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2007 Rotation Preview: Phil Humber

Mike SteffanosTuesday, January 2, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Phil Humber was the Mets first round selection in the 2004 Amateur Player Draft. The Mets had the third overall pick that year. Courtesy of MLB.com, here is Humber's scouting report at the time of the draft:

School: Rice U
Position: RHP   B/T: R/R
H: 6-4   W: 220
Born: 1982-12-21   Class: SR

Scouting report: Large frame. Broad, sloped shoulders. Strong, durable, overall build. More developed lower half. Body type similar to Kevin Millwood. No windup, high 3/4 delivery. Plus arm strength. Comfort zone 91-93 w/ run & sink when down. Curve Ball, Major Laegue out pitch w/ big, tight, sharp 11-5 bite. Changeup w/ sink & deception. Other pitch, split, w/ short down break. Big, strong, durable workhorse w/ pitchability & mound presence. Stuff for quality Right Handed Starter at Major League level.

Humber wasn't signed in time to pitch any professional innings in 2004 after pitching 115 innings as a junior at Rice. He came to spring training with the Mets in 2005 after signing that winter, and was impressive. He struggled some with St. Lucie of the Class A Florida State League, with a fastball in the high 80s rather than in the low 90s. The Mets promoted him to Double-A Binghamton in June, but he left his first game there with elbow pain that would lead to season-ending Tommy John surgery.

When spring training got under way in 2006, Humber wasn't cleared to throw yet and 2005 first round pick Mike Pelfrey drew the attention in camp. It was well into the summer before Humber took the mound again, but he was so impressive in St. Lucie that the Mets promoted him to Binghamton. With the return of his low 90s velocity and his very good complementary pitches, Humber put himself back on the prospect map. He pitched 2 innings in relief for the Mets in September, and another couple of innings in the Arizona Fall League before some minor stiffness caused the Mets to shut him down for the year. Still, it was an amazing comeback from surgery for the young right-hander.

Here are Phil Humber's minor league numbers from last year:

2006 Minor League Stats -- Phil Humber
Team Starts Innings Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA AVG
Gulf Coast (Rookie) 1 4 15.8 15.8 2.3 0.0 6.75 .389
St. Lucie (A) 7 38 5.7 8.5 2.1 0.9 2.37 .178
Binghamton (AA) 6 34.1 6.6 9.4 2.6 1.0 2.88 .195
Total 14 76.1 6.6 9.3 2.4 0.9 2.83 .199

Most prospect lists see Humber and Mike Pelfrey as fairly even, with some preferring one and some the other. Here is the scouting report on Humber from Scout.com, who rank him as the Mets #4 prospect, 2 slots below Pelfrey:

Humber will be the first to tell you that Tommy John surgery, while setting him back in his development in one respect, actually made him a better pitcher in the long run. Able to sit 91-94 MPH with his fastball and possessing a wicked curveball, he was only allowed to work on his changeup in the early part of his rehab and now he throws an average to above average changeup, making him a more complete pitcher.

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has Humber at #2 on the Mets prospect list, one slot ahead of Pelfrey:

Return from Tommy John surgery was not only quick, it was remarkable for how quickly the stuff came back. Throws strikes and works all four quadrants of the zone with a low 90s fastball and a hammer curveball, as well as a power change up. All three pitches are capable of generating swings and misses, and Mets brass are still buzzing about the inning of relief against Atlanta during his big league debut when he touched 96 and looked dominant.

... In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A No. 2 starter capable of winning 15-to-18 games annually with an upper-echelon team.

In the just released top 10 Mets prospect list from Baseball America, Matt Meyers rates Humber as the #4 prospect in the system, 3 notches under Mike Pelfrey, and says:

Strengths: Humber's curveball is one of the best in the minors. Thrown at 74-78 mph, it has tight rotation with a powerful downward action. His fastball sits at 90-94 mph. He also features a developing low-80s changeup with late sink. He throws strikes with all three pitches.

The Future: Though his Arizona Fall League stint ended with a sore shoulder, an MRI revealed no damage and Humber is primed for his first full-season workload. Though his stuff is good enough to pitch in the big leagues, Humber will probably be better served with a full season in Triple-A to improve his endurance. He profiles as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

It's Humber's curveball and changeup that separate him from Pelfrey, who is still searching for the complementary pitches to that electric fastball. Stuff-wise, Humber is ready for the majors right now, and possesses the excellent mental makeup to succeed at that level. In spring training he'll be a full twenty months along from his Tommy John, so he could be expected to be fully recovered from the surgery. Still, with about 80 innings under his belt in 2006 the Mets would quite understandably want to go slowly with this kid. A likely scenario would see him start the year in AAA New Orleans and be one of the first call-ups.

Still, with a wide-open battle for rotation slots and the stuff and poise Humber brings to the table, I wouldn't want to bet my bankroll that he wouldn't steal one of those jobs right out of camp. I do think he will see some early minor league time, but barring health issues, he will be a sure bet to make a contribution at Shea in 2007. I could see him making 12-15 major league starts, or possibly coming out of the bullpen.

