 1995 to play in pinstripes.
The other? A best-selling author who dreamed of becoming a Yankee since childhood, a seven-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner, a true Yankee.
His name is Derek Jeter, and already he thinks highly of Hughes.
"He's worked extremely hard," Jeter said. "And what is he, 21?"
Not even. Hughes' birth certificate shows that he'll be restricted in some things until June 24, his birthday. But one of the limitations won't be pitching, as he is guaranteed at least one turn in a Yankees rotation looking for help -- no matter the age of the contributor.
"It's definitely an accomplishment, but it's not the goal right now," Hughes said. "Just to be compared to guys like [Jeter] is pretty unbelievable."
Born in Mission Viejo, Calif., Hughes comes across as a regular West Coast guy. He doesn't speak much, and he doesn't show much emotion. But manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman, along with Hughes' surrounding teammates, say plenty of him.
Calling up Hughes didn't come unexpected, just early, Cashman said. Injuries to Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano created a perfect storm to offer Hughes this early opportunity in the big leagues.
Given the rough recent outings posted by the Yankees starters, Torre seemed at ease with Hughes taking the mound. Even with a rainout on Wednesday, Torre moved Andy Pettitte's regularly scheduled start to Friday and left Hughes to make his debut as expected on Thursday against the Blue Jays.
"He seems to be a little more mature for someone his age," Torre said. "He's sure more mature than I was at his age, just [from] the way he carries himself. But again, you don't know what's going on inside. ... I understand why the organization wants to take care of this kid, because he certainly appears to be the real deal."
Reliever Brian Bruney remembered his first appearance in the Majors, back in 2004, an experience he hasn't yet shared with Hughes. Bruney said that he couldn't feel his hands. He couldn't remember how the batters made outs. He didn't sleep the night before.
"There's no setting up for it," Bruney said. "I don't know what he's going to feel like. He's pretty mature for his age, so he could be totally calm and not nervous at all. You can't really prepare."
Hughes said that he'll probably take some cold medication to help him sleep, because he knows it will be tough keeping his eyes closed on Wednesday night.
"I know I won't naturally fall asleep easily," he said.
Such names as Joe Thurston, Jason Jaramillo and Gary Burnham probably don't mean much to the general public. But they could be the happiest people in the Minor Leagues on Thursday. They are the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters for the Ottawa Lynx, the team scheduled to play against Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday. Hughes would have pitched against the Lynx if he hadn't been called up.
Hughes has elicited fear in Minor League hitters with his electric pitches. He throws a four-seam fastball that pops when it hits the catcher's glove, and his breaking pitches have bite, according to catcher Jorge Posada.
"He's capable of doing a lot of things," Posada said. "That's why he has that tag on his shoulder. He's a great prospect, great arm. Age doesn't really matter if you have a good head on your shoulders."
Sean Henn, who sat a couple of lockers away from Hughes in Spring Training and now is his neighbor in the Yankees' clubhouse, said that the only bad thing about Hughes reaching the big leagues is that the media will take up all of his elbow room.
"That guy threw a bullpen in Spring Training and they held a press conference for it," Henn said.
But there was good reason. Hughes entered this season with a career record of 21-7 and 2.13 ERA, striking out 269 batters in 237 1/3 innings.
After a few mediocre starts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, Hughes broke out with a solid performance last week against the Syracuse Chiefs -- two hits and 10 strikeouts in six innings of work.
"You don't see that. That's abnormal, much less him being [6-foot-5], 230 pounds," Henn said. "I guess that's like how LeBron [James] was in high school. That's probably how he dominated. It's just unheard of. They didn't grow them like that when I was in high school, and I wasn't there long ago."
Syracuse is Toronto's Triple-A affiliate, and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said that his team will get some information about Hughes from his Minor League staff. But even with a head's up, Gibbons knows what he's up against.
"He's thought very highly of -- [it's] arguable they say the best pitcher in the Minor Leagues," Gibbons said. "We know he'll be bringing it pretty good."
About 15 or 20 friends, family members and former coaches will be in attendance for Hughes' debut.
"I can definitely feel the anticipation," he said.
Hughes' cell phone rang nonstop shortly after news of his promotion broke, and one of the callers was an old high school friend from California. The friend said he'd just added Hughes to his fantasy baseball team, just mere hours after Hughes was informed he'd be living out his own Major League dreams.
"But you better be good," he told Hughes, "or I'll drop you."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.