Rockies select RHP Hughes 10th overall

July 18th, 2022

DENVER -- In an MLB Draft full of injury questions for many of the top college pitchers, the healthiest prospect -- Gonzaga right-hander Gabriel Hughes -- went to the Rockies on Sunday with the 10th overall selection.

Hughes, 20, went 8-3 with 138 strikeouts in 98 innings pitched as a sophomore for the Bulldogs this season. He walked just 37 batters. But strange as it sounds, it was an injury that made it all possible. Hughes was a two-way player until he was hit by a pitch on his right hand and missed the end of the 2021 season.

“I sat down with my coaches and they asked if I wanted to keep hitting,” Hughes said. “From both sides of the table, it was mutual.”

While hitting is behind Hughes, the Rockies took care of that issue in the first round by taking two left-handed hitters from the Southeastern Conference -- Florida’s Sterlin Thompson 31st overall (a compensatory pick awarded when shortstop Trevor Story signed with the Red Sox) and Tennessee’s Jordan Beck 38th (Competitive Balance Round A). In the second round, 50th overall, the Rockies nabbed right-handed pitcher Jackson Cox of Toutle Lake (Wash.) High School.

Last summer with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, Hughes went 1-0 with a 5.14 ERA in three starts, but began to make major strides under his manager, longtime Rockies teacher/coach/advisor Jerry Weinstein. Rockies general manager Bill Schmidt said it was during that program that the Rockies identified him among the group of players they were eyeing depending on how the picks before theirs went.

“I've seen enormous benefits in the first full year that I've only focused on pitching,” Hughes said. “I've learned so much from last summer, from this spring. I've been fortunate enough to be blessed with incredible teammates, the last couple teams I've played on. So I feel like I've learned so much and just being able to focus on pitching every day.”

Hughes, out of Rocky Mountain High School in Eagle, Idaho, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and his fastball has been clocked in the 94-97 mph range. Scouts believe his body has room to add strength and his fastball can increase in velocity. He mixes it with a slider that sits at 89-90 mph, and he has shown a good feel for a changeup.

“The size, the athleticism, his age, the four-pitch mix -- he’s just a well-rounded young man on and off the field,” said Marc Gustafson, the Rockies’ senior director of scouting operations. “But most importantly, on the field, he is a strike-thrower with a mindset to attack hitters. And he took the ball every weekend, every Friday night. We know that the durability is there, and that pitch mix is certainly very exciting.”

Hughes took time off at the end of the collegiate season, and believes he will be ready should the Rockies send him to an affiliate before the end of the Minor League season. He also looks forward to the possibility of playing at High-A Spokane, the city where he played his collegiate ball.

“I made some great connections in Spokane over the last three years … it means the world to me,” he said.

Here is a look at the Rockies’ other three picks Sunday night:

A left-handed hitter listed at 6-4, Thompson hit .354 and was identified by Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan as the best hitter he has coached. The Rockies see him as a “corner player,” who was a high school shortstop and a third baseman and also saw time in the outfield at Florida.

Like Thompson, Beck, who is listed at 6-3, displayed power during the collegiate season (18 home runs), and also was a solid overall hitter -- he batted .298 with a .391 on-base percentage. After taking high school outfielders Zac Veen in 2020 and Benny Montgomery in 2021 in the first round, the Rockies went with a pair of college players. Schmidt said they were the best available in their slots.

Cox, 18, has a fastball that sits at 92 mph and can touch 96, but it’s his curve that put him high among high school pitchers this summer. Cox has committed to the University of Oregon, but Schmidt said indications are he is ready to begin his pro career.