Name: Danny Hultzen
Notable 2011 Stats: 1.40 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 1 HRA, 5 BB, 18 K in 19 1/3 IP with Peoria (AFL);
signed too late to play in regular season
Why He’s This High: Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, and many believe he could go on the Mike Leake path and eschew the minor leagues entirely, opening 2012 in the Mariners rotation. That speaks volumes about his polish, and his strong performance in the Arizona Fall League did little to stop that hype.
Hultzen is close to the ideal college lefthander, in that he’s got a polished arsenal but also boasts good raw stuff. He works in the low 90′s with his fastball, and his slider and changeup are both solid-average with a chance to be plus. He spots all three pitches well.
Hultzen has far less downside than most first-round picks, even top-five selections, even though he’s a pitcher, but this isn’t a situation where he was simply taken due to a high floor and proximity to the majors, a la Leake or Greg Reynolds; obviously, he has a chance to pitch toward the front of a big league rotation.
Why He’s This Low: While he’s not without stuff, there are questions as to whether Hultzen can quite make it to true ace level. It’s easy to see him as more of a #2/#3. None of his pitches are truly elite, and it remains to be seen what sort of improvements he’ll be able to make; after all, his polish gives him a high floor, but it also gives him less room to rise, since he “is what he is” more than most college draftees.
Hultzen operates with a very low arm slot that occasionally borders on sidearm, which could be troublesome against advanced righthanded hitters. He does get deception thanks to the arm slot and his delivery, but he gains that deception by throwing far across his body, which puts extra stress on his shoulder. He’s able to get good line to the plate and land well regardless, so it shouldn’t affect his performance, but his arm could be at a higher risk than average.
Conclusions: As with many of the 2011 draftees, I don’t have too much to say here, and I could definitely see justification for ranking Hultzen just about anywhere in the 10-70 range, depending on how one goes about ranking completely unproven players. As guys like Reynolds and Andrew Miller show, sometimes even the “safest”-looking picks backfire in a hurry, so I’m still reserving some judgment, and Hultzen has to show he’s going to be more than just a mid-rotation innings-eater. In a perfect world, he becomes Madison Bumgarner…but Bumgarner is but four months older than Hultzen, so that’d be one hell of a thing to ask of the Mariners’ lefty. Certainly, we’ll know much more in a year, particularly since he may have used up his rookie eligibility by then.
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