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Hughes Could Be Huge For Twins

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ID:	6815It was only a minor-league start against Single-A hitters, but still the reviews of Phil Hughes on Tuesday were glowing.

"I thought he looked really good, really sharp," said assistant GM Rob Antony.

"Hughesy threw the [expletive] out of the ball," said Ron Gardenhire.

There's a palpable buzz surrounding Hughes this spring. If you ask anyone who's been down here for positive signs they've seen in a camp that has featured its fair share of negative ones, the newly acquired free agent is sure to be among the first names mentioned.

Sure, Hughes has put up good numbers -- he tossed six scoreless frames Tuesday and has allowed just one earned run in 8 2/3 innings over three Grapefruit League starts -- but what matters is how he's looked while putting up those numbers. And by all accounts he has looked great.

The velocity on the fastball is there. The curveball is moving well and hitting its spots. Opposing hitters are walking away shaking their heads.

"He hides the ball well and can move it all over the place with a really nice, sharp breaking ball," Gardenhire said.

Although Ricky Nolasco was the banner signing of the offseason, Hughes was the one that stood out most to me. When you can get a 27-year-old former top prospect with major-league success in his track record on a three-year deal at a relatively modest salary, it's a coup even if he's coming off a down season.

While Nolasco, at 31, is at an age where decline could soon become a factor, Hughes is amidst what is considered his physical prime. He's only 16 months older than Kyle Gibson, and the hope is that those two can become mainstays in a rebuilt rotation that might finally experience some year-to-year stability.

The Twins also hope that Hughes can be part of the pitching staff's transition away from absurdly heavy contact tendencies. Last year Twins starters struck out only 12.4 percent of opposing batters. That's the lowest number for any MLB team since 2006 and it left the club with almost no chance of success in run prevention.

Over the last four seasons, Hughes has struck out 19 percent of the batters he's faced. You can tell by watching him that he attacks and looks for the punch-out, especially with two strikes. While his K-rates are about average by MLB standards, he should help the Twins move the needle solidly in the right direction.

It's been said before, but the move out of New York -- away from hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium and the power-packed AL East -- figures to benefit Hughes immensely. He's the kind of high-upside free agent play I've long yearned to see from the Twins.

Will it work out? Impossible to say at this point. But the signs are very positive.
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