When the Chicago Cubs drafted Brandon Hughes in 2007, the 16th-round pick hoped one day to roam the outfield at Wrigley Field.
He finally got to do that Tuesday during batting practice. Except Hughes’ first big-league call-up came as a pitcher and not an outfielder.
The 26-year-old left-hander converted to pitching in 2019 and quickly ascended through the Cubs farm system. His big-league dream came true amid a flurry of transactions.
The Cubs put outfielder Jason Heyward on the injured list without a distinction, an indicator it’s COVID-19-related. Left-hander Conner Menez was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, infielder/outfielder Christopher Morel got called up from Double-A Tennessee and Hughes’ contract was selected from Iowa.
“He throws a lot of strikes and there’s a lot of deception,” vice president of player development Jared Banner said of Hughes. “Guys just don’t take comfortable swings. So I don’t know whether it’s natural or something specific that he’s learned along the way, but he’s had a tremendous amount of success.”
Hughes has not allowed a run in 16⅔ innings with 22 strikeouts and three walks between Double A and Triple A this year. He expected family, including his parents, and friends to be at Tuesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It’s cool to see the guys that I came up with in the system get opportunities, throw in the games and have success,” Hughes said. “And that takes the nerves off of me a little bit knowing that others have come in and done the job. So I’m ready to do my job.”
Morel’s 40-man roster status and defensive flexibility — he has played everywhere except catcher and first base — made him an attractive option while Heyward is sidelined. Morel had a .306/.380/.565 slash line in Double A.
“He’s a really energetic, infectious player,” Banner said. “He can play all over the field, and that makes him really valuable. He can run, he can hit with power — he can do so many things on the field that this is a great opportunity for him.”
Morel, 22, received the news Monday night from Double-A manager Mike Ryan. His first phone call to share the news went to his parents.
“I never thought they were going to call me and make my dream here,” Morel said. “I feel confident with myself. I’m working hard, I’m having fun again. That’s why I’m here.”