I've been a fan of Hughes' since seeing some youtube video of him in the summer of 2006. That was his best year as a pro: he quickly ascended to Trenton and destroyed the Eastern League as a 20-year-old. He was better than Clay Buchholz at a younger age. He's given up just eight home-runs in 310 minor league innings with a .92 WHIP and only six hits/9 innings.
His fastball velocity has been closer to 90-92 than the 95 we were often told about. His velocity has been debated to death, almost as much as Joba's role. I believe when he's 'right', Hughes sits 92-94, which is corroborated by several sources, most importantly Hughes himself. That he hasn't been in that range consistently could be due to one major reason: his injuries. Not only have they robbed him of velocity (most notably the broken rib in early 2008), but they've robbed him of those hot mid-summer games when pitchers typically throw hardest. In 2007 he pulled his hamstring in May and didn't return until August. In 2008 he went out with a broken rib in April and didn't return until September.
Partly because of that, one recurring thought I've had is that he, not Joba, may be the eventual successor to Mariano. Here are the reasons why it could happen:
1. He seems to lose his velocity rather quickly. While he may reach 95 in the 1st inning, he's often down to 92 in the 4th, and 90 in the 6th. I could easily see him throwing 96 for 1-2 innings.
2. He has just two plus pitches (at the moment). His changeup is still about average, but his curve is plus-plus and his fastball (despite the belief of some) is plus - both in terms of velocity and command. To remain a starter, he needs to improve the changeup.
3. He's succumbed to more and longer injuries than Joba. Maybe a move to the pen would keep him healthier.
I'm not saying I want it to happen, just that it might.
Anyway, what are your thoughts on Hughes regarding 2009 and the long-term?