PCL notes: McHugh making his mark

Mets right-hander off to strong start for 51s under the radar

Mets prospect Collin McHugh leads the 51s staff with a 2.98 ERA. (Henny Ray Abrams/AP)

By Chris Jackson / Special to MLB.com | May 13, 2013 6:00 AM ET

The only affiliation change in the Pacific Coast League this offseason occurred in Las Vegas, where the New York Mets replaced the Toronto Blue Jays.

For a team trying to build around young pitching, it was a gamble for the Mets to jump to a hitters' league. So far the 51s have a team ERA of 5.32, the third worst in the PCL.

One pitcher, though, has stood out from his teammates, and it is not top-ranked prospect Zack Wheeler. Instead it's right-hander Collin McHugh, who has gone 3-2 with a 2.74 ERA after his eighth start of the season Sunday.

"Honestly, when I heard about it this offseason, certainly you hear all the horror stories about Las Vegas, how it's the worst place to pitch in baseball," McHugh said. "I took it all with a grain of salt. If you're going to make pitches, you're going to get outs.

"I got a little chip on my shoulder to go out and show people it's still baseball. We wanted to show people and show critics who have seen this league before that's it not always a hitters' league. Baseball is still pitching and defense at its heart."

So far McHugh has tamed the beast that is the desert ballpark. He said his recipe for success has been fairly simple.

"Honestly it's just keeping the ball down, keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate," McHugh said. "You're going to give up your fair share of dinks and dunks in this league, some fly balls are going to get out, some are going to end up being doubles to the wall.

"That's what I've been trying to do. I'm not trying to overpower guys, I'm not trying to change what I do."

McHugh burst onto the scene in 2012, going 7-9 with a 2.91 ERA for Buffalo and Double-A Binghamton to earn a promotion to the Majors. He did not fare as well in New York, finishing the year 0-4 with a 7.59 ERA in eight games (four starts).

"When you go to another level, there's always a learning curve," McHugh said. "I think that goes for pretty much any job you can have. You just need to make the adjustments."

One of those adjustments was learning to do some extra homework before his starts.

"Being up there I really learned what it means to prepare, what it means to prepare mentally and physically, but also watching tape, learning the hitters," McHugh said. "Coming back down here, I have a whole extra sense of confidence."

In brief

Walk this way: Another player considered a fringe prospect in the PCL who is quietly having a nice year is Iowa second baseman Logan Watkins. Though his batting average is just .246 (28-for-114), he has 26 walks for a solid .390 on-base percentage. Watkins projects as a utility player in the Majors and as such has also seen time at shortstop and center field.

Straightening out: Salt Lake right-hander A.J. Schugel, the Angels' No. 16 prospect, has started to show signs of turning his season around. In his last three starts, Schugel has allowed six earned runs in 17 1/3 innings. That followed back-to-back starts in which he gave up 14 runs in 7 2/3 innings.

Back on his feet: Tucson outfielder Jaff Decker is looking like his old self again this year, batting .286 (34-for-119) with four home runs, 14 RBIs and a .393 OBP. Decker was sidelined by plantar fasciitis for three months last year after starting the season batting .184. Now healthy, he is looking to reclaim his spot on the Padres' prospect list.

Chris Jackson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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