M’s Select Danny Hultzen
The first stunning pick of the 2011 draft came on the second pick, when the M’s selected LHP Danny Hultzen out of Virginia. In the run-up to the draft, everyone was convinced the M’s were going to take a hitter – either Anthony Rendon, Bubba Starling, or Francisco Lindor. A pitcher wasn’t really on the radar, and the pitchers you generally heard talked about in the spots around them were the UCLA teammates Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, as well as high school right hander Dylan Bundy. Hultzen is generally considered the fourth best pitching prospect in the draft, and that’s not even considering the position players.
That said, pre-draft rankings aren’t worthless, but they’re pretty close. The last time Jack Zduriencik took a guy way before he was expected to go, he took Prince Fielder with the seventh overall pick in 2002. Fielder was expected to go towards the end of the first round, but Jack knew he had one chance to take the guy he really liked, and he took it. It’s obviously worked out pretty well.
So, Jack Zduriencik and his crew have earned some benefit of the doubt. They didn’t make this pick out of ignorance. They did their homework, and they decided Danny Hultzen was their guy. I know a few other baseball executives who would have made the same pick. But, that said, Jack and Tom McNamara just stuck their necks out a bit on this one. They could have drafted the best college hitter in the draft – the type of player that is usually the safest pick of any draft pick. They could have taken the high ceiling high school outfielder or shortstop, both of whom could become superstars down the line. They could have taken Trevor Bauer, who was the best pitcher in college this year.
Instead, they took Hultzen, and are betting he’s going to be better than all of them. They might be right – he’s definitely a top notch pitching prospect. He’s a low-90s lefty with a plus change-up, a decent slider, and terrific command. He’s not a pure stuff guy – he’s a good stuff guy who can also pitch. And he’s a lefty, so Safeco will help him. But, you’re not going to hear too many people project Hultzen as an ace. He’s more likely to be a good pitcher than a great one. He’s probably a safer bet than a guy like Bauer (who has had a heavy workload), but he’s still a pitcher, and pitchers break down a lot. Generally, to take a pitcher this high, you want a guy who can offer a massive return in order to justify the risk.
I wrote this afternoon on FanGraphs that I thought the Pirates were probably making a mistake by taking a college arm over Anthony Rendon. Now that the Mariners have done the same thing, it’s hard to say anything other than that I think they made a mistake too. Bats are just so much safer than arms in general, and Hultzen doesn’t seem all that likely to turn into an ace. But, they’ve seen Rendon’s medicals and I haven’t, so my opinion isn’t nearly as informed as theirs is (even ignoring the huge difference in how much value you should place in our respective opinions), and they could be right in betting on Hultzen.
Let’s hope they are. Jack and Mac have good track records, but they just put those reputations on the line with this pick. They need Hultzen to be awesome, or else we just may hear about this pick for a long time.