This morning my Twitter feed has been full of talk about Phil Hughes’ declining velocity, starting with a couple reports quoting scouts.
First, here’s Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com:
Scouts following Yankees have been stunned by Phil Hughes’ lack of velocity this spring 87-89 mph, with more 87s than 89s.
And now here’s Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
I can give amens to DKnobler’s scout take about Hughes’ velocity being down. Yankees say was down last yr, too, and came up in Apr. But one scout said had Hughes at 90-94mph this time last yr and it is 87-89 now with heavy reliance on cutter.
What’s especially interesting is that Ben Shpigel of the New York Times wrote an article Wednesday about how Hughes had “unveiled” an altered grip on his slider that made the pitch more like a cutter and was very pleased with the pitch after it accounted for six of his seven strikeouts against the Blue Jays. In talking about the pitch Hughes explained that “it’s just something to get them off my fastball.”
Of course, that takes on a slightly different tone when accompanied by reports of his fastball being in the high-80s. Hughes’ average fastball clocked in at 92.6 miles per hour last season, which was down from 93.8 mph in 2009 but still well above the MLB average. If he’s indeed relying far more on a cutter his overall velocity readings are going to be down, but assuming scouts are isolating his fastball when they pass along readings in the high-80s there’s certainly some reason for concern.
The Yankees signed first-round draft pick Clarke Schmidt and second-round pick Matt Sauer on Saturday, per a team announcement. Schmidt, a right-hander from the University of South Carolina, is set to earn a signing bonus of $2,184,300. According to MLB.com’s Oliver Macklin, that’s much lower than the typical $3+ million allocated for a No. 16 overall pick. The opposite is true for Sauer, whose projected $2.5 million signing bonus tops the suggested $1.2 million reserved for a No. 54 pick.
Schmidt, 21, boasts an impressive four-pitch repertoire and profiles as a front-end or mid-rotation starter, according to reports from Yankees’ VP of Domestic Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer and ESPN’s Keith Law, among others. He carried a 4-2 record through nine starts in 2017 and turned in a 1.34 ERA before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery last month to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow. While the Yankees won’t see him pitch at any level until late 2018, they seem confident in his makeup and ability to rebound over the next couple of years.
Fellow right-hander and Righetti High School senior Matt Sauer is a different story altogether. The 18-year-old hurler appears destined for the bullpen with a polished fastball-slider combo and a promising curveball and changeup. He dazzled on the mound this year, going 9-1 with an 0.98 ERA and two shutouts over 78 1/3 innings. While the Yankees seem most interested in his pitching skills, Sauer showed some pop at the plate as well, touting a .427 average with 24 RBI through 135 plate appearances.
The Athletics followed Friday’s 3-0 shutout with a rookie-led home run derby on Saturday afternoon, watching not one, not two, but three rookies belt their first major league home runs off of the White Sox’ James Shields.
Right fielder Matt Olson was the first to strike, taking Shields deep on a first-pitch, two-run blast in the first inning for his first home run in 49 major league plate appearances:
Fellow outfielder Jaycob Brugman duplicated his teammate’s results in the second inning with a solo home run, his first extra-base hit of any kind since he made his debut on June 9:
In the third, with a comfortable 4-0 lead backing two scoreless frames from Oakland right-hander Daniel Gossett, Franklin Barreto took his shot at Shields. After getting the call several hours prior to Saturday’s game, he became the fastest of the three rookies to record his first big league homer, going yard on a 2-2 changeup and driving in Bruce Maxwell to give the A’s a six-run advantage.
The Athletics currently lead the White Sox 8-2 in the top of the sixth inning.