The Mariners chose Virginia pitcher Danny Hultzen with the No. 2 pick in the baseball draft on Monday.
Leading up to Monday’s MLB draft, many Mariners fans and most analysts were envisioning a future Seattle infield that had Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon joining Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and possibly Nick Franklin.
Turns out they’ll all have to revise that vision slightly. How about a future rotation — the near future, the organization hopes — in which left-hander Danny Hultzen out of the University of Virginia joins Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda as potential aces?
The Mariners hope Hultzen, their surprise choice with the No. 2 overall pick, will be on a fast track to the major leagues. They fell in love with his poise and character along with three pitches (fastball, slider and changeup) that scouting director Tom McNamara rates as above-average major-league caliber.
All that was enough to convince the Mariners to ignore their obvious organizational need for offensive help and select Hultzen. He’s the player rated by Baseball America as closest to the major leagues — ahead of not only Rendon, regarded as the top offensive player in the draft, but UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, the overall No. 1 pick by Pittsburgh.
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“Pitching is a premium,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Try to sign a really, really good pitcher out on the market. If this guy is on the fast track, and this guy is the kind of guy we think he is, it’s going to be nice to add him to this staff.
“Each guy has their own time frame. It depends on when they sign. But his intangibles and the other abilities he has should enable him to move fairly quick.”
For now, Hultzen is more concerned with Virginia’s upcoming appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. They play UC Irvine next weekend in Charlottesville, Va., as the Cavaliers battle for a trip to the College World Series.
Hultzen said all thoughts about his path to the major leagues, the first step of which is negotiating a contract by the Aug. 15 signing deadline, is on the back burner. There were Internet reports last week that his camp has indicated Hultzen is seeking a $13 million contract. By comparison, Stephen Strasburg signed for $15 million two years ago as the most touted No. 1 overall pick in history.
Unlike many top picks, Hultzen is not represented by Scott Boras. His adviser is Brodie Van Wagenen.
“That really hasn’t even crossed my mind yet,” Hultzen said in a conference call when asked about a potential timetable to the majors. “That’s for down the road. I’m 100 percent focused on helping my team win games, and all that stuff will be worked out later. My family and I will talk about all that stuff, and it will be taken care of at a different time.”
McNamara said he “had his fingers crossed” Hultzen, 21, would be available when the Mariners drafted. Hultzen himself was among those shocked when the Mariners called his name instead of Rendon, or the two high school players they had been linked to, shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Bubba Starling.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” Hultzen said. “I wasn’t looking for a specific spot, I wasn’t looking for a specific team or anything like that. But I’ll tell you this: I wasn’t looking that high. That was where all the surprise came from, being picked that high.”
Hultzen later told the Seattle media of his affinity for the Mariners growing up in Bethesda, Md. He rattled off the names of Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner and Randy Johnson, and said the first major-league hat he ever had was a Mariners cap.
“I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I was well aware of them,” Hultzen said. “Griffey was my guy growing up. I think that’s where the hat came from. I loved watching him play, and like millions of other kids, I tried to copy his swing and the way he played outfield.”
He added, “I have not been to Seattle, but I hear it’s an awesome city and that it’s not as rainy as everyone thinks.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hultzen is 11-3 with a 1.57 earned-run average in 15 starts for Virginia this season, striking out 148 and walking just 17 in 103-1/3 innings. In his Virginia career, he is 31-5 with a 2.18 ERA in 48 games (47 starts).
Asked to give a scouting report on himself, Hultzen said: “I’m a left-handed pitcher that just goes out there and competes no matter what, no matter who I’m facing. … I just go after and try to attack the hitter, no matter who you’re facing.
“I try to let the hitter beat me and not beat myself by falling behind in the count or putting runners on base. I’m a competitive guy and I’ll go out and compete for whatever team I’m playing for.”
Said Zduriencik: “There’s all kinds of intangibles Tom and his staff really liked about this guy as they got to know him. You look at his history, what he’s done. He’s a very intelligent kid, very poised. A very hard worker. The coaches at the University of Virginia could not say enough about him and the kind of person he is.”
In fact, immediately after the Mariners’ pick was announced, McNamara received a text from one of the Virginia coaches that said, “Tom, as good a talent as he is, he’s a better person.”
“We’re ecstatic to have him,” McNamara said. “It’s a great day for the franchise.”
Addressing why the Mariners picked a pitcher over a hitter, Zduriencik said, “You can only make one decision. You can only make one call. This is the call that was made. This is what the staff wanted. Tom got to know him so well, and felt so good about the quality and character of the person, as well as his ability.
“It’s about accumulating talent. You just can’t do it all with one pick. We have 59 more picks. As we go through this draft, we hope to add talent throughout the system.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org