(Danny Hultzen of the University of Virginia pitches in the NCAA Regional Tournament this past weekend. Photo by Associated Press).
Danny Hultzen, the Mariners’ choice Monday with the No. 2 overall pick, has been labeled a “safe” pick by some draft analysts. But I view it as quite the opposite.
By safe, they mean Hultzen has a high probability of making it to the major leagues, and probably pretty quickly.
But scouting director Tom McNamara and general manager Jack Zduriencik were well aware that many fans were going to be bewildered, and some annoyed, and some angry, that they didn’t take a position player, given the organzation’s glaring, and ongoing, offensive struggles at the major-league level.
To me, Anthony Rendon would have been the safe pick, at least with regard to how it would have been received. Few people would have questioned them for taking the player regarded as the best position player in the draft, and the collegiate hitter closest to the majors. Even one of the high-upside prep hitters, Bubba Starling or Francisco Lindor, might have left them open to less second-guessing than this pick.
But at least give them credit for having the courage of their conviction, and for sticking to their philosophy of picking the best available player, regardless of position. McNamara truly believes Hultzen has the capability of developing into a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Many people believe that other available pitchers, such as UCLA’s Trevor Bauer or high-schooler Dylan Bundy, have a greater potential for super-stardom. If those guys do emerge, it could haunt the Mariners in the same way that Tim Lincecum has. In that regard, going the “safe” route is actually quite dangerous. Unless you’re absolutely confident that your evaluation of the player is correct. And the Mariners are.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had an interesting comment in a chat last week while comparing Hultzen to Gerrit Cole, the UCLA pitcher taken No. 1 overall by the Pirates. He said Hultzen was more likely to win 100 major-league games, while Cole was more likely to win 200 major-league games. In another chat Monday, Goldstein elaborated: “I’m basically saying Hultzen has a much better chance to be a big league contributor, but Cole has a much better chance to be an impact pitcher”
Goldstein also said: “I don’t think Hultzen is an ace. I like Bundy better, and if you insist on a college guy, I like Bauer better. Hultzen is certainly the best bet in the draft to be a productive big league pitcher, but doesn’t offer the same upside as some.”
That seems to be the consensus of many analysts. Keith Law of ESPN,.com included the Mariners’ pick on his list of first-day moves he questioned, with this comment: “I’m not criticizing Hultzen in the least here, but I think drafting at No. 2 overall is a rare chance to go for ceiling, and the Mariners didn’t do that. They took a very safe, very good college pitcher who’ll move quickly but doesn’t have No. 1 starter upside. And I admit that I like my left-handers to have better breaking balls than Hultzen, whose best offspeed pitch is a changeup.”
The Mariners are banking on Hultzen being a No. 1-caliber starter. The beauty of the draft is that we eventually get to find out who is right. This is such a deep draft that many players picked after the Pirates and Mariners are bound to break out and become stars. If you don’t get an impact player at No. 2, the pick is a bust, plain and simple.
Going against the tide and risking perennial criticism is hardly a safe route that the Mariners took, in my estimation. They are banking their drafting reputation that their high opinion of Hultzen is the right one.