Danny Hultzen, the Mariners first-round draft choice in 2011, had an up and down year in 2012. He performed outstandingly at Double-A Jackson, however, he struggled after being promoted to Triple-A.
The major decrease in effectiveness is likely due to a combination of being worn down by the minor league lifestyle (long bus rides in Double-A) and better competition at the Triple-A level.
In Tacoma, Hultzen averaged almost a walk per inning, but while in Jackson, he averaged
only 0.4 walks per inning. Pitchers don’t just forget how to hit the zone, so exhaustion must have had something to do with it. Contrary to popular belief, Hultzen wasn’t entirely terrible while in Triple-A. Of his 12 starts with Tacoma, he had seven where he gave up two or fewer runs. However, he walked two or more batters in every Triple-A start.
Struggles become easier to swallow as a fan once you realize that struggles are a part of every young player’s career. Hultzen seems to have already realized this, and is taking the poor performance in stride. He said in an interview with David Laurila that “it was a tough stretch, but it’s helped [him] out a lot. It’s been very beneficial, because [guys] need to learn how to fail in this game.”
Hultzen knows what he’s talking about. Realizing that failure is practically guaranteed in baseball is very important. Having the ability to shake it off and learn from it–even more so.
But this article isn’t to dwell on Hultzen’s struggles last year. This article is to look forward to 2013 and beyond.
What will Hultzen achieve this year?
For one, his innings will definitely increase. They have to. In 2011 he threw 123 innings. In 2012 he only threw 124. He will not continue that trend in 2013, so 145 to 155 innings should be expected from Hultzen. In 2014 he will likely throw 175-185 innings before making the final jump to the 200+ innings the M’s expected when they drafted him.
The big left-hander will start the season off in Triple A, and remain there for most of the year. He’ll make 20-25 starts in Tacoma before being called up to the Big Club in August or September to start a few games. Depending on how the Mariners are doing, he could be up sooner than that.
Expect Hultzen to come out of the gate quickly in 2013. A 1.75 or 2.00 ERA doesn’t sound unreasonable for the month of April. After that, he will cool down and his ERA will be 3.00-4.00 for the months of May and June. He will go on a hot streak for eight or nine starts before his inevitable call-up in August or September.
Hultzen’s 2013 walk rate will not be absurdly high like his 2012 Tacoma walk rate. His walk rate will shrink to a more Hultzen-esque 3.5BB/9. His strikeout rate will be a stellar 10.25-10.75K/9. These figures would create a strikeout to walk ratio of 3 to 1.
Hultzen will continue to use his low-to-mid-90′s fastball coupled with his tremendous changeup to keep hitters off-balance. His slider will continue to improve and could become an above-average offering over the course of the year. His command of all three pitches will remain impeccable, and perhaps become even more so.
2013 will be a vital year in the development of Hultzen, a future staple in the M’s rotation. Hultzen’s upward trajectory will continue in his eventual path to a solid #2 starter behind Felix Hernandez. Danny Hultzen will make enormous strides in 2013.