Ooh, this is fun.
So, necessary background: back in February, the Cubs signed lefty Danny Hultzen to a minor league deal. As a 28-year-old who essentially hasn’t pitched competitively since 2013, it would not be a notable signing if not for who Hultzen is: a tip-top former draft pick and pitching prospect of the highest order. His story is a sad one – a reminder of how fraught with peril the business of being a pitching prospect is – but also an inspiring one.
From our post on his signing:
For those who are not familiar, Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft out of Virginia. The tall lefty had made something of a mockery of the ACC in his three college years, winning Freshman of the Year honors, then Pitcher of the Year honors, and then the John Olerud Award (best two-way player in college). That he was selected just after Gerrit Cole at the top of the draft was not a surprise, nor, necessarily, was it a surprise that he immediately got a big league contract (back in those days, you could do that as an enticement to sign). The guy was as certainly a future stud as a pitching prospect can be.
But, the thing is, pitching prospects are still only prospects, and pitching ones at that. Troubles arise for even the best of the best, as we just saw with the now-retired Mark Appel, though for Hultzen, it was entirely about his health. After pitching through pain to try to prove his worth after signing that big league contract, Hultzen was forced to have major shoulder surgery during the 2013 season. His comeback proved long, and unsuccessful – he logged just 10 innings after that – and he had to have another shoulder surgery in 2016 ….
Hultzen’s return to pitching professionally at all would be an impressive story, and something that other prospects throughout the team’s system could watch and learn from. His hard work and perseverance is impressive, as is his honesty about the mistakes he made in taking care of his body and not being willing to seek help sooner. Hultzen, it should be noted, also spent some time last year as a volunteer coach at UVA.
So, in any case, Hultzen has been in Arizona with the Cubs since he signed, trying to get back into the swing of things and seeing if there was still something there.
Fast-forward to today:
Cubs promote left-hander Danny Hultzen, former 1st round pick of Mariners whose career has been sidetracked by shoulder injuries, from Arizona League to Triple-A Iowa.
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) August 31, 2018
The reason that’s notable and fun is that the Cubs wouldn’t be promoting Hultzen all the way to AAA at this moment in the year unless they were doing it (1) to determine how to proceed with respect to keeping him in the organization on into next year (i.e., 40-man roster? lucrative minor league offer?); and (2) to see if there was a chance he could contribute at the big league level in September. There are just four games left at Iowa, so there will be limited time to evaluate Hultzen’s effectiveness, though it seems he’s clearly healthy at this point.
It’s not unlike the rapid promotion process the Cubs have done with Allen Webster, another 28-year-old former top prospect who might be worth checking out at the big league level in September.
Hultzen managed just 6.2 innings in Arizona once he worked his way back, but they included 15 strikeouts and just 2 walks and 6 hits. You can’t really tell much about a guy like this when he’s facing teenagers, but clearly the Cubs think he’s at least worth a look here at the end of the minor league season now that he’s healthy. Where he goes from here will be fun to follow.