Hughes makes pitch for himself in AFL
With Yanks pursuing free agents, righty showing he can start
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' offseason pursuit of starting pitching may create a situation where Phil Hughes begins his season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, rather than being present for the opening of the new Yankee Stadium.
But whether or not the Yankees are able to land their top free-agent choices, a respectable Arizona Fall League campaign can only help Hughes' chances of sticking in New York. Pitching for the Peoria Javelinas, Hughes did not allow more than two earned runs in six of his seven starts in Arizona, which he hopes will set the tone for future success after an injury-marred 2008.
"I'm going to take the same attitude I take every year, but obviously the Yankees are going to make moves to put the best team out there they can," Hughes said.
"I'll go into Spring Training in the best possible shape, ready to make the team. I'll keep working hard and doing what I need to do. That's been my philosophy since I was 19. Nothing's going to change for me."
Hughes' performance sent some positive notes to New York, where the club is monitoring his progress. He was clocked around 95 mph in some starts, striking out 38 and walking 13 in 30 innings. In his final start on Nov. 19, Hughes beat the Scottsdale Scorpions, striking out 10 in five innings of shutout, two-hit ball.
Manager Joe Girardi was encouraged, saying that he believes Hughes will eventually be a Major League pitcher for the Yankees. Girardi said that there are situations where Hughes could open the year in New York, but it would depend on how successful the Hot Stove season is.
"Obviously, you look at what you're able to acquire," Girardi said. "Maybe you don't acquire the three starters like you think you are, and there's a possibility that he could be in our rotation. The first thing that's important for him is to stay healthy and the next thing is fastball command.
"Then you build off of that. You would hope that he learned a lot from this year. I know it was a very frustrating year for him and for us as well. At this point, you can't rule out anyone being a starter, because there's spots open."
Here is a look at how the other Yankees prospects are doing in the fall/winter leagues:
Arizona Fall League
OF Austin Jackson: The Yankees' top position player prospect, Jackson hit .246 (28-for-114) with one home run, 18 RBIs and 17 runs scored in 28 games for Peoria. With six doubles and a triple among his hits, Jackson worked seven walks and struck out 30 times as he prepares for Spring Training.
1B Juan Miranda: The Cuban-born slugger was one of the Javelinas' most productive batters, stroking 14 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, five home runs) in 19 games for Peoria, batting .301 overall. Miranda scored 14 runs and did not record an error in nine starts at first base.
INF Kevin Russo: The 24-year-old finished the winter hitting .309 (34-for-110) for Peoria with 16 runs scored, three home runs and 16 RBIs. He ranks second among all Yankees Winter League prospects with 34 hits after making the AFL roster from Double-A Trenton.
RHP Humberto Sanchez: The Bronx-born Sanchez appeared in 11 games this fall for the Javelinas, allowing 17 runs (16 earned), 21 hits and 11 walks and striking out three in 12 innings (12.00 ERA). Sanchez pitched twice in September for the Yankees.
RHP Kevin Whelan: The righty finished the season 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, recording 21 strikeouts and allowing 11 hits and four earned runs in 17 1/3 innings of relief work. He ranked third in the AFL in ERA and opponents combined for a .175 batting average against him. Whelan pitched as high as Double-A Trenton this year, going 2-0 with a 4.35 ERA and one save in 15 appearances.
Dominican Winter League
LHP Wilkins Arias: Relieved in 11 games for the Aguilas Cibeanas and is 0-1 with a 15.43 ERA. He has allowed 12 runs and 11 hits in seven innings, walking six and striking out 10.
OF Melky Cabrera: Cabrera has nine hits in his first 26 at-bats for the Aguilas Cibeanas, having played seven games. The 23-year-old outfielder -- New York's Opening Day center fielder in 2008 -- has a double, five runs and five RBIs, plus a stolen base.
2B Robinson Cano: Having just completed a six-day session with hitting coach Kevin Long in the Dominican Republic, Cano is serving as a designated hitter for Estrellas de Oriente. In the midst of a renewed fitness regimen, Cano has three hits in his first 12 at-bats, scoring two runs and driving in a pair.
