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2023 Cubs player profiles: Brandon Hughes

35th in a series. Hughes has been hurt most of the year and ineffective when he’s in there. He needs to get right.

Brandon Hughes
Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Brandon Kenneth Hughes has been the Cubs only left-handed reliever for quite some time — Anthony Kay was brought up last week when Hughes went back on the injured list (15 days). When Hughes is on, he’s a good option out of the pen, and he’s just 27. He’ll be around for a bit.

The Sterling Heights, Michigan native was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 16th round of the 2017 Major League Draft. He was an outfielder then.

Brandon Hughes had a choice to make three years ago. At the end of Spring Training, he was told there would be no at-bats for the outfielder in the farm system. The Cubs were going to release him — unless he was willing to try his hand at pitching.

“I chose to become a pitcher,” Hughes said. — Jordan Bastian.

He debuted with a flourish May 17, 2022, striking out five of the six batters he faced, and continued to be effective, finishing with a line of 2-3/3.12 over 57 games, with eight holds and eight saves, issuing 21 bases on balls and 68 strikeouts. This is in line with his minor-league numbers of 6-3/2.19 over 61 games with 33 walks and 126 SO.

Hughes has recurring inflammation in his left knee and his numbers this year, in 13⅓ innings, aren’t really representative of his abilities. He needs to be on the IL until that injury no longer recurs, not hurried into throwing because he’s the only southpaw on the 40-man that the team trusts.

Hopefully Kay can fill the bill and the two can be complementary bullpen pieces, in time.

When right, Hughes relies on three pitches — a slider, four-seam fastball, and sinker. He throws the slider about 55 percent of the time, the fastball about 41 percent, and the sinker about 4 percent. He does possess a changeup but hasn’t thrown it yet this year, as he hasn’t faced many right-handers. His mid-90s fastball and 89 mile per hour slider will have to do, with the seldom-used sinker and change in reserve.

Part of his issue with men on base is his location — he’s only in the strike zone about 46 percent of the time, and batters aren’t chasing. Some of that is the good movement of his slider, but he might benefit from throwing a few more strikes.

Not as much as he would benefit from good health, however. That’s the chief issue, and really should be addressed this time around. Hughes is a pre-arb player until 2026, working at the minimum on a one-year deal. He’s likely to be offered a 2024 contract based on his 2022 experience and whatever he does after his IL stint is concluded.