- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

It did not take long for Philipcq Hughes to be designated as the top prospect in the New York Yankees’ organization after being drafted out of high school in the first round in 2004.

There is a catch that comes with that recognition. Hughes’ name is mentioned every time someone discusses not the Yankees’ future, but their present. When asked the last time he did an interview and the subject of him being traded did not come up, Hughes deadpanned, “High school.”

“You get used to it,” Hughes said. “It is part of the business, especially with the Yankees, we all live with it. I like to talk about baseball but everyone always wants to talk about being traded.”

While the Yankees have made a habit of dealing away top prospects for major league help, Hughes could represent a shift in philosophy. The organization built a dynasty in the late 1990s with a core of homegrown players. It has been five seasons and counting since the last World Series title, and there have been indications that the Yankees would like to hold on to their top minor league talent.

Hughes’ performance this season could be a big reason for that. After tossing only 91 innings between the second half of 2004 and last season because of various injuries,cq Hughes, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander, has dominated hitters this year [-] first with Tampa in the Class A Florida State League and now with Trenton in the Class AA Eastern League.cq

He is 5-3 with a 2.75 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 72 innings with the Thunder.cq paragraph Toss in 30 punchouts in a brief stint in Florida to open the season, and he has an impressive 106-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hughes has allowed two earned runs in his last five starts — a span of 31-2/3 innings.

“I had a little bit of struggles my first time in Double-A, but once I got use to it and found a groove I’ve pitched well lately,” Hughes said. “I am just hoping to build on that and keep going.”

Hughes boasts a quality repertoire of pitches. His fastball sits in the low 90s but he can add a few miles per hour when he needs to. It is his command of the fastball that sets him apart from most prospects. Last season the organization wouldn’t let him throw his nasty slider to force him to work on his curveball and changeup.

When he took the mound for an inning at the Futures Game on Sunday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the scouts in attendance were busy taking scrupulous notes as usual.

“There are always going to be scouts there, but I was drafted by the Yankees and that is the team I plan to get to the big leagues with,” Hughes said. “That has always been my goal and if something happens, it happens.”

He struggled a bit in his inning of work. Hughes allowed three runs on four hits — including a two-run home run by Padres prospect George Kottaras.cq He also had two strikeouts, including an impressive three-pitch punchout of Dodgers prospect Joel Guzman, who had no chance at the 0-2 slider that struck him out.

For now Hughes returns to New Jersey to try and complete his first injury-free season of professional baseball. He already has surpassed his innings total from his first two seasons combined.

He could be in the Yankees’ starting rotation at the age of 21 next season. Or he could be a vital part of another organization’s core of young players, like say the one with offices at RFK Stadium.

“It is definitely a step up from [being in Montreal as] the Expos,” Hughes said of Washington.

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