Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Full Season at AAA?

Some blurbs from this excellent Sports Illustrated article:

Here is Cashman's problem: his two best options for those rotation spots should be off limits until June: 20-year-old phenom Philip Hughes (he'll be 21 in June) and 44-year-old legend Roger Clemens. Can Cashman continue to remain patient through the first third of the season while Hughes tears up Triple-A and Clemens waits until he's ready to pitch? While Cashman might have no control over when Clemens pitches -- it won't be in April -- he does have the power to bring Hughes up to the big leagues prematurely, which would be a huge mistake and a departure from the plan of calculated patience that Cashman has developed.

"I wouldn't mind if Philip Hughes spent the full season in Triple-A," Cashman said before leaving on a vacation this week -- yet another sign of his acquisition of power. A Yankees GM leaving on a vacation four weeks before spring training used to be unheard of. "We're going to sit down soon with [pitching coordinator] Nardi Contreras and map out some plans that will be in place when we get to spring training Feb. 13. If Philip Hughes spends a full season in Triple-A, that's not a bad thing."


"The plan that Cashman and Contreras map out for Hughes in the coming weeks should look something like this: Tell Hughes and the major league staff he has no chance of making the big league club coming out of spring training, no matter how well he pitches -- this reduces the chances of Hughes overthrowing to try to make the club -- and send him to Triple-A with the same pitch limits he had in place last season. The Red Sox used a similar plan with Jon Lester last season.

Hughes can help the Yankees in the second half, but only if he doesn't load up on innings in the minor leagues. The Yankees should budget Hughes for about 180 innings this year, postseason included. Better to cut back on those innings early in the cold of Scranton rather than late in New York."

I wouldn't read too much in to Cashman saying "I wouldn't mind if Philip Hughes spent the full season in Triple-A". I think that Cashman is holding all of his options open. The Yankees have five big league starting pitchers right now, and at least three major league ready starters on the outside part of the 40-man. It sounds to me like the Yankees are going to set up a couple of required benchmarks before Hughes is called up to the majors. Hughes is not going to pitch more than 180 innings in 2007, and that's probably a good thing.

However, a few things worry me here. Sports Illustrated speculates that Hughes will be put on the same 5 inning leash that he was put on for the second part of last season. I have mixed feelings about this. First off, I think that Hughes needs to build up to the 100 pitch level. That is the standard for major league players and Hughes has precious little experience throwing that much. I don't want his arm to become conditioned to these 70 pitch outings. However, I think that the only reason that the Yankees would start Hughes on a leash is with the intention of a mid-season call up.

I think that if Hughes spends the entire season at AAA, it will be due to tremendous luck by the New York Yankees. We have a rotation that could potentially be very good or fairly bad. If everything goes right, we may just have a full starting rotation of pretty good pitchers, and we won't need to call anybody up. I think that this is unlikely. Chances are we will finish the season with one or more of our minor league players in the rotation, and Hughes is our best option to help the major league team.

Pitching wise, Hughes is going to tear through International League batters. I don't think that there is any question there. The Eastern League is full of very advanced batters, and some teams have more talent than International League teams. Once he nails down his changeup, Hughes will have little more to learn from the minor leagues. Maybe he'll learn a cutter or something.

I'll close by saying that I cannot remember a pitching prospect as highly touted as Hughes ever being held at AAA for a full season.