A 16th round pick by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 MLB Draft, Brandon Hughes spent the entire 2017 season roaming Northwest League outfields with the Eugene Emeralds. Now, two years later, Hughes is back in the Northwest League, but when he exits the Ems dugout to take the field,
A 16th round pick by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 MLB Draft, Brandon Hughes spent the entire 2017 season roaming Northwest League outfields with the Eugene Emeralds. Now, two years later, Hughes is back in the Northwest League, but when he exits the Ems dugout to take the field, Hughes heads to a new, different part of the diamond: the pitcher's mound.
The former outfielder-turned-pitcher has been one of the great stories of this year's Ems squad so far, and his journey (back) to the pitcher's mound is one that he admittedly didn't see coming even as recently as earlier this year. So how did it happen?
After spending 2017 in Eugene and 2018 as an outfielder for the South Bend Cubs (A-Full), Hughes entered his third pro season aiming to turn a corner and continue to climb up the Minor League ranks. But upon arriving at Spring Training earlier this year, Hughes was quickly presented with a major fork in the road.
"It kind of came out of the blue," he recalls. "I was playing outfield to start Spring Training, but one day I got called into Jaron Madison's (Cubs Director of Player Development) office. He told me that there likely weren't going to many at-bats available for me in Myrtle Beach (A-High) or South Bend (A-Full), and so he asked me if I wanted to become a pitcher."
That question came out of left field for the young outfielder, and so before he offered his official answer, Hughes took twenty-four hours to think about the opportunity in front of him.
"I made a bunch of phone calls," he says. "I ended up calling my pitching coach from [Michigan State], and he said, 'Brandon, when you're healthy, you've got that great left arm and you can throw it hard and you know where it's going. Maybe this isn't the worst thing in the world.' So, I took his advice and here I am."
While the transition to pitcher caught the left-hander off-guard, he was certainly no stranger to taking the mound. Hughes previously played as both a pitcher and outfielder to start his collegiate career, but a pair of labrum surgeries led him to ultimately stop pitching after his freshman year and focus solely on playing as an outfielder.
Four years later, as he makes the transition back to the mound, Hughes is starting to embrace the lifestyle that comes with it. "The pitcher's life is chill," laughs Hughes. "You know that when you throw two innings, you've got the next two days off to watch, learn, and get your arm prepped for when you pitch next. Last year I played one hundred and ten games, and I think this year I've played maybe twenty."
So far, the new position is paying dividends for Hughes who has posted a 3.86 ERA in nine appearances while striking out 16 batters in 16.1 innings of work. Last Friday against Salem-Keizer, Hughes tallied his best appearance to date, striking out four of the seven batters he faced over two innings of work while failing to allow a hit.
As he continues to find his way on the mound, Hughes has received nothing but support from the Cubs staff. "They've been great with me," he says. "Obviously, they're treating me like a professional and giving me every chance. They know what I'm still learning and to not throw everything at me at once, but instead give it to me piece by piece and let me digest all of the info."