Name: John Hussey
DOB: November 22, 1986
Signed as an international free agent by director of international scouting Randy Smith and Australian scout Trevor Schumm in 2004 after extending a six-figure signing bonus, Hussey spurned the chance to go to the University of Hawaii on scholarship to begin his professional career.
Hussey didn't come from a traditional baseball family, true of most Australians. The sport of choice was cricket, but at eight years old, Hussey was hooked on the round ball.
His parents often drove him two hours plus each day so he could get to practice or a game or tournament – all in pursuit of the dream. The reward was deserved.
He debuted in the Arizona Rookie League in 2005, going 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA over 36.1 innings, showing that he needed more seasoning and innings under his belt.
"He was there a month or a month and a half and broke down a little," AZL Padres pitching coach Dave Rajsich said.
His fastball sat between 84-87 MPH that first year and his changeup fell in the 75-78 range, while his curveball came in slightly slower at 72-74 MPH.
A funny thing happened over the next year. Hussey worked hard with pitching coach Dave Rajsich and refined his mechanics to near perfection. The result was an increase in velocity, more quality strikes, and a more aggressive attitude.
"John Hussey was probably the closest to being up (in Eugene) and it just didn't work out for him numbers wise," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst noted.
Hussey was now sitting in the low-90s with his heater, amping it up to 93-94 MPH but also consistent with his velocity. His changeup and curveball remained the same but were crisper and more refined.
It led to a successful 2006 season, repeating the AZL. Hussey allowed two earned runs or less in all but two of his outings, working both in relief and as a starter in the piggyback rotation the AZL squad employed.
"He came back this year with more confidence and knowing what was ahead of him and persevering through the season and how it works," said Rajsich. "He really worked hard on his mechanics and delivery. He has such a fluid motion and understands the rhythm and timing of it. It wasn't about muscling things but looking relaxed and letting it come out of the hands.
"His velocity really jumped. It was nice to see. He started to use his legs more instead of just his arm. He had a tendency to want to cut things off up front, stop his arm. We told him to make sure it goes all the way through. ‘Let it touch the ground, go behind you, whatever it takes to get down there to let it come out in front.'
"Last year he was 84 to 87 and we got him up to 92 in his last game. That is not consistent of course but for a 19-year-old that hasn't pitched that much just to see it start to come out of his hand, talk to him about the loose wrist and the feel of the fingertips and how the ball moves by moving the grip or moving the wrist position, he really started picking things up.
"I said, ‘Huss, where was that all year' and he said, ‘Maybe I was a little more focused.'"
The one knock against him was his penchant for not throwing a first pitch strike to open an inning and it led to favorable hitter's counts that the opposition took advantage of. He also seemed to be more relaxed out of the stretch than the windup.
His work with runners in scoring position was superb – limiting batters to a .152 average and a .191 average with men on any base.
What he did was work in his plus curveball in fastball counts and keep the opposition off-balance by throwing his changeup.
Not afraid to work inside, Hussey did lead the team in hit batsmen, plunking seven. But that is also a mark of a pitcher finding his command and sticking to his guns by going inside consistently. And he was able to do that to lefties and righties alike.
He was particularly tough on left-handed hitters as the changeup dropped off the outside corner. Southpaws could not get good wood on his pitches and managed to collect just one extra base hit.
Righties, by comparison, had seven extra base hits and could see the drop of the changeup better when he tried to spot it outside, taking advantage of it. Armed with his quality curveball, he should be taking advantage of their aggressiveness – but that will come with time.
The Padres kept Hussey on a strict pitch count during the season to not wear out his arm and bring him along slowly. It was a surprise, therefore, when he went six frames on the final game of the year – a bid to claim the Arizona Rookie League Championship outright without playing a playoff game. The right-hander allowed just three hits and a walk while striking out five that night in a scoreless outing – a game they would lose.
"I was only expecting four (innings) from Hussey," 2006 AZL Padres manager Carlos Lezcano admitted. "He was kind of sore two or three weeks before that and it was a pleasant surprise he could go six innings like that. He has a big league curveball that was working that night."
Hussey's career has not been long but his improvements have been big. He came into the Padres' system with unrefined mechanics but is now among the cleanest in meeting his checkpoints. He also improved his velocity and his impressive curveball took another step forward. If his changeup catches up, it is scary what he could do the opposition.
"He is a guy with a pretty high ceiling," Padres' director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "Not physically mature yet but a good body. He has pretty good command of three pitches and will already flash you the fastball, curveball, changeup. We project to see him as a starter down the road and have three pitches with command. He is long and lean. Hussey has a good frame on him.
"It seems that these kids develop a little slower physically than the women over in Australia. These kids, looking at their families, should be strong, big guys when they develop. You are still talking about 18, 19-year-old kids."
Hussey put on 10 pounds this off-season and will have to add even more bulk to a frame that can handle it.
"The biggest thing we have tried to do is – he is not physically mature and I think as he grows into his body – I think he is going to have three plus pitches when he matures," added Smith.
ETA: Given his propensity to learn and put it into action on the field, Hussey is in line for bigger things this year. If he stays in full-season ball after a recent promotion to Fort Wayne, his stamina will be a question but his heart will not. If he continues to make improvements like he did a season ago, Hussey could be one of the most talked about pitchers in the system.