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Braves NRI In-Depth: Dusty Hughes

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Dusty Hughes was originally drafted in the 11th round out of Delta State University by the Royals in 2003. He pitched well in his first few years as a starter in A ball before undergoing Tommy John surgery midway through the 2005 season and missing all of 2006. He returned in 2007, working as a swingman for AA Wichita, earning a 3.08 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 108 innings, then built on that success in 2008 with a 2.91 ERA and a 1.20 ERA in 52 innings for AA Northwest Arkansas, before struggling in AAA with a 5.04 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP for Omaha. He was much better in a return to Omaha in 2009, posting a 3.50 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 87.1 innings, numbers good enough to earn him a September call up. He pitched in 8 games, including his lone Major League start, putting up a 5.14 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP, and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings.

He earned a job in Kansas City's bullpen in 2010, and spent the entire season in the Majors, appearing in 57 games, finishing 19, and putting up a 3.83 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. Despite that solid rookie season, the Royals put him on waivers and the Twins claimed him prior to the 2011 season. He earned a job in Minnesota's bullpen to start the 2011 season, but after putting up a 9.95 ERA and a 2.13 WHIP in 12.2 innings over 15 appearances, he was optioned to AAA Rochester, where he spent the rest of the season, earning a 4.29 ERA, a 1.39 WHIP, and 10.8 K/9 in 56.2 innings over 43 appearances. After the season he became a Minor League free agent and signed with the Braves in late November.

Hughes is a bit of an undersized lefty, listed at a generous 5'10", 185 pounds, and he has only an average fastball, sitting between 88 and 91, though he pairs it with a well above average changeup that comes in between 80 and 83, a difference in speed and movement that baffles hitters when he's on. His diving slider is a solid pitch when it's on, and he's better when it is, and his curveball is a loopy show-me pitch.

There are a few open spots in the Braves bullpen, so with an outstanding Spring Training Hughes could find himself on an opening day roster for the third straight year. Atlanta already has the best pair of lefty relievers in the game in Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, so in addition to competing with pitchers like Anthony Varvaro, Arodys Vizcaino, Cory Gearrin, Jairo Asencio, JJ Hoover, Adam Russell, Todd Redmond, Jaye Chapman, and fellow lefty Robert Fish for one of the final bullpen spots, Hughes may have to contend with the team being content with only having two lefties in the pen. At worst, Hughes will provide a veteran presence in AAA Gwinnett's bullpen while waiting for an opportunity to open up in Atlanta.