PEORIA, Ariz.—Danny Hultzen is hoping that his professional career begins on a more positive note than the way his college career ended. The Mariners’ first-round draft choice (second pick overall) dominated eventual national champion South Carolina for three innings, striking out eight of 10 hitters he faced, in a College World Series game in June before having to leave due to effects of a bad case of the flu. His Virginia teammates battled on without their ace before finally losing the game 3-2 in 13 innings.
“It was rough. It was probably the worst time to get sick,” Hultzen said. “The day before Coach (Brian) O’Connor said, ‘Give us what you’ve got.'”
The way his college career ended makes Hultzen even more eager to get his pro career underway, which he’ll do this week when he suits up for the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League.
“I’m excited for this new start,” Hultzen said. “I look to this as a new journey in life. I feel like it’s my freshman year of college all over again.”
Hultzen already had been drafted by the Mariners prior to his appearance in the College World Series. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound southpaw ultimately agreed to a a $6.35 million major league contract at the Aug. 15 signing deadline.
The 2011 draft was one of the deepest in draft history, especially the availability of quality college pitchers, but also more unpredictable than other recent drafts. Hultzen had no clue as to where he would be picked prior to the day of the draft.
“I just sat there and waited for my name to be called,” Hultzen said, “but it definitely came a lot quicker than I thought it would because I had no idea I would go that high. It was a lot of fun. It was a little bit stressful at times but definitely an exciting time in my life.”
Hultzen has been working with the coaching staff and learning the “Mariners way” since reporting to Seattle’s minor league complex. After throwing several bullpen sessions and simulated games, Hultzen finally got back on the field on the Saturday before the start of the AFL season with a two-inning stint in an instructional league game against the Padres. With his fastball touching 93 and showing an above average changeup, Hultzen finished strongly by striking out the side in his second inning of work.
The Mariners won’t do too much tinkering with Hultzen, who is already close to being major league ready.
“One thing you don’t want to do with any draft choice coming in is you don’t want to make a lot of changes,” said Rick Waits, the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator. “You want him to go out there and do what he’s done to get signed . . . let him go out there and pitch his game.”
Waits has especially been impressed with how calm and focused Hultzen is on the mound.
“I’ve had (first-round) draft choices over the years as a coordinator,” Waits said, “and this guy’s the best I’ve seen at slowing the game down . . . He’s calm, focused, and looks like just a tremendous competitor.”
Hultzen has noticed how much freedom professional players have compared to the more regimented environment of college ball. That’s been the biggest adjustment he’s had to make since reporting to the Mariners. But it’s been helpful having two of his Virginia teammates, Steven Proscia and John Hicks, also taking part in the Mariners’ instructional league program. Both players signed in time to play part of the season with one of Seattle’s full-season minor league affiliates.
“That helps a lot because you can ask them a question as to what it’s like,” said Hultzen, “and they can tell you firsthand . . . It’s an easy transition having guys here that you already know.”
Hultzen and Waits both agree on the lefthander’s primary goal for the Arizona Fall League season—just get out there and pitch. Hultzen knows that pitching in pro ball will be an adjustment and he just wants to build his confidence here.
“I look at it as a great honor to play in this league,” Hultzen said, “so I’m just very, very excited with this opportunity.”
• Hultzen isn’t the only 2011 first round pick appearing in the Arizona Fall League this year. Other top picks expected to play this fall include the first overall pick, righthander Gerrit Cole (Pirates); shortstop Joe Panik (Giants); lefthander Sean Gilmartin (Braves); and outfielder Mikie Mahtook (Rays). Lefthander Jed Bradley (Brewers) and infielder Anthony Rendon (Nationals) were also slated to play in the AFL, but have been scratched from the roster. The Nats did place lefthander Matt Purke, their third-round pick, in the AFL.
• The AFL will have one new team this year with the Salt River Rafters replacing one of two previous Peoria teams. The Rafters will play their home games in the new spring training facility located on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on the edge of Scottsdale. The stadium was shared for the first time this spring by the Diamondbacks and Rockies.