OF Matt Carson: Carson is batting .273 (21-for-77) with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 20 games for Aguilas. He has five doubles, five walks, 15 strikeouts and a stolen base.
RHP Oneli Perez: A June waiver-claim acquisition from the Indians, Perez has a 3.64 ERA and six saves in seven opportunities for Tigres del Licey, appearing in 13 games overall. He has allowed six runs (five earned) and 14 hits in 12 1/3 innings, walking seven and striking out 13.
RHP Amaury Sanit: Sanit has a 5.87 ERA in seven relief appearances for Tigres del Licey, allowing five runs on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out six.
RHP Jose Valdez: Pitched one scoreless inning for Tigres del Licey, walking one and striking out one.
Hawaii Winter Baseball
LHP Jeremy Bleich: The Yankees' supplemental-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Bleich was named to the Hawaiian Winter League All-League Team and finished with a record of 3-2, leading all Yankees starters with a 1.77 ERA. He ranked second in the HWL in innings pitched (35 2/3) and fifth in ERA.
RHP Andrew Brackman: New York's first-round pick in the 2007 Draft, Brackman has made eight starts for Waikiki as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The 6-foot-10 right-hander was 3-4 with a 5.56 ERA, allowing 24 runs (21 earned) and 321 hits in 34 innings. Command was an issue for Brackman, who walked 25, struck out 36 and threw 13 wild pitches while also hitting a batter.
C Austin Romine: Romine hit .208 (11-for-53) in 17 games for Waikiki, with four doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. Romine, who turned 20 this month, hit an even .300 for Class A Charleston this season, slugging 10 homers and driving in 49 runs in 104 games.
INF Damon Sublett: After spending the season at Class A Tampa, the left-handed-hitting Sublett hit .253 (19-for-75) for Waikiki, stroking six doubles, a triple and two home runs to collect 18 RBIs while scoring 15 runs. Sublett struck out 23 times after fanning 44 times in 160 at-bats for Tampa.
Liga Mexicana del Pacifico
OF Justin Christian: After making his big league debut in 2008 with New York, Christian is hitting .290 (35-for-121) through 29 games for Caneros de Los Mochis. Christian has three homers and 15 RBIs, walking 11 times and striking out 21. He was successful in nine of 10 steal attempts.
INF Walter Ibarra: Through 24 games, Ibarra is batting .245 (13-for-53) with two RBIs and three runs scored for Naranjeros de Hermosillo.
INF Ramiro Pena: Pena is batting .255 (12-for-47) with four runs scored, one a double, one homer and six RBIs in 13 games for Tomateros de Culiacan.
Puerto Rican Winter League
RHP Ian Kennedy: Playing for Los Indios de Mayaguez, New York's No. 1 Draft selection in 2006 started and recorded a no-decision in his last start on Nov. 18 vs. Los Criollos de Caguas, allowing two hits and two earned runs in five innings. Kennedy walked five and struck out two, and opponents are batting a combined .190 against him in three starts.
RHP Jonathan Albaladejo: Returning from an elbow injury by pitching with Los Indios de Mayaguez, Albaladejo has not allowed a run in 4 1/3 innings. He has given up three hits and a walk, striking out three with a wild pitch.
Venezuelan Winter League
C Francisco Cervelli: New York's most big league-ready catching prospect, Cervelli is hitting .258 (8-for-31) with a home run in 15 games for Cardenales de Lara. Cervelli played 21 games at Double-A Trenton before making it into three games with the Yankees in September.
IF Reegie Corona: Playing for Navegantes del Magallanes, Corona is batting .283 (15-for-53) with nine runs scored, five doubles, one homer and nine RBIs in 20 games. He played 129 games at Trenton, hitting .274 with three homers and 39 RBIs.
IF Edwar Gonzalez: Through 14 games for Cardenales de Lara, Gonzalez is batting .323 (10-for-31) with four runs scored, one triple, one home run and five RBIs.
IF Carlos Mendoza: Mendoza has four hits in 11 at-bats for Cardenales de Lara, having appeared in 16 games and logged an RBI and walk, striking out four times.
LHP Edgar Soto: Pitching for Aguilas del Zulia, Soto allowed five runs in one inning of work, a 45.00 ERA.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.