Philip Humber was designated for assignment by the Astros yesterday. This came after his disastrous relief performance against the Rangers on Saturday night. And with that the feel good story about the Rice pitching star coming back to Houston to rejuvenate his career is over.
Humber, one of the aces of Rice's 2003 College World Series winning squad, never achieved the success in the majors that was projected of him. He was the number one draft choice of the New York Mets, the third pick in that year's draft, but not long afterwards broke down and battled injuries and ineffectiveness as he bounced around teams.
He threw a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox last season, but was released before the season was over. The Astros signed him in the off-season as part of their attempt to build a major league rotation on the cheap. He was perhaps the team's best picture for his first three starts, but then things fell apart and he never recovered.
It would probably end there, just another sad story of a hyped prospect who couldn't make it in the majors. But then ESPN's Keith Law weighed in on the matter yesterday. And according to Law, the fault lies with the Rice Owls and Wayne Graham. Humber never stood a chance because the Owls destroyed him, overusing him, blowing him out. And then Law doubled down, claiming the Owls ruined the careers of Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend - the other aces of the 2003 team - and numerous other pitchers, including Austin Kubitza and John Simms, both members of this year's Rice squad and neither of whom appear to be breaking down.
Rice has disputed Law's contentions of pitcher overuse and abuse in the past, especially in regards to Humber. And they vehemently disagree with those allegations when it comes to Humber's alleged overuse coming out of the bullpen between starts, and Rice officials noted that Humber came out of the bullpen twice as a freshman, never as a sophomore, and five times as a junior, with only one of those five junior relief appearances coming less than three days after a start, and that coming during the regionals. Rice also disputes the overuse allegations when it comes to every other pitcher named by Law.
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Humber also disagrees with the contention that Graham and Rice are responsible for his downfall. For his career as a major league stalling out and falling apart. Early last week, while having his perfect game celebrated by the Owls, Humber went on the record and said Rice had nothing to do with what happened. Graham didn't overuse anybody on the staff, Humber said, and was grateful to Graham and the Owls for giving him a chance to pay his bills and support his family. "To be honest I can't think of a better way to mold a pitcher than to go out and throw," Humber said.
It's sad what happened to Philip Humber. It's sad that Jeff Niemann's career has never panned out the way it should. But the major league baseball draft is always a crapshoot, and it's not uncommon for players to not pan out - no, bad drafts aren't just something that's happened to the Astros over the past several seasons. And to claim that all of these pitchers were prone to breaking down because they came out of Rice also implies that were a bunch of major league teams that didn't properly do their homework on players before drafting them - the Astros under Tim Purpura or Ed Wade not doing their homework, yes, but all of these other teams is a bit of a stretch.
I haven't seen Law around the Rice program this year, or last year, or the year before that. Maybe he's popped up for a road game or two, or maybe he's crashed a practice. Pitchers get hurt at every school. Pitchers come out of high schools into the pros and get hurt in the minors. But Law makes a blanket indictment on a school program, and he continues to do so regarding pitchers who claim that his conclusions are not true, and he makes the claims in regards to pitchers he's not seen pitch.
Is the Rice baseball program perfect? No. But is it worse than other schools? No. And can Wayne Graham and the Owls be blamed for what happened to Philip Humber, well no, not if Philip Humber can be believed. Now if Keith Law were to offer up some solutions on fixing the ailing Owls offense, then maybe the Owls will listen. But the only voices that matter regarding the Owls pitchers are those of parents telling their kids to avoid the Rice program, and so far, there don't appear to be many parents telling their kids to stay clear.