With the exciting MLB debuts of James Paxton and Roenis Elias along with the continued big league development of supposed super-prospect Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen has been out of sight and out of mind for most of this past season.
Once, Hultzen was a top SP prospect nearly on the level of Walker. Highly touted out of the University of Virginia, he bypassed A-ball altogether, beginning in Jackson, where his almost unbelievably good 1.19 ERA in 13 starts forced a promotion to Tacoma in just his first professional season.
Feb 19, 2013; Peoria, AZ, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Danny Hultzen (60) poses for a picture during the Mariners photo day at Peoria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
But the step up in talent took its toll on the then 22-year old. The southpaw was no longer getting out of the sixth with consistency, and his pitch counts and ERA skyrocketed. Two months later, a battered Hultzen must have welcomed the end of the nightmare that was his 12 start tenure with the Rainiers, during which he went 1-4 with a 5.97 ERA.
2013 began much smoother, as Hultzen put together four solid outings. And then the injury bug hit with a ferocity rarely seen.
Shoulder issues persisted through most of the year and held him to just two more starts in June and one in early September, but the real devastation was the offseason surgery for a torn labrum, rotator cuff, and anterior capsule. The year-long rehab held him out of all of 2014, and the permanent damage remains to be seen.
Considering the combination of labrum and rotator cuff injuries, Hultzen will have been lucky if he gets to the majors at all. But he has passed the early tests, throwing multiple times this September.
So as we move into 2015 and beyond, what should we expect of Hultzen and his repaired shoulder?
Not much for a while. Spring Training, the most competitive environment he will have pitched in during the previous 18 months, will tell us some, but even positive signs there should not lead to a rush back to even AAA at the start of the season.
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And with so many young starters in the organization at or near the major league level, Jack Zduriencik can afford to be overly cautious, especially if the M’s resign Chris Young or bring in another veteran arm to the rotation to supplement Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.
So unless Seattle finds itself again in the thick of the playoff hunt next year and need an in-house starting option, I hope we do not see Hultzen at Safeco until 2016.
Though the rehab may be coming to an end, re-acclimating to competitive baseball and the grind of the season will take time, and now the stakes are too high, for one more serious injury will the end of a promising career.