RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: July 4, 1985
Height: 6′ 7″
Drafted: 4th Round, 110th Overall, 2006
How Acquired: Draft
College: Long Beach State University
Agent: Paragon Sports International
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Hughes was considered one of the top prospects in the country as a HS junior, but his stock fell with a mediocre senior season. He went to Santa Clara, but struggled and, in the wake of coaching changes, transferred to Long Beach State, where he was the #1 starter in 2006. As the mediocre K rates show, Hughes was not overpowering in college and mostly relied on getting ground balls. He threw four pitches that Baseball America described when he was drafted as average or a little below, including a low-90s fastball and a slider.
Signed shortly after the draft and generally performed true to his profile. He was effective at Williamsport, not allowing many hits but sporting a low K rate. After moving up to Hickory, struggled badly with control, walking more than he fanned. At both stops he was an extreme groundball pitcher (ground out to fly out ratio of 4.09 at Williamsport, 3.07 at Hickory). Nevertheless, he allowed HRs with above-average frequency at Hickory and LH batters slugged over .500 against him there.
Returned to Hickory in 2007 and spent the whole season there, by itself a bad sign for an early round draft pick out of a major four-year program. Hughes continued to have a below-average K rate, allow lots of baserunners and get lots of groundballs, although at only a 1.65 ratio. He did not improve over the course of the season. In fact, his ERA was 3.20 in the first half and 6.00 in the second.
Opened at Lynchburg and continued mostly along same lines. He didn’t give up quite as many hits, but increasingly struggled with walks due to a tendency to nibble. His BB/K ratio went from fairly good to poor. He got more groundouts, with a 2.47 ratio. In a late season promotion to Altoona, Hughes pitched about the same as at Lynchburg. He had a huge platoon split at both stops, although one-year splits can be misleading. He had only a modest split in 2007.
Opened in the Altoona rotation and started to show considerable progress through seven starts. Unfortunately, he went out in mid-May with shoulder problems and didn’t return until early August. He pitched solely in relief after returning and struggled. The seven early starts and ten late relief appearances were effectively two different seasons:
Hughes’ ERA as a starter is a little misleading because eight of the fourteen runs he allowed were unearned. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season but wasn’t selected.
Spent most of season back in Altoona rotation. He was fairly effective for first three months and also benefited from good run support, going 10-4, 3.96. He struggled more in July and went to the bullpen when Jeff Locke was promoted. He returned to the rotation for a couple starts after Bryan Morris moved to the bullpen to limit his inning total. This time Hughes pitched much better in relief, posting a 2.96 ERA and .225 opponents’ BA, as compared to 4.70 and .290 while starting. His fastball gained velocity, sitting around 94 instead of the low 90s. His K rate also improved from 7.0 per nine IP to 8.1, while his groundball rate was much lower.
After going unselected again in the Rule 5 draft, Hughes opened 2011 back in AA as a swing man, although he ended up starting in 11 of his 13 appearances there. He continued along largely the same lines until the Pirates moved him up to Indianapolis and moved him to the bullpen. His velocity again increased as a reliever, as he was supposedly throwing 96 and reaching the upper-90s. The difference in results is marked, as he walked a few more but his K rate doubled and he was harder to hit. His groundout to air out ratio also increased dramatically, to 4.07. The Pirates called Hughes up in September and he pitched very well until he his last two outings, when he allowed four of his five earned runs. Those games were in Milwaukee, where getting hammered is the norm for Pirates’ pitchers. Hughes’ peripherals in the majors were very good; his FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 3.48 was much better than his ERA. His groundball rate of 65.5% was more extreme than ever. He threw about 84% fastballs, with his velocity mostly 92-94, not as hard as he was reportedly throwing in AAA. He threw little else aside from a slider.
Hughes had a good spring and made the opening day roster for 2012, helped by an injury to Chris Leroux, who unlike Hughes has no options left. He spent the season in Pittsburgh, other than a couple periods of just a few days in late April when he was sent to AAA twice during some roster maneuvering. Hughes served as the primary middle reliever and led the team in relief innings. Despite a very low, K rate, he did a good job of keeping runners off base, holding opponents to a .226 average. He threw sinkers most of the time, averaging a little over 92 mph, and otherwise relied mainly on a slider. He was helped by a low BABIP of .250; his FIP (4.05) and xFIP (3.89) were much higher than his ERA. Despite a high groundball rate of 59.6%, he gave up seven HRs. He did a good job of inducing double play grounders, getting them in 21% of the opportunities he had, which is about double the MLB average. Like the rest of the bullpen, he was at his worst in August and September, giving up a number of crucial hits.
Hughes opened the season in the Pirates’ bullpen, but he didn’t pitch especially well, mainly due to control problems. The Pirates optioned him to AAA when they called up Jose Contreras. He returned in June during a series of injury-related pitching moves, but soon went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Once he came back, the Pirates sent him to AAA on rehab, then called him up at the beginning of August. He continued to have some control issues in August, then pitched sparingly in September and got bombed when he pitched. On the season, Hughes continued to be a strong groundball pitcher, but his line drive rate was up from 2012. His average fastball and sinker velocity was down about half a mph. Left-handed batters hammered Hughes for a .967 OPS. He allowed only a .664 OPS to right-handed hitters.
Hughes was the odd man out in spring training, with Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel out of options, so he opened the season in Indianapolis. The Pirates called him up after three weeks when Wandy Rodriguez went on the disabled list, then sent him back down and called him up again two more times over the next two weeks due to other injuries. He stayed with the Pirates the rest of the year and had a strong season. His control was far better than in 2013. He missed very few bats, but his groundball rate increased to a very high 64.6%. He also was helped by a BABIP of .246, which he isn’t likely to be able to repeat. That helped him put up an ERA that was roughly half of his xFIP of 3.79. The Pirates increasingly used him in higher leverage situations, often in the 6th and 7th innings. He pitched mainly short rather than long relief, logging 64.1 IP in 63 games. He held right-handed batters to a .622 OPS and left-handed batters to .592. He got groundball double plays in 21% of his opportunities, nearly double the NL average.
Hughes doesn’t miss bats, but his extreme groundball tendencies no doubt are very attractive to the Pirates. They didn’t use him much in multiple inning outings in 2014, but he nevertheless should supplant Jeanmar Gomez as the team’s main middle inning reliever. He still has an option left, but he’ll also be eligible for arbitration as a “super two.” He shouldn’t be especially expensive yet.
|2014: Major League Minimum
2011: Major League Minimum
|Signing Bonus: $305,000
MiLB Debut: 2006
MLB Debut: 9/7/2011
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: 9/6/11
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2013, 2014)
MLB Service Time: 2.007
|June 4, 2003: Drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 16th round, 458th overall pick.
June 7, 2006: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 4th round, 110th overall pick; signed on June 16.
September 6, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.