As everyone in Yankeeland knows by now, the Yankees have announced that Phil Hughes will be promoted to the big club and will make his major-league debut on Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Like every Yankee fan, I'm very excited to see the kid pitch in the big leagues because he has the makeup to be a great pitcher in this league for a long time.
However, in my opinion, bringing Hughes up this early in the 2007 campaign is a mistake and I view it as a panic move by the organization due to the injury-riddled rotation and the inconsistencies of the current (although temporary) group outside of Andy Pettitte.
By no means am I questioning his maturity or his ability on the field because he has clearly developed far beyond his years when you compare him to other young hurlers his age -- past and present. But, he has pitched just 230 innings in his ENTIRE PRO CAREER and there was a reason why Cashman and Co. were committed to babying this kid's development and limiting his pitch counts since the middle of last season at Double-A Trenton.
I realize Hughes has all the tools to be an outstanding pitcher, but let's all try to keep in mind that this kid is just 20 yrs old -- and there are reasons why there isn't a long list of 20-yr old pitchers who have performed well in the major leagues during the last decade. There is a huge difference in the development of one's arm between pitchers who are 22-23 yrs old and have 500+ innings of experience under their belt and a 20-yr old pitcher with 200+ innings of experience under his belt.
My biggest fear is that he is going to hurt himself as other young phenoms have done in recent years like Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Francisco Liriano, Jonathon Papelbon [at the end of last season], and now "King Felix" Hernandez.
For 3 months last season, Liriano was outstanding and paired with Johan Santana to form the most dominant one-two punch in the major leagues. However, his elbow evidently couldn't handle the enormous increase in workload and the strain eventually led him to a season-ending injury in the middle of a pennant race and then Tommy John surgery during the off-season. Now, the Twins are out of luck because they lost an outstanding young pitcher for the foreseeable future who will not pitch in 2007 and at least part of 2008.
Let's be clear, I'm not advocating that Hughes should sit in the Minors for another season or two. But, I am suggesting that he needs to stay in Triple-A for half the season like the organization initially planned in order to gain more experience and not be thrown to the wolves like we've seen with Chase Wright, Darrell Rasner, and Jeff Karstens.
Hughes clearly wasn't ready for the big show in Spring Training when he struggled with his control and mechanics and I don't see how three starts in Triple-A is enough work and experience to learn from and overcome those issues. Failure is not always a bad thing when it comes to the development of a young pitcher who is expected to be the ace of your rotation for the next decade.
The kid's arm needs to be conditioned for the kind of workload he's going to face in the major leagues and they shouldn't be putting his career at risk by bringing him up so early in the season. I also question the logic for bringing him up now since he will likely stay on a monitored or limited pitch count and the Yanks already have issues with starters who are unable to pitch into the 6th and 7th innings.
Some reports have stated that Cashman believes Hughes will only be getting his feet wet and will be sent back down once Moose returns from the DL in another week or two. I hope that turns out to be the case, but I fear he will stay in the rotation indefinitely and further risk the kid's future. It's much easier and more practical to monitor and limit his pitch count in Triple-A than it is with the big club.
I hope I'm wrong, but I don't want to see such another outstanding young phenom sustain an arm, elbow, or shoulder injury after some initial success in the major leagues -- never to be the same again. His future with this franchise is much too important to put his health at risk so early in the season.
That's my take on Phil Hughes and his debut on Thursday. Feel free to agree/disagree and post your own theories.