Don't count anybody out, ever. But perfect? Philip Humber was never supposed to be perfect, but on the 21st day of April he was exactly that: the 21st pitcher to deliver a perfect game and the first to throw one since Roy Halladay threw the 20th on May 29, 2010. It was also the first American League perfecto since Dallas Braden on May 9, 2010.
But he was never supposed to be perfect. After all, he had proven so very imperfect since being the third overall pick of the 2004 draft. Touted as a top Mets prospect, he blew out his elbow in 2005, and it wasn’t long before he was referred to as another example of a Rice pitcher who got hurt and hadn’t lived up to the hype. Unimpressed with his minor league performance after coming back from Tommy John surgery, the Mets bundled him into the four-for-one swap that brought them Johan Santana before the 2008 season.
But the Twins never let him start a single game in the majors after making 48 starts over two years at Triple-A, simply letting him slip away after 2009 rather than keep him on the 40-man roster. The Royals picked him up ... and they left him in Triple-A. However desperate the Royals were for pitching of any flavor, they lost him on waivers after the 2010 season to the A’s. They were just looking for a possible fifth starter. But the A’s lost him on waivers a month later when they decided they had a better way to use to spot on their 40-man roster, signing free agent Grant Balfour.
That is where the White Sox stepped in, grabbing Humber off waivers. Their goal for him wasn’t any higher than anyone else’s. He looked like a good guy to stash at the back end of a rotation -- a fifth guy, a bubble guy on an organizational depth chart, a guy only as good as his last start before giving him much thought. He was somebody who sticks only as long as he earns his keep and who won’t be forgiven a run of bad starts.
That was his due, because at no point did Humber dominate in Triple-A. Across four years bouncing among organizations, flitting from New Orleans to Rochester to Omaha, from the Pacific Coast League to the International League and back again, he posted a 4.67 ERA in Triple-A. His clip of 6.9 strikeouts and 2.7 unintentional walks per nine reflected a pitcher who had good command.
With heat that just bumps above 90 mph and good command of four pitches, he’s a finesse righty, and those don’t catch many breaks. But he promptly proved he belonged last season, getting that last slot in the White Sox’s rotation and keeping it, earning job security he’d probably only heard about happening to other people. And now, having achieved history as a strike-throwing machine, those days should be behind him for some time to come.
He’s not the first such find for general manager Kenny Williams, though. The White Sox have made a cottage industry out of giving second chances to other teams’ tarnished top prospects. Gavin Floyd looked like a Phillies flop after being the fourth overall pick of the 2001 draft; John Danks was the ninth overall selection for the Rangers in 2003, but they dealt him for Brandon McCarthy after seeing him deliver mediocre results at Double- and Triple-A. Good pitching might be hard to find, and not everything Williams touches turns to gold, but these are the benefits of betting on upside risk.
Humber might have had the good fortune to face the Mariners, a woeful lineup, in Safeco Field, a great place to pitch. But other people get those chances, and they don’t deliver perfection. It’s because of these finds that the Sox have the best rotation in the American League Central, and how they do will define how far the Sox might go this season. As Humber just showed, that might be a lot better than you ever expected.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.