Bauman: Yanks on target with Hughes
Young ace's development is credit to organization's patience
BOSTON -- This is an example of the New York Yankees doing exactly what has been traditionally necessary in building winning teams. And it has very little to do with spending large amounts of money.
Perhaps the most precious commodity in baseball -- outside of the occasional Albert Pujols or Joe Mauer -- is the very good, young, homegrown pitcher. He'll be available for years to come; he'll be under club control for a significant time; and, given the continually escalating cost of pitching, he'll be a virtual bargain. He'll also be proof that an organization can develop its own pitching.
And that is essentially where we find Phil Hughes.
Hughes is currently fulfilling the first on-field order of being a Yankee, which is to win. With the decision in a 10-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Friday night, he moved to 4-0 in five starts this season. He is in the back of a rotation that includes two major, expensive free-agent acquisitions, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and one member of the Yankees' "Core Four," Andy Pettitte. But Hughes is making his own presence felt, compiling an earned run average of 1.69 and putting together a string of impressive performances.
Hughes, who will be 24 in June, was a first-round selection in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He was, to put it mildly, a highly touted prospect, and he was periodically mentioned as a part of possible trades in which the Yankees would have swapped blue-chip prospects for big-name, top-dollar help. The Johan Santana situation was a classic example. But this was also a case of the Yankees making what then seemed like an atypical judgment, deciding that they would retain their young talent, rather than go for the established star.
General manager Brian Cashman took some heat for that, but subsequent events have come to rest squarely on his side of the argument. Hughes reached the Majors at age 20, in 2007, but he did not stick in the Yankees' rotation in 2008. He came back from that setback, and a stress fracture of a rib, to shine in relief in 2009. During Spring Training, 2010, he was in a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. One of the other competitors was Joba Chamberlain, whose role with the Yankees has been the subject of endless debate.
Now, with Hughes in the rotation and Chamberlain in the bullpen, and both pitching successfully, this is another set of decisions that seems to be directly on target.
One thing Hughes had not accomplished in his brief career was beating the Red Sox. But he's graduated from that school now. This was only his 33rd start, so you can't have everything, but in eight previous appearances against Boston, including two starts, he had been 0-2 with a 7.62 ERA.
So Friday night's outing was a long stride in the right direction. Hughes controlled the Red Sox for seven innings, giving up two runs. He threw strikes, walking just one, while striking out seven.
"I haven't pitched particularly well here," Hughes said. "It's a small sample size, but I need to pitch well here, because, obviously, these are big games. We need to come here and win, and it's a nice way to start the series against them."
He described his work on Friday night, a victory in baseball's biggest rivalry, as "same as always, try to make quality pitches."
This is a task well within Hughes' range of ability. He has a selection of four quality pitches, and he throws hard. He can pitch with both power and finesse. And with a growing run of success, he also has an increasing amount of confidence.
"It's right up there," he said. "I'm throwing the ball well, and now it's a matter of trying to keep it going."
So here you have Phil Hughes, a success story of the Yankees organization, from scouting, to player development, to proper patience with his progress and correct decisions about his role at the Major League level. This is the kind of profile you expect to see in a case involving, for example, the Minnesota Twins. But here are the Yankees, valuing, nurturing the traditional mode of player development.
This kind of thing will only make them even more difficult to beat. Everybody knows about the financial resources, but if you add scouting well; drafting well; developing young players, particularly young pitchers; and maintaining a patient, productive approach with young talent at the Major League level, the current Yankee success could turn dynastic.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.