They were considered aces in the making.
Phil Hughes was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the game by Baseball America before the 2007 season, a near-certain pillar of Yankees rotations for years to come.
Mike Pelfrey was rated the No. 20 prospect in the game by Baseball America that same year, and it appeared just a matter of time before he was leading a promising Mets squad to multiple postseason appearances.
Of course neither of those two scenarios worked out.
The future of a young pitcher may be the most uncertain road in all of baseball. In Hughes’ case, a hamstring pull sidetracked his rookie season, ineffectiveness plagued his sophomore try and inconsistency beset the years thereafter. What seemed like a promising career has plateaued into mediocrity – a 56-50 record with a 4.54 ERA.
Pelfrey went through typical youthful struggles with the Mets in 2006 and 2007, but he seemed to have things figured out after a 2008 season during which he was 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA. If anything, that season started an odd trend of one good season followed by one bad season for Pelfrey. Examine his ERAs since then: 5.03, 3.66, 4.74, 2.29, 5.19. At least he’s set up for a good year in 2013 if the pattern holds.
Both hurlers are now part of a re-made Twins rotation. Pelfrey joined in 2013 and agreed to a deal for the 2014 season on Monday. Hughes agreed to a deal in November.
Neither player’s career panned out with New York while playing for crosstown rivals, but now both are hoping for success in the same Minnesota rotation.
Are their reasons to think they may?
A large part of Pelfrey’s bad 2013 (5-13, 5.19 ERA) can be attributed to the Tommy John surgery he had in 2012. Pitchers are generally less effective during their first season back from the procedure, and Pelfrey returned to the mound faster than most, just 11 months after having the surgery performed. He had a 3.73 ERA in 14 starts from June 6 to Aug. 31 and, even with an inconsistent September added in, had a 4.44 ERA during his final 18 starts.
Hughes was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013 (the same ERA Pelfrey posted). He was removed from the Yankees rotation by the end of the season, despite the team having no shot at the playoffs. Hughes’ problem has always been giving up home runs. He allowed 35 in 2012 and 24 more in just 145.2 innings last season. But pitching his home games in the more spacious expanse of Target Field rather than the extremely comfy confines of Yankee Stadium should help keep those numbers in check. In three regular season games at Target Field, Hughes has a 2.53 ERA in 21.1 innings with just one home run allowed.
Adding Hughes and re-upping with Pelfrey may seem like shoulder-shrugging moves to many who watched them often in New York. But Minnesota is gambling that the same talent that made the two a pair of top prospects is still there.
Even if it isn’t always apparent.