Mariners add an arm with No. 2 pick in baseball's amateur draft
LARRY LARUE; Staff writer
Given the No. 2 pick in baseball’s amateur draft Monday, the Seattle Mariners were widely expected to take a third baseman with power but instead went for Virgina’s left-handed ace, Danny Hultzen.
One of the first questions directed at general manager Jack Zduriencik afterward was, “Why a pitcher when what you seem to need most is hitting?”
“Is anyone complaining about our pitching?” Zduriencik asked. “We have 59 more picks to make in the draft, and it’s all about acquiring talent. To get a left-handed pitcher of this caliber, with his history, made sense.”
That history included three seasons at Virginia – with the third still in progress – and a combined 31-5 record with a 2.18 earned run average. In 305 innings, he has walked 69 batters and struck out 378.
When talking about Atlantic Coast Conference hitters he’d faced, Hultzen brought up Tacoma second baseman – and North Carolina alum – Dustin Ackley.
“May have walked him a few times, but I don’t think he hit me,” Hultzen said. “That’s the kind of hitter you face every weekend in the ACC.”
Turns out, Hultzen followed the Mariners from afar as a kid.
“It’s a great organization, and the first major league hat I ever got was a Mariners cap,” Hultzen said. “I watched (Ken Griffey) Junior, Jay (Buhner) and Randy (Johnson) growing up. I’m not a fan, but I was always aware of them.
“I have not been to Seattle, but I hear it’s an awesome city and that it’s not as rainy as everyone thinks.”
The Mariners director of amateur scouting, Tom McNamara, said it wasn’t a tough choice at all to pick Hultzen second in the nation behind UCLA ace Gerrit Cole.
“The kid has three above- average major league pitches – fastball, change-up, slider – he’s good athlete,” McNamara said. “When you pick that high, you take the best player or pitcher, and Dan was the best guy, no doubt, at No. 2.”
At 21, Hultzen is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, a good enough athlete to play first base, outfield and designated hitter at Virginia and, McNamara pointed out, a man with “plus” big-league pitching velocity. The Baseball America scouting report on Hultzen included:
“Now sits around 93 (mph) and touches 96. His change-up is his best secondary pitch, and he commands it well and gets good fade thanks to a low three-quarters arm slot. His slider also shows flashes of being an above-average pitch.”
Zduriencik said he could envision Hultzen pitching at Safeco Field, with a staff of great young pitchers.
“Look at the young pitchers we have in the system – Felix (Hernandez), (Michael) Pineda, (James) Paxton, (Taijuan) Walker,” Zduriencik said. “If this is the guy we think he is, he’ll be a great addition to that staff.”
Hultzen, who will pitch Friday night with the chance to move his Virginia team closer to the College World Series, said nearly all his attention had been focused there this week. On draft day, however, he hung with a dozen friends and watched the television.
“I was completely and utterly shocked that I was picked that soon.,” Hultzen said. “I had an idea that I may be picked somewhere in the top part of the draft, but never would I have thought I would be No. 2. It is an incredible feeling.”
He also had done a little pre-draft research.
“Eric Wedge is the Mariners’ manager and he was a former catcher during his playing days. It seems like catchers make really good managers. It will be very exciting to work with him,” Hultzen said.