It has been a tough time for the Seattle Mariners in recent years. But they are finally starting to put something together. Felix Hernandez remains one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Mariners have started to build a young core around him. Dustin Ackley has looked like a franchise cornerstone and Justin Smoak has shown flashes. But the biggest thing for the Mariners is their pitching prospects, the most notable of which are Taijan Walker, James Paxton, and the number two overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, Danny Hultzen. With that trio in their possession, the Mariners were unafraid to pull the trigger on a trade that cost them impressive 2011 rookie Michael Pineda and intriguing low minors pitching prospect Jose Campos and were able to get Jesus Montero in return. The Mariners have some talented players in their organization, and even in an AL West that is getting increasingly tougher, the Mariners could have a bright future ahead of them. Today we’ll discuss Hultzen, a pitcher who Mariners fans could be seeing before long.
The scouting report on Hultzen entering the 2011 Draft (courtesy of Project Prospect) was that Hultzen was a 6’3″, 200 lefty with three plus pitches that he throws from a low arm slot: a fastball in the low-90’s with nice movement, a slider that has been inconsistent but at its best features great downward break, and a changeup with excellent sink. Hultzen ties his arsenal together with outstanding command, a deceptive delivery, and great poise on the mound. He may not have true ace upside, but he has the ability to be an excellent number two starter. Let’s compare this scouting report from the Pitch F/X data we have on Hultzen from his time in the Arizona Fall League. The data is from Brooks Baseball while the graph is my own. Let’s take a look.
(For a general explanation of the topic of Pitch F/X and specifically how to read this type of graph, please click here.)
You would have to be one heck of a narcissistic hitter to watch to match up against Hultzen. His fastball, which was clocked consistently at 93 MPH in this sample (~250 pitches), featured great late sink along with nice run towards right-handed batters, and it’s a pitch that forces swings and misses and weak contact by itself. But it’s death for hitters when Hultzen can mix in his other pitches effectively. Hultzen’s fastball velocity has variated quite a bit over the past year, ranging from the high-80’s at times to the mid-90’s, but if he can keep it around 93, it could be a plus-plus pitch with its outstanding movement and the way he controls it so well and it could be the kind of pitch that hitters won’t square up even if he does throw it over two-thirds of the time.
Hultzen’s “sinker” was his fastball at its peak amount of movement, although he had a ton of trouble controlling it. Nobody wants to face Hultzen’s fastball to begin with, and if he could add a little more movement at times, it won’t be fair to hitters.
Hultzen’s changeup looks like his fastball out of his hand before falling off the table at over 10 MPH slower than his fastball. Hitters have to be sitting fastball against Hulzten, and his changeup is a pitch that Hultzen will use to force a multiplicity of groundballs from hitters out of front of it and a fair share of whiffs. It would be more effective if Hultzen could command and control it better than he did in this sample, but it’s a clear second plus pitch.
And then there’s Hultzen’s slider. His slider has been a pitch that has been on-and-off for him the past few years, at times flashing plus and other times looking pretty darn hittable. In this sample, Hultzen had an outstanding feel for it and it was an overpowering pitch when he went to it. Hultzen’s arm slot on his slider is a little off from his arm slot for his fastball and changeup, but that doesn’t matter when Hultzen can locate it and get sharp late break. At its best, Hultzen’s slider looks like his fastball out of his hand and is a weapon in reserve for him, forcing terrible-looking swings and pathetic contact on hitters sitting dead-red. It’s break isn’t sharp enough for him to use it more than 10 or 15 percent of the time, but if he can mix it in say 1 of every 10 pitches, it will be a dominant plus pitch.
Hultzen lacks ace upside because his secondary pitches would be nearly as good if his fastball wasn’t so dominant. Hultzen’s fastball is outstanding, but there will inevitably be times when his command of the pitch will be off, and he doesn’t have the pure stuff to compensate for that. I see Hultzen as a lefty James Shields, a bit better in that he’s a lefty and will force a lot more groundballs than Shields does, but similar in the fact that while at times hitters can’t do anything against them, when their command and off you wonder why they’re so highly-regarded. At his best, Hultzen will completely befuddle hitters with his entire arsenal, and he projects as a safe number two starter and definitely a justified selection from the number two overall pick in the 2011 Draft. If Felix Hernandez is the Mariners’ ace for the next several years, Hultzen will be their number two starter. And with those two at the top of the rotation and Walker and Paxton on the way, major league hitters are not going to have very much fun playing against the Mariners on any given night.
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