Note: This preview was updated 1/8/2007.

2007 Starting Rotation Previews:
Orlando Hernandez
Phil Humber (This Article)
John Maine
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
Alay Soler
Jason Vargas
Dave Williams
Rotation Preview Conclusions

2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up

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Comments (12)

I am a big Humber fan and think he will be a better pitcher than Pelfrey over time, barring injuries. Thanks for the update. It's great news (especially taht 3rd pitch) and I also feel he will get his shot in 2007 by forcing the Mets brass to keep him with his performance.

I agree that Humber is probably ready for MLB duty now, but the Mets will prefer to give him some extra AAA time since he really hasn't logged many IP in the minors. That said, I think the Millwood comparison is a fair one, as I can see Humber developing into a solid #2 for a contending Mets team. While Pelfrey has more electric stuff and the better chance to develop into a #1 ace, Humber is the more solid bet as his pitch selection is more solid right now.

Chris - I like them both. I think Pelfrey has the higher ceiling, but only if he learns to command his off-speed stuff. I'd love to see these guys both in the rotation for the next few years.
Glenn - I agree with your thinking. I know that some are down on Pelfrey because he isn't as polished, but you can't teach someone a 97 mph fastball with movement.

Hey Mike - Great job with the pitching previews. Met fans have a reason to be very excited about both Humber and Pelfrey going forward. I hope Omar reisists the temptation to trade them for older pitching. One thing about Humber that I never see mentioned is his history of big game pitching. In the 2003 College World Series deciding game Humber pitched a complete game shutout against Stanford, and the Owls took the title. That's the sort of intangible in a pitcher that often separates champions from contenders.

Salman - Good point on Humber.

As of now, the Met starting rotation is one pitcher short with Glavine, El Duque, Maine and Perez as likely starters in April. I see the quartet of youngsters (Pelfrey, Humber, Vargas, and Soler)starting at AAA-New Orleans. Ideally, I would prefer that they spend the entire year there. 2006 was Pelfrey's first pro season; Humber's first season after Tommy John surgery; Vargas's first year after injury; and Soler has only 25 inning of minor league experience over 2 years.

Let the four compete at AAA to see who gets the first call-up.

I was saving my comments......but;

1. I think Humber is a sleeper too. I think he ala Bannister last yr sneaks into the roation if not immediately then late. Spring trng will be big for him. I'm not caught up in his service time. Note his contract assigned him to the 40man roster from day 1, so his clock is ticking to see what he brings.

2. I disagree on Pelfrey. I think the stamina is not an issue (at his age), plus I think thev Mets could commit to pitching him in relief then if demoted (based on BP depth/need) pitching him as a starter in New Orleans. We have all seen plenty of relievers become starters, and vice versa.

3. Given the costs and specialization in relivers I'm not sure Pelfrey is not an asset as a future dominant closer.

You disagree with me on Pelfrey? Where did I say stamina is an issue? What I said was:

We've had some back and forth on the site with some readers who would like to see Pelfrey hone his skills in the Mets bullpen in 2007. While I understand the thinking, I think the need to develop his pitches points to leaving him as a starter in AAA. There is no substitute for taking the ball every fifth day, starting games and using all your pitches. The pressure to succeed as a major league reliever would cause Pelfrey to rely on his fastball at the expense of honing the off-speed stuff. It would make more to sense to use Phil Humber as a reliever, if the team is so inclined, since Humber already features a mature and full repertoire of pitches. While I respect the opposing position, I wouldn't personally be in favor of using Pelfrey in relief.

Nothing about stamina in there. Let's not argue the same point incessently. You already know how I feel, and I know how you feel.

Vern - Sorry, almost missed yours. I don't think Soler is in the same boat as the others. He admits to being 27, is probably 30, and probably is as polished as a pitcher as he'll every be. I like your thinking on the others.

Chris, can you(or anybody else) eleborate by what you mean when you say that Humber hasn't logged enough innings in the minors to warrent a spot in our starting rotation next year? I mean, If you look at his 2005 and 2006 innings, you will see that he has a logged a total of 150 innings. Isn't that enough? I mean, Pelfrey logged a total of 121 innings last year in both the minors and MLB and nobody seems concerned about his arm strength. Are you referring to the innings pitched after his surgery????

I've been a huge Humber fan ever since I got his auto Bowmans Best card. Ive followed him vigorously, and I think that he'll be either a really solid number 2 man on a rotation packed with great arms, but he could be an Ace like he was at Rice. I've seen Pelfrey pitch and I think Humber has more "electric" stuff. He totes one of the best curves in the minors or majors and I can't wait to see his career unfold.

Pelfrey's fastball is much more rare than Humber's curve, which is why Pelfrey is looked at as a prospect with higer ceiling. Both are excellent pitchers.

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