Prospect Profile: Brandon Hughes and His Athleticism Are a Big Surprise

As the Eugene Emeralds’ playoff push continues this weekend, a bright spot for the Cubs’ Short Season Class A team has been the play of switch-hitting outfielder Brandon Hughes. A 2017 16th round pick out of Michigan State, Hughes is currently hitting .395 in just 12 games. Hughes is one of the few position players drafted to make an impact so far since signing. In fact, I don’t think anybody saw the every athletic Hughes being this good so quickly.

Because most of us have barely had a chance to learn his name, here’s what you should know:

The basics – 6’2” 215, bats Switch, throws Left
Strengths – Speed, quick hands, doesn’t strike out much
Areas to Improve – Power, On-Base Percentage, defensive routes

Michigan State Career
Hughes was a three-year starter in the outfield, primarily playing in center, and he also did some pitching. His batting average progressed each year from .280 to .303 to .330. His OBP went from .353 to .393 to .382. His biggest asset, however, was his speed. Each year he stole more bases than the year before, going from 6 to 17 to 30. He earned All-Big Ten honors and was named his team’s MVP on both offense and defense his junior year.

Scouting Reports Coming out of College
Hughes was not a highly ranked prospect coming out of college. In fact, Baseball America had him ranked as #240 in their top 500, and he was drafted more like he was ranked closer to 500 than 240. Two of the scouting reports I read on Hughes all focused on his speed and how he used it to get on base in college. He was considered to be an average defender with a possibly above average arm.

His Professional Career Thus Far
As soon as Hughes started playing for Eugene, his bat, hands, and athleticism caught everyone’s attention, and hitting a home run in his second professional game certainly helped.

Hughes hasn’t stopped showing the propensity to use quick hands to get his bat through the zone to hit the ball and then hustle out of the box when he makes contact. In one game against Hillsboro, he had three doubles. They weren’t all gappers to the wall, but the fact remained when the play was over he was standing on second base, each one evidence of his speed and skilled baserunning. On Wednesday this past week, he went 4-for-5 and lifted his RBI total to 7 before he has played in three weeks worth of games.

When you break down his hitting skills, the switch hitter has not faced many left-handed pitchers at Eugene. He’s only had eight at-bats with just one hit. Against right-handed pitching, Hughes is crushing them to the tune of a .457 batting average with an OPS of 1.245. Those two stats garner attention. In a small sample size, Hughes is showing that he can dominate at this level.

Going Forward
Hughes’ style of hitting reminds me of a story by Ryne Sandberg. Ryno often talks about his conversations with Jim Frey and how Sandberg used to pound the ball into the Astroturf and dirt to try and use his speed to get on base. One day at the batting cage, Frey suggested Sandberg  should change his swing to create more lift to hit for more power. And that one piece of advice transformed Sandberg’s career.

I am not saying that Brandon Hughes is going to be a Hall of Famer. And I am not comparing him to Ryne Sandberg, but their original hitting styles are similar. Hughes is physically gifted. He has the frame and the musculature to hit home runs. It will be interesting to see what his swing is next year.

Right now, the Cubs selected a player that plays all three outfield spots, has excellent speed, and uses quick hands in the zone. I’d like to see what he can do when he goes up to a higher level, but I don’t think a promotion is necessary right now. I think letting Hughes dominate at short season for a larger sample size is in his best interest. If he does get promoted this season, I’m not going to be surprised.

I think the lesson for the Cubs here is always draft the athlete.

Lead photo courtesy of the Eugene Emeralds

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