Hughes draws huge comparisons
Team's top pick in 2004 draft dazzles four Yankee All-Stars
TAMPA, Fla. -- Philip Hughes certainly knew who Alex Rodriguez was when he started throwing batting practice on Thursday, but the reigning American League MVP had no idea who the kid standing on the mound was.
"I didn't know who he was," Rodriguez said. "I thought he was going to throw about 88 [mph], and he came at me with 95."
When Rodriguez stepped out of the cage, he walked right over to Mark Newman, the Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, to find out more about the 19-year-old right-hander.
"I immediately asked Mark Newman if he was one of our top prospects," A-Rod said, "because I was like, 'Who the [heck] is that guy?'"
Hughes may not be a household name just yet, but based on the impression he made Thursday, that may be just a matter of time.
The Yankees' pitchers threw batting practice to the hitters for the first time on Thursday, as Hughes drew the quartet of A-Rod, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui.
Hughes, New York's No. 1 pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, relished the opportunity to face four All-Star players.
"You're not going to get better pitching to guys that are as good as you, so why not throw to guys that are 100 times better than you?" Hughes said. "It's awesome. Not a lot of people get to experience something like this. To be around these guys is an unbelievable opportunity, so I'm trying to take advantage of it."
As excited as Hughes was about his first brush with big-time big-leaguers, the hitters were just as enthusiastic about the young Yankee's future.
"He throws hard, and he's just a baby -- 19 years old," said manager Joe Torre. "The thing that's unusual for a kid as young as he is, his curveball is really impressive. His stuff is very real."
"That kid is going to be good; he reminds me of Rocket," Giambi said, making a comparison between Hughes and Roger Clemens. "He's young, but that fastball, it's late. I don't care what the radar gun says, it seems like it's on top of you. He's got good stuff."
When informed of Giambi's comparison to the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Hughes seemed taken aback.
"Jason's been around for a while, so he might know what he's talking about," Hughes said. "That's awesome to hear."
A minute later, after letting the information sink in, Hughes let out a loud chuckle when asked about the Clemens comparison.
"That's outrageous," said a smiling Hughes. "Clemens has been doing it for 20 years and I did it for one batting practice. I just have to keep it up."
Clemens, it should be noted, made his Major League debut more than two years before Hughes was born. In fact, Clemens had struck out 20 batters in a game before Hughes entered the world.
That didn't stop Posada from making another proclamation about the youngster that raised some eyebrows.
"He has the best arm in camp, no doubt about it. Better than all these guys," said Posada, pointing to a row of lockers which included Randy Johnson and Mariano Rivera. "I don't care how old he is. He's unbelievable. It's effortless the way the ball comes out of his hand at 95-96. He's that impressive. He's the best prospect we've got. It's fun to see."
Despite the gushing compliments flowing from the veteran sluggers, Hughes isn't letting any of it get to his head. After going 9-1 with a 2.19 ERA with Class A teams in Charleston and Tampa last season, Hughes knows he will likely spend most of this season with Double-A Trenton.
As long as he is in big-league camp this spring, Hughes plans to observe as much as he can from veteran pitchers such as Johnson and Mike Mussina, soaking in every possible detail. Throwing to A-Rod, Giambi, Posada and Matsui was quite an experience, but what happened to him after the workout may have been even more surprising to him.
"I never thought I'd have eight guys standing around me wondering what I had to say," he said to a group of reporters. "It's crazy."
If his admirers are correct, it won't be the last time.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.