Rookie Review: Collin McHugh, RHP, New York Mets
New York Mets pitching prospect Collin McHugh made his major league debut last week, throwing seven shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies, allowing just two hits and a walk, while fanning nine. This comes on the heels of a strong season in Double-A and Triple-A.. Little-known pre-season to anyone but fanatic Mets fans, McHugh was completely left of the Baseball America Top 30 Mets prospect list for example, not even making their honorable mention category.
I was more optimistic about McHugh and had him ranked 16th on my pre-season Mets list, but even as an optimist, I didn't expect the season he put together. Let's take a look.
Throughout the 2000s, the Mets made a concerted effort to scour the smaller colleges, looking for overlooked or underappreciated talent, especially on the mound. McHugh was one of their finds, drafted in the 18th round in 2008 from Berry College in Georgia. He was brought along slowly, pitching in the Appalachian League after signing, then in the New York-Penn League in 2009, where he performed quite well for Brooklyn (2.76 ERA, 79/21 K/BB in 75 innings). However, he was old for the level, so it was easy to ignore this.
He remained successful in the South Atlantic League in 2010 (3.33 ERA, 129/38 K/BB in 132 innings), but again, he was old for the level at age 23. He began to attract notice in 2011 with a 2.89 ERA and a 100/32 K/BB ratio in 93 innings for Double-A Binghamton, or at least notice from Mets fans and statheads; scouts remained skeptical, and this was reflected in his lack of ranking from BA.
McHugh began 2012 with Binghamton and continued to pitch well, with a 2.41 ERA and a 65/17 K/BB in 75 innings with 63 hits allowed. He didn't lose momentum after moving up to Triple-A Buffalo (3.39 ERA, 67/27 K/BB in 69 innings), and of course his first start with the Mets was brilliant.
McHugh is a 6-2, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born June 19, 1987 in Covington, Georgia. As you can extrapolate from his lack of press, he doesn't throw hard for a right-hander, topping out at 92 MPH and often working in the mid-to-upper-80s. The fastball plays up due to the contrast with his curveball, slider/cutter, and changeup, with the curve being particularly good. He likes to vary the speed with all of his pitches, and his command is quite sharp. Carson Cistulli at Fangraphs has a detailed analysis of the repertoire McHugh showed in his major league debut.
Pre-season, I felt McHugh could be a number four/five starter or a useful relief asset, due to his ability to throw strikes, change speeds, and keep hitters off-balance. I still see him that way. His profile is similar to Michael Fiers of the Milwaukee Brewers, another small-college strike-throwing rookie right-hander who has mediocre velocity. Fiers' tremendous feel for the craft of pitching has made him one of the best moundsmen in baseball this year. So far the league hasn't caught up with Fiers, and while pitchers like this have little margin for error, some of them can make it work. McHugh could very well be in that category.