Name: Philip Humber
Drafted: First round (third overall) in 2004 (Mets)
In the early 2000s, the Oakland A's featured a ‘Big Three' in their starting rotation. At the same time, there was a ‘Big Three' dominating out of the rotation for the Rice Owls. In 2003, a dominant rotation led by Philip Humber, Wade Townsend and Jeff Niemann pitched the Owls to a College World Series title. Humber threw a complete game in the CWS title clincher, giving the Owls their first national title in any sport.
Humber was just a sophomore when the Owls won the CWS, so he had one more season to play collegiately before he could be eligible for the MLB draft. He followed his dream sophomore season with another outstanding year. Humber struck-out 154 in 115 innings. The Owls failed to repeat as CWS champions that year, but that did little to diminish the accomplishments of the Big Three. Humber, Townsend and Niemann would all be selected among the first eight picks in the 2004 MLB draft. They were the first trio of teammates to be selected so high in the draft in the same year.
The Mets and Humber engaged in a protracted contract negotiation after the draft. Back in 2004, the draft signing period was a year long, so high picks would often negotiate for months before coming to terms with their new clubs. In this case, Humber and the Mets finally came to an agreement in January 2005, in time for spring training.
At the time of the draft, Humber was considered one of the most – if not the most – polished pitchers available (the class included Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver, among others). Many projected Humber would reach the big leagues within a year of starting his professional baseball career. As it turned out, Humber did reach the big leagues at an accelerated pace, but his road to the ‘Show' was not without pitfalls.
Humber began his pro career at the High-A level, pitching for St. Lucie in the Florida State League. He posted mediocre numbers for St. Lucie, putting up a 4.99 ERA and a 65:18 K:BB in 70.1 innings. Despite those numbers, he was promoted to Double-A midway through the season. He had to leave his first start with Binghamton because of elbow pain. It turned out he had loose bodies in his right elbow that had damaged his UCL. Humber had Tommy John surgery shortly after that diagnosis.
The rehab for Tommy John is roughly a year long, and Humber was able to beat those projections by more than a month. After one start for the Mets' Rookie League team in 2006, he made seven starts with High-A St. Lucie, and his numbers were significantly improved over his 2005 stint with the team. He had a 2.37 ERA and a 36:9 K:BB. One year to the day of his Tommy John surgery, Humber was promoted to Double-A, where he made six more starts. In 34.1 innings with Binghamton, Humber posted a 79:20 K:BB and a 2.83 ERA. The Mets brought Humber to the big leagues that September, and he tossed two scoreless innings in relief.
Despite the good numbers Humber produced in 2006, his velocity still wasn't quite at his pre-surgery levels (he was more 90-92 rather than 92-95). He also experienced shoulder pain late in that year, and he was sidelined for much of that fall's Arizona Fall League season with shoulder tendinitis. On the plus side, Humber developed a much better change-up while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
In 2007, Humber came into spring training with a chance to earn a spot in the Mets' rotation. He wound up being sent to Triple-A to start the year, and he would spend the entire 2007 minor league season with Triple-A New Orleans. In his first season in the Pacific Coast League, Humber had a 4.27 ERA and a 120:44 K:BB in 139 innings.
That September, Humber was once again one of the Mets' call-ups. New York started that month with a significant lead for a playoff berth, but they struggled for most of September. Humber made two relief appearances early in the month, but with the Mets desperately trying to hold off the Phillies, New York called on Humber to make his first MLB start on September 26th, 2007. He allowed five runs in four-plus innings and New York fell to Washington, 9-6. The Mets would miss the playoffs by one game. Humber had a 7.71 ERA in seven innings for the Mets that September.
Believing they were just one ace away from being a title contender, the Mets traded Humber and three other prospects that off-season for Minnesota Twins' star Johan Santana. Despite a strong spring, Humber was left off of the Twins' Opening Day roster and he spent much of the season with their Triple-A affiliate in Rochester. Humber struggled initially with his new organization, but he had a strong second half for the Red Wings in 2008 and he earned a spot on the Twins' roster in late August. He would appear in five games – all in relief – with the Twins, allowing six runs in 11.2 innings pitched.
Humber entered the 2009 season out-of-options, so he was a strong bet to make the Twins' Opening Day roster. He did make the roster as a long reliever, but he got off to a very poor start. In 4.1 innings in relief, Humber allowed six runs. He was designated for assignment by the Twins in mid-April and was unclaimed. He would spend most of the rest of the season with Triple-A Rochester, only rejoining the Twins for one 10-day stint in late August. Humber had a 5.34 ERA and an 87:45 K:BB in 119.2 Triple-A innings in 2009. He was granted free agency at the end of the season, and later in the off-season, he signed a minor league deal with the Kansas City Royals.
