Friday, February 9, 2007

Spring Training: Time To Phil-er-up

Phil Hughes spoke to contributor Bryan Hoch about major league pressure, his ability to remain grounded, and daunting organizational expectations. The 20-year-old's work ethic is generated by a strong upbringing that taught him to remain humble because advantages could disappear as quickly as they materialize.

Mike Mussina gave his take on the jewel of the Yankee farm system:

"He's got ability, he's got skill, and he's got an idea," Mussina said. "He had a good year last year. I don't know if they should be throwing him into the fire at 20 or 21 years old, but he's not very far away."

Hughes said last season gave him a low-pressure experience of what camp would be like. In one February workout, he buzzed a mid-90s heater past Alex Rodriguez, prompting the reigning AL MVP to ask a club executive, "Who the [heck] is that guy?"

Mark Newman, the club's senior vice president of baseball operations, will not shoot down the possibility of Hughes making the team's Opening Day roster. But because of Hughes' value as a long-term asset, the Yankees are cautious not to jeopardize his future to satisfy a short-term need.

"I would never count someone of his ability out," Newman said. "I think the best-case scenario is to give him a little time at Triple-A. It's not beyond reasonable for him to make an impact sometime this year."

"[Hughes] had a month last year where he threw 80 percent fastball strikes. We've never had anybody do that. He went all year and didn't face a hitter with the bases loaded. All the performance indices we look at are off the charts."

Hughes said he believes his grounded personality comes from his upbringing, when he was taught that any perceived advantages or benefits can disappear at any time. Accordingly, Hughes said he hasn't been the type to get in trouble or become involved in confrontations.

"I'm the same guy I've always been," Hughes said. "I just go out and pitch and do my thing every fifth day."

He describes his clubhouse goals as keeping his head down and getting to work. It's an ethic that, sooner or later, should deliver him to the Bronx.

"I think the door is open for me," Hughes said. "I've just got to go out and prove that I'm ready."

I admit the coverage of everything Hughes does or says is excessive at times. But, a player hoping to reach Yankee Stadium needs to pass mental trials as much as the physical tests. The fact that Hughes didn't once load the bases during his 2006 campaign is inconceivable - but the idea that he is still "the same guy [he's] always been" only further underlines his promise.

A previous post has good video footage of Phil-er-up's arsenal (as well as top hitting prospect Jose Tabata). Another short video cut of Hughes can be found here.

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