Becker: Will Phil Hughes succeed in New York?

Updated: April 24, 2007, 9:52 AM ET
By Pete Becker | ESPN.com

The Yankees said in spring training that their plan was to give Phil Hughes a full season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before unleashing him on the American League in 2008. The best laid plans …

The Yankees rotation is in tatters. Even with the return of Chien-Ming Wang on Tuesday, there were only so many Chase Wright and Jeff Karstens starts that could be absorbed before something had to give. That moment came during Boston's weekend sweep of the Yankees. More precisely, it came in the third inning of Sunday's game in Fenway, when Wright surrendered home runs to four consecutive batters. This is not the stuff championship seasons are made of.

The Yankees now find themselves in unfamiliar territory, spinning their wheels with an 8-9 record, third in the division behind Boston and the surprising Baltimore Orioles, just half-a-game ahead of the battered Toronto Blue Jays. New York is 2-6 in AL East play and wants to rectify that this week as it plays seven games against Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston. This is why Phil Hughes is being rushed to The Show to face Toronto on Thursday. Rushed, because that's not what the Yankees wanted to do, not because Hughes isn't ready. He's off to a fast start in his first year of Triple-A ball, 2-1 with a 17/4 K/BB ratio, holding batters to a .200 batting average.

Since being drafted in the first round as a high-schooler in 2004, Hughes has dominated the minors. He's held minor league hitters to a .181 batting average against coming into this season. He has allowed six home runs in 237 innings, while striking out 269 and walking 54. Scouts rave about his unique blend of power and control. At the risk of hyperbole, this kid could be the next Roger Clemens. But that's a long ways off. The real question is; what can we expect from Phil Hughes in 2007?

The answer is could be found in the stat line of last year's favorite call-up, Jered Weaver. Sure, Jered Weaver pitched way over his head, but it's exactly the kind of impact a young power pitcher with control can put up in his first tour around the league. With the skill-set Hughes has displayed so far, it's not a stretch to imagine these numbers spread out over 150 innings.

Jered Weaver Year IP W L H BB ER HR K ERA WHIP
Los Angeles Angels 2006 123 11 2 94 33 35 15 105 2.56 1.03
Salt Lake Bees 2006 77 6 1 63 10 17 7 93 1.99 0.94

The worst-case scenario? Hughes gets bombed in his first few starts and is sent back to Scranton when the rotation is once again healthy. The Yankees can claim they were right all along, but can't be accused of not having tried everything to field the best team they could. As a fantasy manager, that's exactly the approach you need to take. Hughes is likely gone in your AL-only leagues and will be hotly disputed in medium-deep mixed leagues, but what of the shallower leagues?

The upside is too great to ignore. If you have a No. 1 waiver priority, use it. If you have the No. 2 or 3, put in the claim and hope the other guy was too gun shy. The question remains, who do you drop? Let the waiver wire guide your decision. Pick the player on your roster which has the most replaceable stats. Remember, in a shallow league, the waiver pool runs deep, and the key to success is to identify the parts of your roster which are irreplaceable, and which are merely interchangeable parts. Your fifth or sixth starter? A closer-in-waiting? A bat which you play once a week? Dump that player, claim Phil Hughes, and play it out. What's the worst that can happen? You don't even need to start Hughes if you don't have the stomach for it; simply owning his rights is as far as you need to commit. If he bombs, you can send him back to the wire and replace him with player similar to the one you sacrificed in the first place, or with the next big thing. Win or lose, nobody can accuse you of not having tried everything to field the best team you could.

Pete Becker is Senior Editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.