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NAME: Gabriel Hughes
WEIGHT: 220 lbs
Gabriel Hughes is peaking at the right time, as the big right-hander experienced a breakout season in 2022 for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. After pitching a mere 11.2 innings in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he pitched 60 innings in 2021 and increased that number by 150% to 98 innings in 2022. Innings pitched wasn’t the only stat that saw an increase.
A significant uptick in his arsenal — led by an increase in fastball velocity and the addition of an off-season-inspired changeup — was evidenced by a substantial increase in strikeout rate from 2021 to 2022 (9.8 to 12.7 K/9).
With a heater now sitting comfortably in the 94-95 mph range, with spikes into the 97+ mph region, and a hard-breaking slider anywhere in the 80s, Hughes already possesses two above average pitches. Adding the changeup gave the big righty a third weapon to play with. Despite the fact that he does not use the change as much as he eventually should or will, it’s clearly a well-developing weapon, aimed at giving him a starter’s arsenal.
Since 2022 was Hughes’ first full-time season on the mound — he was a two-way player at first base prior to ’22 — the immediate positive returns have turned heads leading up to the Draft. If a player is capable of improving so much in just a matter of months, what can professional coaching and a little more time do with a soon-to-be-21-year-old?
One of the things that may have to be addressed in pro ball, is Hughes’ wind-up. Sox fans, look away for this analysis, because…
Hughes’ wind-up is quite similar to Carson Fulmer’s, when he pitched for Vanderbilt.
If you put both wind-ups side by side, you will notice that both pitchers use the same high speed, high intensity leg kick, followed by an outward ‘flick’ of the lower left leg on the way down, before sticking the landing and throwing the pitch. Granted, Fulmer’s college wind-up was more exaggerated on all fronts (more intense from the start, harder leg flick), but Hughes currently has a similar ‘speed-up’ moment in his wind-up as he lifts his front leg and a clearly similar motion towards the plate. Fulmer’s college delivery for comparison under the link.
There is a rhythmic component to the wind-up that may lead to issues for Hughes down the road. Given the several moving parts in the delivery, losing the rhythm mid-game could throw his entire throwing motion out of whack. We saw that at times during the 2022 season, as Hughes threw 10 wild pitches, after goose eggs in that column the previous two seasons.
That said, the fact that Hughes was able to consistently keep his walk-rate down (in fact, he lowered it in 2022) could be an indicator that he is capable of quickly correcting any sync-issues he may experience during games. Also, you can imagine several of the wild pitches coming on more recently added pitches, or tweaking of his arsenal. The delivery works for him, he can keep his velocity up deep into games despite the energy his delivery must consume, so why mess with a winning formula?
All in all, Hughes is one of the more low-key top college pitching prospects in this draft. Many teams will have been scouting him, either during his games for Gonzaga or with Team USA CNT in 2021, and the talent is just clear as day. With more (professional) coaching under his belt, Hughes is looking like a potential workhorse of a starter for an MLB team in the not-too-distant future.
WHY WOULD THE WHITE SOX DRAFT GABRIEL HUGHES?
Because if Hughes is still there at 26, he’d be a steal and probaby the most talented player left on the board. There seem to be limited ways in which the White Sox are able to grab him, as many teams ahead of them have been scouting the big Gonzaga hurler intensively. Still, mock drafts are all over the place on the right-hander, ranging from 13 to 33. It seems more and more likely that if for some wild reason, Hughes falls into the Sox’ lap, they’d be wise to grab him, plug him into the minors and watch him turn into an Alek Manoah lite (with a chance for more) very quickly.
In the latest mock draft from Keith Law at The Athletic, the veteran prospect scribe projects Gabriel Hughes to the San Francisco Giants with the 30th pick in the first round. Kiley McDaniel of ESPN published his initial projection earlier this month and the sent the big right hander to the Los Angeles Angels at #13 overall. As they alternate each week, Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis provide mock drafts for the readers at MLB Pipeline pretty regularly. Mayo projected the Zag righty to the Cleveland Guardians at #37 overall last week while Callis projected Hughes to the Baltimore Orioles with the 33rd pick the week prior
Carlos Collazo recently joined the FutureSox podcast but he also projected Hughes to the Philadelphia Phillies in his latest mock draft for Baseball America. Prospect’s Live released their latest mock draft in early June as well and they also projected the big righty to the Los Angeles Angels at #13 overall.
- 2020: 0-2, 11.2 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 6 BB, 13 K, 0.77 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 5.4 H/9, 4.6 BB/9, 10.0 K/9.
- 2021: 4-3, 61.1 IP, 48 H, 24 R, 22 ER, 4 HR, 30 BB, 67 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.04 H/9, 4.4 BB/9, 9.8 K/9.
- 2022: 8-3, 98.0 IP, 75 H, 40 R, 35 ER, 5 HR, 37 BB, 138 K, 3.21 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.9 H/9, 3.4 BB/9, 12.7 K/9.
Cover photo: YouTube video still