Seattle Mariners fans have heard the name Danny Hultzen for years, but they’ve never seen him in the big leagues. It’s all been hearsay and hype up to this point. That could all change soon for one of the organization’s top pitching prospects.
Hultzen is among a talented crew playing for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers this season. He’s on the roster with catcher Mike Zunino, second baseman Nick Franklin and starting pitcher James Paxton. They’re ranked as four of the Mariners top five prospects by Baseball America.
“There’s a ton of talented guys, but the best part is that everybody works together,” Hultzen told me. “No one is trying to be flashy. No one plays for themselves, which is always a good thing.”
Not only is Hultzen a prized Mariners prospect (currently ranked No. 3 in the organization behind Zunino and pitcher Taijuan Walker), he’s also considered one of the top prospects in all of the minor leagues. Baseball America‘s Jim Callis ranked Hultzen as the No. 22 best prospect to start the 2013 season.
Hultzen is a former first round draft pick out of the University of Virginia. He was nabbed by the Seattle Mariners with the No. 2 overall selection in 2011. He skyrocketed through the system after signing an $8.5 million big league contract, which included a club-record $6.35 million bonus.
Hultzen started his professional career in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, and then pitched his first minor league game for AA Jackson last season. After recording eight wins and a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts for the Generals, Hultzen was promoted to AAA Tacoma — just one step away from the big leagues.
“You can’t get ahead of yourself,” Hultzen said. “There were times I did that a little bit last year and it didn’t work well for me.”
Hultzen’s numbers spiraled out of control once he was promoted to AAA last June. He won only one game over his next 12 starts, and his ERA shot through the roof to 5.92. That was simply a result of allowing too many baserunners. Hultzen walked 43 batters (compared to 57 strike outs) over 48.2 innings with the Rainiers.
“You don’t make it to the big leagues by thinking about it,” said Hultzen. “You do it by taking care of business, and going out there and playing hard. That’s how I look at it now. I’m just trying to keep a level head and put [the Major Leagues] way back in my mind”
That appears to be working for Hultzen. The 23-year-old is on a roll to start the 2013 season. He’s 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA, and most importantly he’s regained his control. Hultzen has only walked six while striking out 25 in his first 22.2 innings with Tacoma this year.
“Everyone’s goal is to obviously make it to the Major Leagues,” Hultzen said to me. ”But, I’m a firm believer that if you’re helping the team win, then you’re personally going to perform the best you can. I think that’s the mentality we all have. We help the team win, and in doing so we can all hopefully move up.”
Hultzen has a deceptive delivery and the Mariners rave about his maturity (he was extremely polite to me — almost hinging on a little shy). Baseball America projects him as a No. 2 starter in the big leagues thanks to his 90-92 mph fastball (which touches 95 mph), “above-average” change-up and 80-84 mph slider.
The long wait to hear Danny Hultzen’s name announced at Safeco Field is almost over. If he can stay healthy (which has never been an issue with him), his Major League debut should happen at some point in 2013. I’m sure M’s fans are hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
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