Name: John Hudgins
DOB: August 31, 1981
After boasting a 4-2 record with a 2.79 ERA for Double-A Mobile in 2006, Hudgins was shipped to Triple-A Portland. That lasted a span of two starts before his season was called.
The Padres had hoped rest would cure his elbow soreness, but Tommy John surgery was required.
The long road to recovery began and Hudgins missed the entire 2007 season. Given his position within the game, he felt it was a missed opportunity. He was in Triple-A, pitching well, and had a shot at joining San Diego during the 2007 season.
Hudgins returned to action in the Padres fall Instructional League in October. During that time, it was obvious that stamina was an obstacle he would have to overcome. His pitches looked crisp and began showing some of the life and action on his offerings that had the Padres happy with his progress in 2006.
He worked strictly out of the windup at Instructs and related that his efforts out of the stretch left him unhappy. Hudgins vowed to iron out those woes before the start of Spring Training.
"A little bit ahead of schedule, which doesn't surprise me with a guy like John Hudgins," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Anyone who has gone through what he has gone through, you know he is going to do it diligently and being a tremendous worker in the rehab process.
Ironically, Hudgins was a different pitcher in the Rangers system. Instead of having him pitch to his strengths by changing speeds and working through his repertoire, Hudgins was asked to dial up the fastball and become more of a power pitcher. It affected him in an adverse fashion.
When he was reunited with Fuson, the first thing he was told was to go back to the form that made him so successful in college – working with a fastball that sits in the high-80s and will touch 91-93 MPH, tossing his changeup in and out while working in his tilting curveball.
His changeup, and this should not be a surprise, is a plus pitch that rates out as a 70 on the traditional 20-80 scouting scale. It is his out-pitch, and he will use it at will throughout an at-bat, particularly with two strikes to a left-hander. As an example of how often he uses it, 30-percent of the pitches he threw in Instructs were changeups.
Hudgins, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 College World Series for Stanford, became a third-round pick by relying on changing speeds and locating his fastball.
Known for his intelligence on the mound and ability to outsmart the hitters he faces, Fuson believed he could bring him back to what he does best, pitching to contact and missing bats by keeping hitters off-balance.
Hudgins is a max-effort pitcher that does not use his lower body very well. His arm is, therefore, forced to do a lot of the work – and it is one reason scouts were wary of acquiring him from Texas.
"He is a great competitor on the mound," pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "It is a matter of getting the opportunity and making pitches."
While he has a high leg kick that he tucks under his chin, Hudgins doesn't use his legs to drive towards the plate. It puts him in good fielding position and keeps his body aligned towards the plate, resulting in better control, but his arm is taxed and comes out like a whip. He is not a straight over the top pitcher and hovers between three-quarters and overhand.
His head has a tendency to stray off-center as his arm comes more three-quarters, resulting in dipping movement in towards a left-hander.
With a full off-season of work, Hudgins expects to come back at full strength. He admitted it was a mental game that he had to win, but it also put some things in perspective. He fell in love with the game again rather than going through the motions, realizing just how much he wants to be a major league pitcher. While that was certainly on his mind prior to the injury, it became more prevalent with time away.
"We had talked about having him finish some things up in winter ball, but he elected not to go," said Fuson. "He got some innings at Instructs, some innings out of the bullpen in the fall league – it probably wasn't enough where you could sit here and say he is back 100 percent. I think his stuff was coming back OK but his overall feel hadn't come back yet – just time on the mound.
"He has been working hard. He is over in Arizona and should be 100 percent go in camp, and we will see where it will take him."
ETA: It is conceivable that Hudgins would have made his major league debut a year ago had he been healthy. Now, he has to prove his arm can handle the beating while pitching better than several intriguing prospects that figure to be in Triple-A Portland this year. If he can work successfully within himself and trust in his abilities, Hudgins could see a call-up to San Diego near the end of the year.