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Prospect Phil Humber is pitching like the player the Mets selected in the first round
Mets' prospect Humber regaining first-round form
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Phil Humber is pitching like the player the Mets selected in the first round. photo by Daniel Abashian
By Chuck King

PORT ST. LUCIE - Mets pitcher Phil Humber would like to join an exclusive group soon.

Every New York Mets’ first round draft pick from 2001-06 has reached the major leagues except for Humber, the Mets' first-round selection in 2004.

One year removed from Tommy John surgery, Humber is starting to show that he may soon join the group that includes Aaron Heilman (2001), David Wright (2001), Scott Kazmir (2002, now with Tampa Bay), Lastings Milledge (2003), and Mike Pelfrey (2005).

The Mets prospect started the season in extended spring training and pitched one Gulf Coast League game before being moved up to the Florida State League.

Pitching most of last season with a sore arm, the right hander struggled to a 2-6 record in 2005. He had little trouble with the FSL this season, posting a 3-1 record and a 2.37 for St. Lucie.

“I didn’t really have any expectations coming in,” Humber said. “Coming off a major injury like that, I was just glad to be healthy.”

Humber cemented minor league prospect status when he earned a call-up to Binghamton on August 1. While his first start didn’t go as well as he’d hoped (four earned runs in four innings), it ended better than his only other start in Binghamton . It was after his lone start for the B-Mets in 2005 that Humber found out he needed the surgery.

“That’s hard news to swallow for a pitcher,” Humber said. “It’s going to put you out for about a year. It’s good news on the other hand because a lot of guys have had it and have come back and been successful after it. It’s just a matter of being willing to stick with the rehab.”

Instead of spending the rest of the summer of 2005 in the Eastern League, Humber starting preparing for 2006. He trudged through “the monotony of rehab,” trying to teach the tendon that used to be in his wrist how to be a ligament in his elbow. Humber marveled at how heavy a one-pound weight felt to his reconstructed arm. But the hardest part was not being able to pick up a ball for five months.

When he finally started pitching again, the Mets prospect discovered he hadn’t lost his mid-90s velocity and that he’d developed a changeup. While with St. Lucie, his ability to change speeds baffled Florida State League batters, producing a five inning, nine strikeout performance against Lakeland and a seven inning, two hit gem against Sarasota .

“Now he is able to throw a changeup in any count, in any situation,” St. Lucie pitching coach Ricky Bones said. “That gives the hitters more to think about. The key is being able to throw it for a strike and he’s been doing it.”

For now, Binghamton fans are seeing the first-round talent they expected last season.

“If he’s not 100 percent yet, he’s on the verge of being 100 percent,” said St. Lucie second baseman Jose Cruz, a teammate of Humber ’s on Rice’s 2003 College World Series championship team. “He’s just working out some kinks here and there. He’s going to be back to being even better than what the Mets expected pretty soon.”

Check out my blog for more on the New York Mets and Minor League Baseball.

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