What a difference a few years can make. Charlotte Knights starting pitcher Daniel Hudson, 23, went from being a lightly recruited high schooler to one of the Chicago White Sox rising stars. He zoomed through the White Sox minor league system last season making four stops before finishing the year in Chicago.
Tuesday was Media Day at Charlotte Knights Stadium.
Hudson was wearing a dark-blue Knights' jersey with the number 41 on his back.
He will start the season in Triple-A but there is no telling how long his stay in Fort Mill will last.
The pitcher talked about the day, last season, when he was called up to the majors.
He was in his fifth start for the Knights and was pitching close to home at the Norfolk (Va.) Tides' home field, Harbor Park. About 80 family members were there to watch him.
Hudson was removed early from the game. He was miffed.
"I pitched three innings. I had only given up one hit and (Knights pitching coach Rich) Dotson told me they were taking me out of the game. He said I shouldn't have walked that batter with two outs," Hudson laughed about it Tuesday.
Dotson, of course, was playing a joke. The White Sox, Charlotte's major league parent team, called during the game. They wanted Hudson in the big leagues.
"I ran into the locker room and called my girlfriend who was in the stands. She told everyone," Hudson said. "My teammates said there was a lot of cheering from that section of the stadium."
Knights second-year manager Chris Chambliss expects Hudson to return to Chicago sometime this season.
"We had Huddy a short while last year. If he makes a couple good starts here he'll be back in the big leagues," Chambliss said.
Hudson led the White Sox organization in strikeouts (166) and ERA (2.32) in 2009. He was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in six games, two starts, for the White Sox.
Hudson spent this spring in his first big league camp. He was one of Chicago's final roster cuts last week. He will begin the 2010 season in a solid starting rotation for the Knights along with Lucas Harrell, Carlos Torres, Jeff Marquez and Matt Zaleski.
"I expect all five starters to pitch well," Dotson said. "The guy that gets off to a quick start could be the one that goes to Chicago first if something happens. Hudson had a phenomenal year going from Class A to the big leagues. It is more of a controlled situation this year where he can do his work between outings."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen rattled off Hudson's name along with pitcher Erick Threets and first baseman Dayan Viciedo as three Knights' players that should be with the big league club very soon. Guillen was at Knights Stadium on Thursday night for the team's exhibition game against the Knights.
Until Hudson, Threets, Viciedo and others get called up, Guillen hopes they give Chambliss a good team to compete.
Charlotte was 67-76 last year and finished fourth in the International League's four-team South Division.
The Knights will be bolstered by a bunch of players up from the 2009 Double-A Birmingham Barons team that won the Southern league title.
Barons on the Knights opening day roster are: Viciedo; Harrell; Zaleski; P Justin Cassel; P Clevelan Santeliz; C Tyler Flowers; C Adam Ricks; INF Javier Colina; INF Rob Hudson; INF C.J. Retherford; OF Jordan Danks and OF Stefan Gartrell.
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said the White Sox need Hudson and others to be ready in Charlotte rather than sitting in the White Sox bullpen to start the season.
"Everyone plans to come back with us to Chicago from spring training," Cooper said. "It ain't fun telling guys they aren't going with us. To win a pennant it takes more than 12 (pitchers). In Hudson's case; if he throws well and something happens in Chicago, he or someone else from Charlotte will get a call."
Hudson tries not to get caught up in all the what-ifs.
"I came into the spring without a lot of expectations. I knew there was only one or two roster spots open," he said. "I think it is better for my development to start every fifth day instead of pitching out of the bullpen in Chicago."
Hudson was selected in the fifth round of the June 2008 first-year player draft by the White Sox. He helped Great Falls (Mont.) win the Pioneer League championship that summer. He began the 2009 season at Low Class-A Kannapolis (N.C.) hoping to earn a late-season promotion to High-A Winston-Salem (N.C.). He started just four games for Kannapolis before jumping to Winston-Salem. Eight more starts and he was sent to Double-A Birmingham (Ala.).
"That was a big surprise going from High-A to Double-A," Hudson said. "Everything just clicked in Birmingham."
Hudson went 7-0 with a 1.60 ERA in nine starts for the Barons and then came to Charlotte on Aug. 8, 2009. He was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA for the Knights.
"Obviously, I want to get back to the big leagues as soon as possible," he said, "but you can't let it affect you. My biggest concern now is to help the Knights win games."
Due to Hudson's pitching schedule in spring training he won't start for Charlotte until April 12. That game will be at Norfolk which suits Hudson just fine. Hudson grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and played his college ball at Old Dominion.
"I only had a couple Division I offers. I could have gone somewhere bigger, but I would have gotten lost in the shuffle," Hudson said.
There is no chance the White Sox will lose track of this guy.
Charlotte opens the season at 7:05 p.m. on Thursday at the Gwinnett Braves. The Knights first home game is April 15 at 7:15 p.m. against Gwinnett.