OKLAHOMA CITY -- Eric Hurley has a fastball that consistently hits in the low 90s and has reached 96 mph. A good changeup and an improving slider are also in his arsenal. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound right-hander is the Rangers' No. 1 prospect, with the typical build of a power pitcher. Hurley has more responsibilities than many players his age, raising his nine-month-old daughter, Aislynn, with his wife of two years, Kacey. "It's just an extra incentive, really, working for them," Hurley said.
Since June 25, Hurley has been working in Triple-A Oklahoma and getting better every time out. In his first start, he gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits through five innings. In his next start, at Omaha on July 1, he had his breakout game, throwing six shutout innings, giving up three hits and striking out nine.
In his last two starts, Hurley has given up six runs, all earned, on 12 hits over 11 2/3 innings."In the first game, I tried to do too much with my offspeed pitches," he said. "My fastball got me here, and it's going to get me out of here at the same time, so the past few games, I've made some pretty good adjustments. I'm going to stick with my fastball, no doubt about it." His fastball did get him to Oklahoma. He recorded 76 strikeouts and just 27 walks over 88 2/3 innings at Double-A Frisco this season. The 2004 first-round pick (30th overall) was promoted from the RoughRiders after posting a 7-2 record and 3.25 ERA in 15 games. "I feel like I am where I need to be right now -- 21 and at Triple-A," he said with a grin. "It's nice to get an opportunity with these guys. A lot have been in the Major Leagues, so I talk to them and pick their brain a little bit. I'm soaking it all in right now." Hurley has used every day as a learning experience. He watches every game with pitching coach Andy Hawkins, discussing strategies of how to pitch in various situations and how to approach the game differently. It's nothing new for Hurley, who did the same thing with Double-A pitching coach Terry Clark. "He's not taking a day off chewing sunflower seeds and shooting the breeze with these guys, he's working," Hawkins said. "It's kind of like classwork. He's thinking about the game, even if he's not in it. "He's open and receptive to new ideas. He's not cocky, like he knows it all, because he doesn't. He understands there are aspects of pitching he doesn't know quite yet. But mentally, he can handle it. Physically, he's got the tools." Hawkins had experience working with another 21-year-old pitching phenom last year in John Danks, currently in the Chicago White Sox rotation. Danks was a former No. 1 prospect for the Rangers, with the best curveball in the organization, according to Baseball America. Hawkins sees similarities between Hurley and Danks. "They're both tough competitors, tough-minded kids," Hawkins said. "It takes a lot to shake their confidence. And it all goes into being a good character-type kid. Both of them have good character, and that's what you like to see in a young starting pitcher." Once Danks was traded, Hurley became the best prospect in the Texas organization -- but Hurley said there is "no real pressure" with that label. "If you enjoy doing it, it's just so much fun going out there, and [you] just roll with it," Hurley said. It was exciting for Hurley to be promoted, and he believes that his ability to make his own in-game adjustments paved the way. In his last start, on Sunday against Round Rock, he threw five scoreless innings, allowing four hits. In the sixth, he gave up two runs after a questionable fair-ball call. But he battled back and got out of the inning, leaving two runners stranded. There's no doubt that Hurley has the makeup and character of a big-league starting pitcher. It's just a question of when he'll get to show it. "There's no set timetable," Hawkins said. "Call him up in September and take a look? I don't know. You just don't want to give him a spot start. He needs seven or eight starts so he can accommodate himself." Hurley's teammate at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Billy Butler, has already made it to the big leagues, with the Kansas City Royals. "[Butler] called me the morning he got called up, and he called me when he was sent down, and he called when he was called back up," Hurley said. "He's a great dude. He works so hard, it couldn't happen to a better person." It might just happen to Hurley this season, too.
Drew Davison is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.