Post Hype Prospect – Phil Humber
On Saturday, Phil Humber threw the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history, throwing only 96 pitches to retire all 27 Seattle Mariners. Despite once being a top prospect, Humber’s path to the perfect game was filled with injuries, demotions, a blockbuster trade, demotions, being released, and finding success for the Chicago White Sox.
Humber grew up in Nacogdoches, Texas and attended Carthage High School in Carthage, Texas. In the Texas University Interscholastic League Class 4A semifinals, Humber struck out six, walked one, and allowed three hits. Humber was drafted in the 29th round of the 2001 Rule IV Draft by the New York Yankees, a pick Humber considered more of a “draft-and-follow,” than anything else said Humber. Humber continues, “I wasn’t mature enough to go into pro ball then. They made a pretty decent offer to try to sign me away from Rice, but I’m glad I chose [Rice].”
As Humber said, he went to Rice University, where he was part of one of the greatest pitching staffs in college baseball history, teaming with Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and David Aardsma to come in 5th in the 2002 College World Series, win the 2003 College World Series, and come in 11th in the 2004 College World Series. To say Humber was dominant in college is an understatement. Humber put up a 2.78 ERA across 110 innings with 130 strike outs in 2002, a 3.30 ERA across 128 innings with 138 strike outs in 2003, and a 2.27 ERA across 115 innings with 154 strike outs in 2004.
Going into the 2004 draft, Humber was considered a top prospect and rumors swirled regarding which team would pick Humber. Matt Bush was picked #1 overall by the Padres and twice flamed out spectacularly. Justin Verlander was picked #2 overall by the Detroit Tigers, and has done very well, including two no hitters, Rookie of the Year (2006), Cy Young (2011), and MVP (2011), and four All Star Game appearances. The Mets were focusing on three college pitchers, Jered Weaver, Humber, and Verlander. Then-Mets General Manager, Jim Duquette, said that “[e]verybody who went in to see [Humber], including myself, thought he was going to be a 200-inning, year-after-year type of pitcher. [Humber] had a good frame and a lot of the elements you’d look for in a top-of-the-rotation starter.” The Mets passed on Weaver and took Humber with the #3 overall pick, with Weaver falling to the Angels at #12 due to bonus demands.
Humber was not the only Rice Owl to be picked in the first round of the 2004 draft, as teammates Jeff Niemann (#4 overall to the Devil Rays) and Wade Townsend (#8 overall to the Orioles, though he didn’t sign) were also selected, the first time three teammates were selected with the first eight picks of the draft.
Humber signed a 5-year major league contract with the Mets in January 2005 worth $4.2 million, including a $3 million signing bonus. Ranked the #50 prospect by Baseball America before the 2005 season, Humber immediately clashed with Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson, who wanted Humber to change his mechanics and stand taller on the mound. Humber was assigned to the high-A St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League, where he put up a 4.99 ERA across 70.1 innings with 65 strike outs. Promoted to the AA Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League, Humber made one start on July 11, allowing three runs and four hits over four innings while striking out two. Humber left the game early due to pain in his elbow and was quickly diagnosed with bone spurs and a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Humber underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. Humber returned to action in under 12 months, being assigned to the Rookie level GCL Mets on June 22 for one start, then being sent back to the St. Lucie Mets, where he made seven starts over 38 innings, striking out 36 and putting up a sparkling 2.37 ERA. Promoted to AA Binghamton on August 4, Humber kept the good times rolling, putting up a 2.88 ERA across 34.1 innings while striking out 36. As a reward for his season, Humber was called up to New York, where appeared in two games and did not allow a run.
Humber reappeared on Baseball America’s top 100 list, ranking #73 with the comment: “Blew out his elbow 15 starts into his pro career in 2005, but bounced all the way back last year.” Humber began 2007 pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Mets’ AAA affiliate in the Pacific Coast League and performed reasonably well, putting up a 4.27 ERA across 139 innings, striking out 120. While these numbers do not seem particularly good, the PCL is notoriously hitter-friendly. Promoted to the Mets in September, Humber appeared in three games, including one start, and put up a (small sample size alert!) 7.71 ERA across seven innings.
In February 2007, Humber was dealt by the Mets, along with Kevin Mulvey, Carlos Gomez, and Deolis Guerra, to the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana. The Twins assigned Humber to the Rochester Red Wings, the Twins’ AAA affiliate in the International League. In 2007, Humber put up a 4.56 ERA across 136.1 innings, striking out 106. Humber received his annual September call-up and appearing in five games as a reliever, putting up a 4.63 ERA across 11.2 innings. In 2008, Humber broke camp with the Twins as a reliever. After putting up a 12.46 ERA across 4.1 innings, Humber was sent down to Rochester. After putting up a 5.34 ERA across 119.2 innings as a starter, Humber was recalled by the Twins, where he put up a 3.86 ERA across four relief appearances over 4.2 innings.
After the 2009 season, Humber’s career took a number of unexpected turns. In October, Humber was granted free agency, as the Twins did not offer Humber a contract. Humber was signed as a free agent by the Kansas City Royals in December. Assigned to the Omaha Royals of the PCL, Humber appeared in 21 games (21 starts), putting up a respectable 4.47 ERA across 118.2 innings. Humber appeared in 8 games for the Kansas City Royals, primarily as a long reliever, though he did start one game, logging 21.2 innings to go with his 4.15 ERA. In December 2010, Humber was selected off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, then in January 2011, the Chicago White Sox selected Humber off waivers from the Athletics.
Humber opened the season with two relief appearances (and a 9.00 ERA after two innings), but the White Sox, led by Manager Ozzie Guillen, showed patience, giving Humber time to find his way. Humber responded with a great showing, holding a 2.69 ERA after his seven inning start against the cross town rival Cubs on July 2. Humber seemed to struggle after that start, putting up a 7.52 ERA over his next five starts. On August 18, Humber was struck in the face by a line drive and immediately taken out of the game. Humber was, largely, unscathed by the ball, as he only had a face bruise. Humber made one rehabilitation start for the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox’s AAA affiliate, and returned to the White Sox for the duration of the season. Humber returned with seven shutout innings against the Twins in his first start after being taken off the Disabled List, then made four more starts for the White Sox. The 2011 season was a major success for Humber, as he put up a 3.75 ERA (112 ERA+) across 163 innings.
Humber opened 2012 as the #5 starter for the White Sox and has dominated. After going 5.1 innings and allowing only one run in his first start against Baltimore, Humber threw just 96 pitches (67 strikes) in his way to pitching a perfect game against the Mariners over the weekend (if this is news to you then how did you find this article?).
So what is ahead for Humber? No one knows. Congratulations have come from all over, including former teammate, Mike Pelfrey, apparently every person who knows his cell phone number, and former manager Ozzie Guillen, but not White Sox fan President Barack Obama.
At this point, the best way to describe what Humber went through would be something he said in June 2011, when asked to discuss his career after being traded by or released from four different organizations:
“I’ve been through everything you can go through in baseball so far. I’ve had Tommy John surgery, been the hot prospect, been a bust, been given a lot of opportunities and been given up on. You get to the point where you say, you know what, baseball’s not my whole life and if I’m going to play it I’m going to play because I enjoy it. That’s where I am.’
Until next time, follow me @HypeProspect.