There’s an old baseball adage kicking around regarding player development. It’s a basic rule of thumb that, assuming a player ever navigates the minors and makes it to the major leagues, it should take a hitter roughly 1500 minor league at-bats before he is equipt to handle the David Price’s and Johnny Cueto’s of the world.
For pitchers, the same rule applies also. That it would take 500 minor league innings or thereabouts, for a pitcher to be able to go up against the likes of an Andrew McCutchen or a Mike Trout, and expect a small modicum of success.
I’m not saying that it’s fool-proof, but since I first heard of that formula back when Rocky and Bullwinkle were must-see TV, I have noticed that it is more often than not, pretty darn close to those actual numbers.
Well guess what? In his last start at Buffalo on Saturday, Collin McHugh pushed his innings totals up to 521 for his minor league career. Now I know a lot of you are thinking right now: “C’mon Petey, that really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the big picture. Either he’s ready to contribute now or he isn’t.”
Well I can’t argue with someone who takes such a pragmatic view of player development, but let’s not dismiss that 500 inning watermark quite yet as being a lot of hooey.
For one thing, not too many people would argue that the Mets should have brought McHugh up sooner. If you watched his progress carefully these last two years, you could clearly see the steps he took that got him to where he is today.
In my first interview with Collin for MMO last October, my favorite question slash answer that I thought he gave in the whole interview, was the one where I asked him how come he made the, “biggest jump in the minors” from High-A to Double-A, and while doing so, actually ratcheted up his game to a whole nother level at the same time?
If you put that promotion, in May of 2011 into perspective, his answer not only makes perfect sense, but is also rather fascinating. You see when he first went up to Binghamton he had already made six starts at St. Lucie. And he didn’t fare very well. He was getting smacked around as a 24-year-old pitcher in the Florida State League, to the tune of a H/9 at just under 12.0 (11.9 actually). He had a 1-2 record and a 6.31 ERA.
So what he told me was, that he really had no expectations of being in Binghamton for very long, a spot start or two, maybe a brief stint in the bullpen. Then more than likely, back on the St. Lucie express. And I have to say, Collin is a realist, and he had discussed the matter with his wife Ashley, and they decided that if the end-of-the-line might be looming ahead for our hero, that they might as well enjoy the rest of the ride for as long as it lasts, and just have fun.
Whether that caused a certain upswing in command of his pitches, or whether it was just a coincidence, McHugh was a completely different pitcher when he arrived in the Eastern League. He quickly became the “ace” of the staff I guess you could say, and made 16 starts the rest of the way and went 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA.
He pitched the best game, to that point in his career, in his last start of the 2011 season against Erie on September 1st. He went nine innings in what was the only B-Mets complete game of last season. Gave up one run on five hits, with 11 strikeouts and two walks. Between the two stops last year he pitched a 129 innings, and then went on to Arizona to play in the fall league out there in the desert.
I saw Collin pitch a masterful game in New Britain on May 22nd this year. He was embroiled in a zero-zero pitcher’s duel heading into the seventh inning. The lead-off hitter in the bottom of the seventh was the New Britain right-fielder Evan Bigley. Bigley turned an inside fastball around in a hurry and drove one over the left-centerfield fence and into the Connecticut night, much to my shock and horror.
That made the score 1-0 and brought up the left-fielder Nathan Hanson. As I watched the animated Bigley skipping around the bases like a frolicking pony, and the press box around me erupted in rejoicing, my thoughts went to the long drive home I had ahead of me after the game, and I began to wonder whether it would be a happy recap, or not. My melancholy was interupted rather suddenly. McHugh came a little too far inside with an offering and hit Hanson on the wrist.
It was about this time that all hell broke loose on the diamond. The umpire, some ridiculous clown by the name of Joey Armorall, who takes his job very, very seriously I might add, leaps from behind home plate gesticulating wildly at McHugh, and waiving his upturned thumb around over his head like he was swinging a lasso.
Incredulous, McHugh went ballistic and made up the distance between the mound and home-plate in about 1.2 seconds. He looked as if he wanted to take Armorall and clean some upholstery with his face. But somehow catcher Kai Gronauer, who runs very well for a catcher, made it to McHugh in a half-second flat, and wrapping his arms around him in a bear hug, kept him from killing the umpire. I was mystified that an ump could so misread a situation as to think a pitcher, trying to protect a 1-0 deficit in the seventh inning, would purposely throw at a hitter.
The next day I saw Collin in the dugout before batting practice and I began to tease him about “hitting that poor guy on purpose” but he just shook his head expressing the same thought I had already had. Why would anyone trying to win that game, start putting guys on base on purpose?
I think Glen Abbott, the B-Mets pitching coach summed it up very succinctly a few minutes later when I said to him, “Hey coach, why’d they throw your boy out of the game last night?” He made a sour face and waved his hand in a dismissing fashion and simply said, “Double-A umpires don’t know bleep!” Couldn’t have said it better myself coach. By the way, he didn’t really say bleep.
McHugh is a bulldog, pure and simple. He throws a fastball in the low-90′s and does a good job of keeping it down. He has an effective change, and a good slider, but his best secondary pitch is his hammer curve. If you have yet to see him pitch, you will notice that when he is throwing well everything is down, and he goes after hitters aggressively.
Here’s why I think McHugh is going to stick in the bigs, and why the timing for him to be brought up right now is perfect. For one, he is 25-years-old, a polished pitcher who shows good command, poise on the mound, and a good idea of what he’s doing out there.
When he arrived at AAA in June of this year, he struggled in his first three starts, losing two of them and getting a no-decision in the other. Then he rattled off a string of eight-out-of-nine quality starts including his gem this past Saturday.
Pitching at Pawtucket, he tossed 7.0 innings, giving up no runs on five hits, with four strikeouts and no walks. And Pawtucket is one of the better hitting teams in the International League as well, ranking second or third in every major offensive team category.
With McHugh on a roll right now, and the big league club going nowhere fast, the timing is perfect for him to make his Major League debut. And today is the day.
Congratulations Collin. This opportunity couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, and all of us Mets fans, and the entire staff at MMO, want to wish you the very best of luck as you embark on your big league sojourn this afternoon against Colorado. And always remember Collin……..