As he had for most of the past three seasons, Humber spent the majority of the 2010 campaign at the Triple-A level. Despite a scary incident early in the season when he was hit with a line-drive in the face, Humber threw 118.2 innings with the Omaha Royals. His strike-out numbers were still mediocre (80 or 6.07 per nine innings), but he dramatically reduced his walk rate (20 or 1.52 per nine innings). The Royals gave him a look at the end of the season, and he made seven relief appearances and one start. In 21.2 innings, Humber had a 4.15 ERA and a 16:7 K:BB.
That off-season Humber once again was designated for assignment off of a 40-man roster. He was initially claimed by the A's in mid-December. He remained on the A's 40-man roster for a month before he was DFA'd to make room for the newly acquired Guillermo Moscoso. The Chicago White Sox then claimed Humber off of waivers from the A's. He would make the White Sox's roster coming out of spring training and subsequently put together the best season of his pro career.
Humber began the year in the White Sox's bullpen, but he was moved to the starting rotation in early April after Jake Peavy suffered an injury. He would remain in the Chicago rotation for the rest of the season. Although his first half was better than his second, Humber had an all-around outstanding season in 2011, posting a 3.75 ERA in 163 innings. He struck-out 116 and walked 41, but he allowed just 14 homeruns. Humber did miss time late in the season after he was struck in the face with a line-drive.
For the first time in his career, Humber entered a spring training with a spot in a team's Opening Day rotation. He got off to a very fast start with the White Sox in 2012. In only his second start of the season, Humber threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history. The feat came at Safeco Field in Seattle against the Mariners. He struck-out nine in the game, including Mariners' shortstop Brendan Ryan to end it. Humber needed just 96 pitches to complete the gem. It was the first complete game of his career.
The rest of Humber's season was a struggle, however. He allowed 20 runs over his next three starts and would finish the season with a 6.44 ERA in 102 innings (16 starts, 10 relief appearances). Humber also missed time with an elbow strain. He was let go by the White Sox that off-season and latched on with the Houston Astros.
With Houston in rebuilding mode, Humber made the Astros' rotation coming out of spring training. He pitched well in his first three starts against Texas, Seattle and Los Angeles, but he allowed eight runs in just one-third of an inning versus Cleveland on April 20th and never got back on-track with Houston. After allowing eight runs in four innings to the Tigers on May 5, Humber was removed from the rotation. Two relief appearances later, and he was designated for assignment by the Astros.
Humber would pitch for Triple-A Oklahoma City for much of the rest of the season. He made seven starts and 13 relief appearances for the RedHawks. In 50 innings, Humber had a 4.68 ERA and a 38:18 K:BB. He allowed seven homeruns.
The Astros brought Humber back to the big leagues in September and he made his first appearance against the A's in a long relief outing. In 3.2 innings against Oakland, Humber allowed two runs on three hits and two walks. He struck-out three. He would make two more relief appearances for the Astros before the season was through, and Humber finished the year with a 7.90 ERA in 54.2 big league innings. He signed a minor league deal with the A's in November and was invited to the A's big league spring training camp.
Long gone are the days when teams believed they could build their rotations with Humber as an anchor. The right-hander has never had enough swing-and-miss to his game in the big leagues to allow him to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. He has, at times, been a solid middle of the rotation starter, however, and as minor league depth, Humber should be a solid asset for the A's this season.
Humber throws a fastball, slider, curveball and change-up. He also throws an occasional cut-fastball, although that pitch isn't a big part of his game. Humber's fastball velocity averaged just higher than 90 MPH last season with Houston, maxing out at 95.
Left-handers feasted off of Humber last season when he was with Houston, but he was actually very effective versus right-handers (.184 BAA). That pattern is consistent with how he has pitched throughout his MLB career. Left-handers have batted .300 against him, while righties have managed only a .220 average. His groundball-to-flyball rates have been roughly even for most of his major league career. He was a flyball pitcher with Oklahoma City last season.
Injuries have impacted Humber throughout his career and have likely held him back from realizing the full potential scouts saw from him when he was coming out of college.
Humber will come into spring training with an outside chance of latching onto the A's Opening Day roster as either a starter or a long reliever. However, there would have to be several injuries in A's camp for that to happen. More than likely, Humber will begin the 2014 season in the Triple-A Sacramento rotation. If he pitches well, he will be one of the first pitchers the A's turn to if they have injuries in their rotation or their long relief corps.
At 32 years old, Humber is the oldest pitcher in A's camp. Of the A's non-roster invitees, Humber has logged the most major league innings. As of right now, he will be battling with Andrew Werner, Arnold Leon and Matt Buschmann for the spot as the A's ‘seventh' starter on the depth chart.