Name: John Hussey
DOB: November 2, 1986
"Last year in Arizona, he was fourth or fifth in ERA and still not convinced," Padres director of international scouting Randy Smith said. "The thing for him is confidence and maturity. He is starting to get a little older but hasn't filled out like he can. When that happens, I think his velocity is going to go up more.
"For him, it is all about confidence. The stuff is there. He has a chance to have three average to above-average pitches with the fastball, curveball and changeup. It is a question of him taking it across the line and believing in himself."
After beginning the year in extended spring, Hussey was pushed up to Low-A and the Midwest League as a 20-year-old where he got banged around early and lost all semblance of confidence.
"I think he got intimidated and overmatched," former AZL Padres and current Eugene pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "Here is a 20-year-old kid – in Australia they play club baseball and the competition is not the same.
"Once he got beat up a little bit he got a little gun shy, afraid to pitch to contact. He started nibbling and when you go 2-0, 2-0, 2-0, they are really going to get you."
Instead of working ahead in the count as he had the previous year, Hussey was falling behind in the count and getting tattooed when he placed the ball over the plate in hitter's counts.
Hussey ended up with five losses in six starts, reaching the fifth inning twice and walking 20 in 24 innings while holding a WHIP of 1.88.
"Hussey – 19 and from Australia? In Australia, they only play on Sunday's and don't play until they get to high school," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "He is 19 and playing in a league where all these kids have 9,000 miles on their car and he has two. It just takes time. They don't have one-tenth the experience level most American kids have. You have to be patient with those kids."
His confidence was at an all-time low and getting sent down was a blessing, a fresh start.
Demoted to Eugene just as the season started, Hussey appeared to be righting the ship, tossing five innings of scoreless ball in his first start for the Emeralds.
Things didn't end swimmingly for the right-hander. While he would post solid numbers over the first month of the year, Hussey was walking way too many, and pitching behind in the count caught up to him.
"He lost it mentally," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "Some of that was our fault because he went to Fort Wayne and we wanted to send him there but he failed and we couldn't get him out of there because we didn't have anyone to put there at the time. He got beat up in his head and down on himself. He got it back in the Instructional League – to his credit."
His confidence slowly eroded and he ended the season with a 6.66 ERA. More alarming was his walk total – 44 free passes issued over 52.2 innings, equivalent to 7.5 walks per nine innings. It matters not how many hits were surrendered with that ghastly total staring the Australian in the face.
Possessing an above average curveball, Hussey rarely went to his bread and butter pitch. Feeling he needed to toss strikes with his fastball, the pitch was getting hit hard. Thirty-four percent of the hits he surrendered went for extra bases and many of the singles were laced.
During one start in late June, Hussey threw just a handful of hooks, tossing more changeups – a pitch that has been average at times – and his trust in the pitch completely evaporated, even if the pitch hadn't.
"He never got to the curveball because he didn't have the fastball command," said Rajsich. "He was afraid to throw it over the plate and when he did it was 2-0 or 3-1 and he got whacked right after he walked two or three. I don't care who you are – if you walk people you are going to get beat up. I think it was a big learning process for him.
His curveball has always been a great equalizer. Dropping it in on odd counts has been a staple of his success. Sitting behind in the count, however, had Hussey dropping the pitch entirely from his repertoire.
His hook has tremendous dropping action that is a pitch right-handed hitters have trouble connecting on, often committing too soon and rolling over on the pitch.
Hussey was prone to overthrowing. With a fastball that dropped a few ticks from last year, topping out at 89-90 MPH, he felt he had to find the velocity from the previous season when he was hitting 92-93. Sitting 85-88, however, affected him.
While he is very clean mechanically, Hussey's attempt to throw the ball through the catcher's mitt made him extremely wild. Besides the 44 walks, Hussey also plunked 10 batters.
His changeup showed some positives, especially when clipping the outside corner against left-handed hitters. It is still a feel pitch and Hussey has yet to truly master the pitch.
"His changeup has improved," said Rajsich. "His curveball is better. I think it is a matter of going through the experience of getting beat up and going after it and doing it again. He will be fine. It is a matter of getting the confidence back to go after them with his fastball."
The leadoff hitter of an inning punched a ticket to a base 28 times in the 50 innings that he started – good for a .600 on-base percentage.
Hussey went out to the Padres fall Instructional League and began to realize the errors of his ways. Working with Rajsich has always been a key component to his success, as Razor has been instrumental in keeping Hussey from drifting, having the right-hander keep his overhand motion, allowing his release point to remain consistent.
Another reason for his success – the Padres abandoned the use of radar guns at Instructs. Without the aid of a gun, Hussey never focused on how hard his pitches were being thrown, allowing him to concentrate on tossing strikes. He faced 55 batters in Instructs and came away tossing a first-pitch strike to 74.5 percent of those hitters – the best mark for any pitcher who faced 10 or more batters.
"Hussey got the Most Improved Player in Instructs," said Smith. "He has great mechanics, good stuff, he just needs to realize he doesn't have to do anything more. That is the thing – he hasn't realized he is doing enough."
ETA: Each year is a bit of a battle for Hussey since he has never faced this kind of competition on a daily basis. For that reason, he may come slower than the rest. Expect him to bounce back this coming season and assert himself – likely in Low-A Fort Wayne. He likely won't skip levels along the way and will be on track for late 2011.
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