BY John Hickey 07:15PM 06/06/2011

Hickey: M’s see draft pick Hultzen as top-end starter

Virginia left-hander could be on the fast track to the Seattle starting rotation, if the Mariners can sign him quickly.

The Mariners selected Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second overall pick in Monday's draft. / Jim Daves, Virginia Media Relations

Many are the pitchers who have great arms who are not great pitchers.

The Mariners are putting their chips on University of Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, betting he’s not one of those.

Scouting director Tom McNamara and general manager Jack Zduriencik used the second pick in Monday’s Major League Baseball draft to take Hultzen, who throws in the 95-mph range and holds most school pitching records.

There were other pitchers available to Seattle who throw hard, but the Mariners believe Hultzen has the right stuff. This is a pitcher who declared out of high school that he wasn’t ready for the pros, that he needed college, and turned down an offer to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were hoping to get a steal.

There will be none of that this time, although Hultzen isn’t likely to sign quickly. For one thing, Virginia is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Mariners fans may get a chance to see him on TV this week when the Cavaliers take on UC-Irvine in the Super Regionals. For another, players taken second in the draft tend to wait for the money. Extracting it from big league clubs takes some time.

Down the line, McNamara and Zduriencik believe that Hultzen will be able to pitch at the top of the rotation.

“I heard somebody talk about having Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda and this kid in the Seattle rotation at the same time,” scouting director Tom McNamara said. “That brought a smile to my face. I like this kid a lot.”

McNamara crossed the country watching possible Mariner acquisitions. He saw Hultzen pitch four times for Virginia this year. Zduriencik saw Hultzen once when he and McNamara took advantage of a scheduling quirk. The Mariners were in Boston and Virginia was at Boston College. That was one of Hultzen’s best games, although with an 11-3 record, a 1.57 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 103.1 innings, Hultzen had plenty of good games.

“There are a lot of kids with great arms who don’t have what it takes to pitch at the top of the rotation,’’ Zduriencik said. “There are intangibles involved – character, temperament, stuff like that. This kid has that. We think he will be a very nice major league pitcher.”

One word that came up repeatedly was “character.’’ It’s a trait the Mariners relish. They seem to believe that Hultzen has it to spare.

“I think about Dan Wilson who represented us (at the draft in New Jersey) and Edgar Martinez, character guys,” McNamara said. “They are going to look at this kid and say, ‘He’s one of us.’ ”

Scouts inside and outside the organization have characterized Hultzen as a fighter. He refuses to give in to hitters or get down when things are going against him.

Hultzen, asked to give a scouting report on himself, came up with a similar characterization.

“I’m a left-handed pitcher who just goes out there and competes,” he said, “no matter who I’m facing. I try to make the hitter beat me and not beat myself.”

Asked where that fire comes from, Hultzen talked about his father.

“My father has always said that anything worth doing is worth doing well,” he said. “That’s true on and off the field, that if you are going to do something, you’d better give it your all.”

Hultzen, represented by agent Brodie Van Wagenen, called being picked by the Mariners “an unbelievable experience” and said that while he was looking to be taken early in the draft, “I will tell you this: I was not looking that high.’’

As is almost always the case on draft day, the player said he was “excited to get going.’’

“Eric Wedge is the Mariners’ manger, and he was a former catcher during his playing days,’’ Hultzen said. “It seems like catchers make really good managers. It will be very exciting to work with him.”

He may soon get the chance. Baseball America called Hultzen the draftable collegiate pitcher closest to being ready to pitch in the majors. Zduriencik talked about Hultzen perhaps starting as high as Double A, which would put the left-hander on the fast track to the big leagues.

But first there’s the little matter of UC-Irvine and maybe a slot in the College World Series. After that, it’ll be time to talk with the Mariners.

“These things have their own timetable,’’ Zduriencik said.

Twitter:@JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Michael Kaiser

    Well thankfully to address their organizational offensive deficiency they drafted a “good character” pitcher projected by most to maybe be a number three some day. But, hey, they say he is the closest to being major-league ready and we certainly are in desperate need right now for starting pitching, right?

  • Michael Kaiser

    Well thankfully to address their organizational offensive deficiency they drafted a “good character” pitcher projected by most to maybe be a number three some day. But, hey, they say he is the closest to being major-league ready and we certainly are in desperate need right now for starting pitching, right?

  • Veezer

    `…we certainly are in desperate need right now for starting pitching, right?’
    Yup… Perpetually. It’s the most valuable thing in baseball.

  • Veezer

    `…we certainly are in desperate need right now for starting pitching, right?’
    Yup… Perpetually. It’s the most valuable thing in baseball.