LAST THURSDAY in
Tampa, the locker between Derek Jeter's and reliever T.J. Beam's was all but
empty. Until the previous evening the stall had been used by the Future of the
Yankees, but now his nameplate and his belongings were gone, and so was the
media throng that had followed him around the major league camp. The only
evidence that Phil Hughes had been a member of the 26-time world champions for
the preceding four weeks was the midnight blue number 65 jersey hanging on the
clothes rod. "You don't take your jersey with you," explained Beam.
"They have different jerseys over there."
Over there refers
to the minor league camp across Dale Mabry Highway, to which Hughes--viewed by
many as the second-best prospect in baseball, behind the Royals' Alex Gordon,
and by Yankees fans as something closer to the Second Coming--had been
reassigned. Although the Yankees had planned the move all along, it's hard to
imagine that they would have so easily sent down Hughes if the 6'5",
220-pound righthander had dominated major league hitters the way he handled
Single and Double A batters last year (12--6, 2.16 ERA, 168 strikeouts and 34
walks in 146 innings). He did not.
line for Hughes' three spring outings: 4 2/3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 2 K,
7.71 ERA. He struggled to throw his breaking pitches for strikes, continually
fell behind in counts and then was forced to throw the fastballs that hitters
were waiting for. "It was kind of unexpected," says Hughes, the 23rd
pick of the 2004 draft. "I've never really had a hard time getting ahead of
As manager Joe
Torre says, when he begins discussing Hughes's performance in the major league
camp, " Phil Hughes--he's got some work to do."
Posada, who last spring called Hughes's arm the best in camp, wonders if the
20-year-old Californian has become too comfortable on the mound. "It seems
like he was hungrier last year, like he wanted to show people more," Posada
says. "He's going to be a very good big league pitcher for a long time, but
he's got to remember that he hasn't made it yet."
always going to be that thing that drives me," Hughes says in response.
"I want to be the best there is. Whether I show that outwardly or not, it
still doesn't change what I feel."
An AL executive
warns against extrapolating, from half a game's worth of March work, the future
performance of Hughes. "He showed a mid-90s fastball that he throws to both
sides of the plate," says the exec, "and signs of a plus
curveball." Even the Twins who knocked him around were impressed. "I
didn't know he was only 20," says Justin Morneau, the reigning AL MVP.
"He was pretty composed out there."
Hughes will start
the season at Triple A Scranton, where he will try to develop his changeup as
an alternative to the fastball when he's behind in the count. "We'll see
him [in the majors] this season," predicts Morneau. Torre is still a
believer too. "I told him more than once, 'There's going to be a time when
somebody's going to tap you on the shoulder and say, It's your turn,'" the
skipper recalls. "And that could come at any time."