Last season I made a point of never drafting a starting pitcher in at least the first ten rounds of any draft. I was in seven Fantasy Baseball Leagues. I won two of those leagues and took second in three others. So, you would think that this strategy paid off pretty well and that I would stick to it in 2014. But I am not. Don’t get me wrong, I am still very against selecting a starter in the first or second rounds. I also do not advocate going pitching heavy in the earlier rounds either. But I’ve determined after years of waiting literally forever on pitchers that having at least one power arm and preferably two locked in is the best way to go. After you have locked in your guy(s) with a high K/9, low BB/9, high GB% & HR/FB rate (all of which are a necessity to select a starter in the early rounds) then you can safely wait to form the rest of your staff. That is why I started profiling these “Late Round Starters” that you can target late and still round out a high end staff when all is said and done. Over the coming days and weeks I will profile starters who are not in high demand despite being very Fantasy worthy.
Phil Hughes – RHP – Minnesota Twins
2013 Stats: 4-14, 145.2 IP, 5.19 ERA, 121 K’s, 1.45 WHIP
National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC): 393.92
Mock Draft Central: 305.03
FSTA Draft on January 15th, 2014: Drafted 24th round (303rd overall)
Everybody on the east coast will avoid Phil Hughes because he was labeled a “can’t miss” prospect that never quite lived up to expectations with the Yankees. Anybody who looks at last years numbers will fail to even put Hughes on their rankings for 2014. But in experts leagues and in higher stakes leagues there is a contingent of players who are watching Hughes this spring and wondering if he can put it all together out in Minnesota this year. He has been drafted in every single draft and mock draft that I have done so far this season.
Phil Hughes has an electric arm. His fastball can reach the mid-90’s and he throws a nasty knuckle curveball that can be a true “out pitch” when he is right. The Twins are working with Hughes to refine his repertoire and just concentrate on throwing his three best pitches (fastball, curve & changeup) well every time. He has the stuff to strikeout nearly a batter per inning when he is going right. This along with a very respectable walk rate (2.8 BB/9) shows that he is on the right track for success at this level.
Getting out of New York will be a godsend for Hughes. He got crushed in Yankee Stadium as his 1-10 record there last year will show. Hughes is a flyball pitcher and needs to pitch in a park that isn’t as generous with HR’s. Target Field fits his style quite nicely.
The one season in which Phil Hughes wasn’t injured he won 18 games and was an All-Star. He is having a great spring training with the Twins giving up just one earned run in three starts.
Let’s start out simple. Phil Hughes gives up way too many flyballs. His career mark of 46% of balls in the air is way over the MLB average of 36%. This pattern especially won’t work in Yankee Stadium which allows the second most HR’s to left hand hitters in all of baseball. The move to Minnesota and Target field will help in this regard but Hughes must find a way to limit flyballs if he is to be successful.
Hughes gives up too much contact. This happens because he doesn’t get ahead in the count and then has to lean on his fastball to get outs. This is a big problem for many pitchers but if the hitter knows you can only command a fastball and aren’t ahead in the count, they will sit on it and make great contact. The Twins are going to force Hughes to only use his fastball, curve and changeup early on in the spring in hopes he can attack hitters earlier in the count.
The Twins offense stinks. In New York, Hughes was able to accumulate wins because he would get bailed out by a great offense. He won’t have that luxury in Minnesota. So, in order to be an effective fantasy player he will need to lower his contact, keep or improve his strikeout rate and give up less homeruns.
Phil Hughes will be better in Minnesota than he ever was in New York. Between the prospect hype, the media, the ballpark and all of that he is just better suited for a pure baseball environment. But just because he will be better doesn’t mean he can stick on your pitching staff all season. He will need to turn those HR balls into flyouts and command his secondary pitches well enough to hold or improve his strikeout totals. There aren’t many late round pitchers with the pure stuff of Phil Hughes so it’s a gamble that is worth taking providing it doesn’t cost you more than a bottom 5 round pick.