Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have been the object of Yankee fans' ire for a while now. After stellar minor league careers, they both broke into the big show in 2007 and showed signs that they were going to headline the Yankees pitching staff for many years to come. In May of that year, Hughes took a no-hitter into the 7th inning against a vaunted Texas Rangers lineup before being pulled due to injury. In August, Chamberlain was called up as a reliever and took the league by storm, surrendering just one earned run over 24 innings. With that, the bar was set impossibly high for both of them. Since then, they have been bounced between starting and relieving roles, suffered through a variety of injuries, and have turned out to be about league-average pitchers for the past six years. While they haven't been bad pitchers, their results have been tough for many people to swallow since they have fallen well short of what was expected.
Rewind the tape about 20 years and it takes us to another Yankees pitcher that tore through the minor leagues and set the bar of expectation at an unfairly high level when breaking into the big leagues. Sam Militello was drafted by the Yankees as a 20 year old out of the University of Tampa in 1990. He was lights out over the next three years at every level of minor league ball. Just how good was he? Take a look at his aggregate minor league stats from 1990-1992 (data courtesy of baseball reference):
Based on the jaw-dropping numbers above, Militello was called up to the Bronx in August of 1992 and installed quickly as part of the starting rotation. In his debut he threw seven shutout innings against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Needless to say the fans were sold. He pitched well in eight more starts that year and was supposed to be a key piece in the growing core of young Yankees that would eventually take them to the promised land.
Even quicker than he had rifled through the minor leagues, everything came tumbling for Sam Militello in 1993. As a pitcher who relied heavily on breaking balls to strike batters out, the strain on his arm caused the Yankees to shut him down due to injuries after appearing in just three games. He would never again appear in a major league game. After some ineffective rehab assignments later that year, things went from bad to worse in 1994. The same Yankee ghosts that haunted Steve Sax before him and Chuck Knoblauch after him appeared to get the best of poor Sam. He simply couldn't throw the ball where he wanted to anymore. In just 3.2 innings of work at Triple-A Columbus, he walked a staggering 19 batters. That was pretty much it for Militello. He was out of professional baseball by 1996, but to his credit has made the best of his experience by returning to his alma mater as a successful pitching coach for the past 14 seasons.
So, before pointing to Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain as a pair of busts, let the story of Sam Militello be a guiding light. If they even make it to the major leagues, top prospects rarely turn out the way people had hoped. For every superstar that makes it, there's countless others that ultimately accomplish nothing. Hughes and Chamberlain have been serviceable, to say the least, and were major contributors to a World Series championship in 2009. That's a whole lot better than nothing.
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