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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 8, Gabriel Hughes

The right-hander out of Gonzaga was the Rockies’ first pick in the 2022 draft

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8. Gabriel Hughes (527 points, 24 ballots)

Gabriel Hughes was Colorado’s first pick in 2022, going 10th overall out of Gonzaga and getting an under-slot $4 million bonus. The 6’4” 21-year-old right-hander was ranked more as a late-first rounder than a top-10 pick by national prospect watchers, but the Rockies obviously liked the starter’s frame, feel for pitching and the three-pitch mix.

Hughes had a 2022 college campaign in which he threw 98 innings in 15 starts with a 3.21 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, a 3.4 BB/9 rate, and an excellent 12.7 K/9 rate. The former two-way player boasts a fastball that touches the upper 90s but sits in the low-mid 90s and a bulldog mentality that has been compared to Max Scherzer.

Hughes only made one appearance in the minors in 2022, a start with Low-A Fresno in which he allowed one hit and one walk, striking out one in three scoreless innings. For 2023 it seems reasonable to project a return for Hughes to Spokane, where he spent his college career, to pitch for Colorado’s High-A team.

Here’s some pre-draft video on Hughes courtesy of Perfect Game (and here’s another one showing his mechanics from the side):

Baseball Prospectus listed Hughes 7th in the system back in November as a 55 OFP player:

A two-way player for much of his time at Gonzaga, the tall, sturdy righty works primarily off a mid-90s fastball and a power 12-6 slider. He can pop a four-seam up to miss bats or work down with the two-seam for ground balls. The slide piece has above-average potential, but can be a bit humpy at times. Hughes’ change should end up with some utility, although it’s pretty firm at present. Given the late acceleration and effort in his delivery, though, there’ll be reliever risk in the profile until the fastball/slider combo proves good enough to turn over lineups.

Frankly, Hughes’ delivery makes my elbow wince, but he held up in 2022 throwing over 100 innings between college and the pros. I still think it’s better than a coin flip he ends up in the bullpen given the current arsenal and delivery, but with this kind of arm speed, he might be a very good reliever.

Keith Law of the Athletic ranked Hughes 30th before the draft and 8th in the system last week:

Hughes took a big step forward in command this year even as his stuff ticked up, all of which has put him into first-round consideration. He’s sitting 93-94 mph now, touching 97 mph, up almost 2 mph from last year, with a hard slider in the low to mid 80s that misses a lot of bats. He’s huge, 6-5 and 225 pounds already, with a workhorse frame but a longish arm action that he has a hard time repeating. He has a changeup that he barely uses, although it’s been effective when he has. There’s some reliever risk here from the delivery, and the fact that his command is still probably a soft 45, but there’s also big upside given the frame and the two pitches he already has.

Kiley McDaniel of ranked Hughes 30th as a 45 FV prospect in his draft rankings and last week he slotted Hughes 10th in the system, saying that “Hughes is a 6-4 righty with an above-average-to-plus sinker/slider combo and enough feel to remain a starter.” ranked Hughes 26th in the draft class and slides him in fifth in the system as a 50 FV player:

Hughes has an exciting combination of size, repertoire and feel for pitching. The 6-foot-4 right-hander has electric stuff, starting with a fastball that’s regularly in the 94-97 mph range with ease, leading some scouts to wonder if he might touch triple digits someday. His slider can be a wipeout pitch, up to 89-90 mph, and he even shows very good feel for his changeup.

The big right-hander can fill up the strike zone with all three pitches, throwing them to both sides of the plate and commanding his breaking stuff well. He gets high grades for his makeup; he was a tremendous student-athlete who was on pace to graduate in three years, with the Rockies hoping he can graduate to the big leagues at least as quickly.

The evaluation is headlined by a 60 fastball grade with a 55 on the slider and 50s on the change and control.

Fangraphs ranked Hughes 33rd overall among draft prospects and lists him eighth in the system as a 45 FV player:

Hughes has been a notable 2022 prospect since his underclass days because of his big, prototypical starter’s frame and arm strength. He’ll sit 93-95 mph early in his outings, then tends to fall off into the low-90s late. He also has a two-plane slider that has transitioned from being a short, cuttery pitch into a more traditional sweeper. Some of the longer ones are plus, and Hughes has fairly good feel for locating it. He’ll also flash an above-average, mid-80s changeup, and Hughes had an especially good change in his final collegiate start at Regionals. While his delivery is maybe a little non-traditional looking, and Hughes entered the 2022 season with some perceived relief risk due to a walk-prone ‘21, he has the size and athleticism to eat innings, and he cut his walk rate by about a third this year. He enters pro ball with a promising three-pitch mix and is one of the younger college pitchers available.

Hughes is a strong starting-pitcher prospect with good upside and pedigree (albeit some relief risk), even though he appeared to fit ranking-wise in the 2022 draft class more at the end of the first round than the top ten. Health permitting, he could be a quick riser through the system.

It’s surprising the Rockies had Hughes so far ahead in bonus money of fellow top-40 picks Sterlin Thompson and Jordan Beck, but that doesn’t in itself reflect much on Hughes’ prospect stock. I think the three players are pretty close in prospect value and ranked all three as 45 FV players, with Hughes ranking third of the three at number 11 on my list.