While he doesn't have a trick pitch, and doesn't throw in the mid-90s, the Padres were drafting what they felt was a polished pitcher. One who recognizes that stats don't tell the whole story, and that there is more to pitching than meets the eye. It is a level of maturity that eludes many top talents, guys who chuck it up there and touch triple-digits on the radar gun.
"I was drafted out of high school, but I went pretty low, and I'd told all the professional teams that had talked to me that unless I went really high I was planning on going to college." There was of course a reason, "My knowledge of pitching has really improved. Matt Myers has really worked with me on that, on developing a mindset of how to pitch, how to set guys up, what pitches to throw and where to throw them."
Myers, who joined the Tigers this past season as an assistant after running the UNC-Ashville program as the Manager, was working with Hughey from the standpoint of a pro career.
"Coach Myers really helped me understand that some things just come with experience. If you play long enough you go through good times and rough times, and Coach really showed me how to use that. I've had three years of experience at Auburn, and that's three years of pitching in the SEC. You're not going to be perfect in a conference like that, understanding that mental part of the game was as big as anything else I've learned."
So no regrets? After all, Hughey might already be in Double-A if he'd signed right out of high school.
"No, no regrets at all," Hughey says, "I wasn't ready for pro ball, and that's something the SEC has really helped me with. It's such a good conference top to bottom, and you learn how you have to be on all the time. There are no easy games. Coming out of high school, there are hitters you could just throw the ball by, but in the SEC, if you try to do that, you get hit hard."
Not that Hughey thinks it's going to get any easier in Eugene.
"I really don't know what kind of competition I'm going to face up there," Hughey says, "but I'm anxious to pitch against guys using wood. I've heard they will be a little more prepared, the lineups will be a little stronger even, but right now I can't tell."
Hughey found that out in his first pro start on June 24th against Spokane. Hughey lasted only four innings, giving up nine hits and six runs in a 'no decision.' Still, Hughey knew there was work to be done at the next level.
"I've really got to work on my off speed stuff. Pretty much all of it. In college I relied on my fastball command, and I'm still going to do that, but at the next level you have to be able to change speeds effectively. I want to be a starter, and you have to have at least three pitches to do that in the pro game. I feel pretty good about my change up, but my slider and curve ball need work. I know it, and I'm going to work on it."
Hughey has a firm grasp on what he can and can't do. He's grounded, and that comes from intelligence and a support group that has been there before. It allowed Hughey to step up to the negotiating table in a position most draftees would never even consider.
"I didn't have an advisor going into the draft, but my girlfriend's father is [former MLB player] Ray Knight. It was pretty much just me, my father and her father. But I knew I wasn't going to get drafted high enough for an advisor to really help me. I was pretty much in the worst bargaining position possible. I was a senior, so my options were pretty much take what they were offering and go play, or not take what they were offering and not play. I think the Padres were pretty fair with me."
That knowledge also translated to his school, Hughey was on the Academic Honor Roll at Auburn.
"My main focus from Day One was to get a degree. I knew I could play baseball, but you never know what's going to happen. I knew a degree would give me something for my entire life, regardless of what happed with baseball. I just didn't want to end up in a situation where I was going to play baseball because that was all I could do. I tried to maintain the best grade point average I could because I didn't want to have to go play professionally."
But from the Padres perspective the intelligence they loved to see what Hughey's knowledge of his own game. Hughey is 6'2" and 207 lbs, and has a track record of pitching deep into games at Auburn, he also led the Tigers in strikeouts, but this youngster knows enough to know that isn't necessarily going to translate to the pro game.
"I'm not a strikeout pitcher," Hughey says flatly, "I may try to go get them sometimes, but I rely mainly on location. I just try to keep the ball away from the middle of the plate. If I need a strikeout, I think I can get one, against lefties with my slider, against righties with my fastball and change up, but I'm not going to strikeout 10 guys in a game very often."
And will he still be a guy who can go seven innings consistently?
"That's just the ability to pitch, and to keep your pitch count down. I've pitched as a starter and a reliever, and it's a different mindset, but it's different physically too. When you come out of the bullpen, and you know you're only in there for an inning or two, you can go all out, as a starter, you pace yourself. If you throw strikes, your pitch count stays down. I'll be comfortable in either role, but I'd prefer to start, and I throw strikes, so I think I can go deep into games."
If there is one thing that's universal for every college pitcher entering the pro game, it is the excitement of pitching against wood bats. Hughey is no different.
"That's definately the thing I'm most excited about," Hughey says with a smile that can be seen over the phone, "We spent three or four days in Peoria at a sort of mini-camp, and looking around, watching guys hit with wood, I'm not sure how good they will be right away. It's obviously a tougher adjustment going from aluminum to wood for the hitters than the pitchers. At the beginning I think it will be tougher for the hitters to get around with wood on fastballs inside, but I know as they get more comfortable the playing field will level out some."