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 walked 67 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.
"I 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, changeup, slider - he's good athlete," McNamara said. "When you pick that high, you take the best player or pitcher, and dan was 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 speed. The Baseball America scouting report on Hultzen included:
"Now sits around 93 and touches 96. His changeup 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."