Hudson stormed way to Majors, MiLBY
Sox righty made way from Class A to U.S. Cellular Field
When a pitcher begins his first full season of pro ball, the wish list is typically fairly simple: Stay healthy all year, try to avoid hitting that wall everyone talks about when going through a 140-game season for the first time and, if everything goes well, maybe earn a promotion before the year is over.
To say Daniel Hudson overshot these goals would be one of the biggest understatements of the 2009 season. The 2008 fifth-round pick out of Old Dominion began the year with the White Sox's lowest full-season affiliate, the Kannapolis Intimidators, in the South Atlantic League. It would be the first of five stops for the right-hander, who finished the season in Chicago. It's for that reason -- as well as the success he had every step of the way -- that he was the obvious choice for the 2009 MiLBY as Overall Starting Pitcher of the Year.
"I didn't have any inclination at all," Hudson said. "I thought maybe I'd be in High-A all year. I'm really grateful they were so aggressive with me. Thankfully, I put up pretty good numbers. My mind-set was to go out, do my best and give them a reason to promote me. I guess I did that reasonably well."
Reasonably well? Hudson's name is plastered all over the Minor League leaderboard.
His 2.32 ERA was ninth overall among full-season pitchers, his 166 strikeouts ranked him sixth (in 147 1/3 innings, putting his 10.14 strikeout average per nine innings ninth-best) and his .200 batting average-against was the second-lowest in the Minors. He walked just 34 all season, giving him a ridiculous 4.88 K/BB ratio.
Had the 22-year-old Hudson done that at just one or maybe two levels all year, it would've been impressive enough. But he kept performing every time the phone rang with the news he was moving up the chain. He never was in one place long enough to have his mail forwarded -- making eight starts with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and nine in Double-A Birmingham -- but that didn't seem to faze him.
Hudson kicked off the year with Kannapolis, posting a 1.23 ERA and .190 batting average against in four starts. He wasn't all that surprised to get bumped up from there, as he had hoped he might start in Winston-Salem to begin with. His overall numbers with the Dash don't seem overwhelming -- 3.40 ERA, but a .195 batting average-against -- but a string of three straight strong seven-inning outings meant a move up to Double-A.
That leap from Class A Advanced to Double-A is usually thought to be the toughest, but someone forgot to tell Hudson that. He went 7-0 with a 1.60 ERA in nine starts with Birmingham, holding hitters to a .188 average while striking out 63 (against 10 walks) in 56 1/3 innings. He finished his time in the Southern League by reeling off 28 consecutive scoreless innings.
Triple-A? No problem. Five starts, two wins, a 3.00 ERA and a strikeout per inning. Easy peasy. Then the call to Chicago came and Hudson got to make six appearances, including two starts, for the big league club in September.
"You don't hear these stories a lot," Hudson said. "You hear position players or relievers [moving up]. It's rare for a starting pitcher to jump like that. I figured I'd be in A ball all year just because it's so hard to get moved up. But it seemed like every time a rotation spot got open, they seemed to say, 'Let's test him some more.' I was able to answer those tests pretty well."
There must have been some secret to Hudson's success, a burst in velocity, a new pitch no one had ever seen before, perhaps some shenanigans on the mound? Nope. Hudson's recipe turns out to be about as complicated as boiling water.
"Especially at the beginning of the year, in Kannapolis, I was going right after hitters, throwing strikes, not giving people free passes," Hudson explained. "I got to high-A, our pitching coach Bobby Thigpen said the same thing will work here. Attack the strike zone, throw first-pitch strikes, two of the first three for strikes. That's what the pitching coaches preach. I took that to heart this year and tried to throw as many strikes as I could."
It might sound ho-hum, but it clearly worked and, as a result, Hudson's outlook for 2010 is a lot different than he probably thought it would be at the start of this past season. Instead of dreaming of perhaps hitting the ground running in Double-A, Hudson has his sights a bit higher. Though it seems likely there's no room in the starting rotation after the White Sox picked up Freddy Garcia's option, Hudson likes the idea of at least competing for a big league roster spot next spring.
"It depends on what they want me to do," said Hudson, who will likely begin the year in the Triple-A rotation and perhaps be the first one to get called up when there's a need. "[Starting] is where I'm most comfortable. I've never really come out of the bullpen except this past September. Right now, I'd rather start. But if they need me out of the bullpen, I'm up for the challenge for a bit until they do need me in the rotation."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.