The Yankees announced last week that Phil Hughes is set to become their 5th starter, so what should fans expect from the 23 year-old?

With his strong showing this spring, Phil Hughes solidified his case to become a starter. In 16 innings, Hughes has struck out 15 hitters and allowed only five runs and six walks. Fans should never invest too much thought into Spring Training stats, but when a job is on the line, it’s critical. This is something that Joba Chamberlain has learned. Chamberlain, the Yankees 5th starter last season, has had an awful Spring Training and subsequently lost his job. In 7 2/3 innings this Spring, Joba has allowed 12 runs on 12 hits and walked more batters(7) than struck out(6). Joba’s dreadful performances have sent him back to the bullpen, a familiar role that 24 year-old has dominated in the past.

So what should we expect at out Phil Hughes this year? He had an excellent campaign as the setup man for closer, Mariano Rivera last season(2.18 ERA, .172 Opponent Batting Avg, 1.02 WHIP, 11.2 K/9). However, Hughes has failed to prove that he can be a reliable starter in the big leagues. In 28 career starts, Hughes has posted an 8-9 record, 5.22 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. I take these numbers with a grain of salt. Most of these starts came when Hughes was an inexperienced 21 year-old learning how to pitch in the big leagues. After last season, Hughes is much more battled tested. Hughes only threw 89 total innings last year, so durability concerns need to be taken into account when projecting Hughes. He’s not going to take on a ‘Sabathia-esqe’ workload in 2010.

Overall, I’m expecting big things from Hughes in 2010. His K/9 has increased with each season in the big leagues and he has implemented a change-up into his arsenal. I don’t think he gets near 200 innings pitched, but barring injury, he’ll be in the rotation all season. He will have some growing pains along the way, but he is the 5th starter and only 23 years-old. He has the make-up to become the Yankees future ace.

Fantasy Spin: I wouldn’t call Hughes a “Late-Round Flyer”, but he has the potential to be a 5th-6th option on fantasy teams. I’d draft him in the later rounds.

Projection: 165 innings, 12 wins, 3.90 ERA, 155 Ks

Are the Yankees making the right decision with Hughes?

Photo Credit:; Mike Carlson, AP