5 things of note from Rox prospect Hughes' spring debut

March 21st, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Gabriel Hughes, the Rockies’ No. 1 Draft pick in 2022, threw three scoreless innings in his Cactus League debut on Monday night, a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

It looks like we’ll be hearing a lot about Hughes, 21, the 10th overall pick last summer and the Rockies’ No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. So let’s zero in on five things he showed in his first impression.

1. Monday was his first 2023 outing of any type
Talk about throwing a guy into the spotlight. Hughes’ first scheduled Minor League start was rained out, and he threw just one live batting practice session. Next thing he knew, he was meeting with catcher Elias Díaz about an hour and a half before Monday’s game -- and then facing the Dodgers.

The first batter he faced in game action this spring was veteran David Peralta, whom he struck out looking on four pitches en route to striking out the side in the first.

“Why not have it be against the Dodgers?” Hughes said. “I’ve got to face them eventually.”

2. Even better may be coming
Hughes went one time through the Dodgers' lineup using mostly his hard stuff -- four-seamer, sinker and a slider that can behave as a cutter.

There is more. He used a couple of changeups, which he began developing during his final season at Gonzaga, but he didn’t need it much against college competition. Minor League instructors say some of the changeups already flash as plus pitches.

3. He can beat you with brain and brawn
He’s got wide shoulders, a 6-foot-4 frame and a solid lower half. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in biology in May, but by no means does he claim to be the smartest in his family. He gladly shines a light on his parents, Dusty and Juliette, who are OB-GYNs.

“My parents change people’s lives,” Hughes said. “I grew up with that sort of role model, and I’m incredibly thankful for them.”

Rockies coordinator of pitching strategies Flint Wallace said there is more.

“He speaks three different languages -- he’s smarter than me, there’s not doubt,” Wallace said. “But he can separate the analytical processing part of it from the go-compete part, which is extremely important.”

4. He showed the ‘go-compete part’ against the Dodgers
Manager Bud Black learned about Hughes’ personality after the Draft, at instructional ball and during a January pitching mini-camp. Black was even more pleased after seeing Hughes compete Monday night.

“From our scouting reports and our amateur scouts who saw him, that's what they saw -- a guy that pitches aggressively with the fastball, has a good breaking ball and is on the attack,” Black said. “And he’s got a good feel for what he wants to do.”

Hughes didn’t look like a guy who was facing hitters, but rather one who was thinking about games he watched on TV or baseball cards he collected.

“It's just me and the catcher,” he said. “Whoever was up to bat was secondary to me.”

5. Folks react to Hughes
As Hughes went through his final warmup in the bullpen, teammates were gathered on the warning track, watching and encouraging. Outfielder Randal Grichuk learned Monday afternoon that Hughes was pitching, and began arranging his schedule to watch. It’s been that way since Hughes was drafted.

After a brief time at Single-A Fresno last year, Hughes moved to Arizona to train at the Rockies’ complex. He impressed everyone.

“I’d go down to the complex every Tuesday and Friday when the pitchers would throw their sides, and he looks the part -- the body and everything passes the eye test,” Minor League pitching coordinator Doug Linton said. “He’s got a plan and he follows that plan.”

Hughes is projected to begin the year at High-A Spokane. Who knows from there? From conversations with Rockies personnel, the organization is increasing its willingness to advance a pitcher who handles his level, rather than have him take yearly steps.

Once he settles into the season, Hughes can coolly take those steps.

But on Monday night, he found himself -- understandably -- having to take a step back.

“There were times when I got really amped up,” Hughes said. “I was moving really fast and I left some pitches up. Next thing I need to work on is just breathing, staying calm and on top of the nerves.”