Four for forty-four.
This is what hitters in the greatest offensive league environment in baseball’s history are batting against the Cubs’ top (and only!) 29-year-old pitching prospect. Danny Hultzen stepped away from baseball in 2016, unable to find his form and health after shoulder surgery. It was hard to fathom that the 2011 Draft’s most polished arm would never reach the Major Leagues.
Soon enough, that will no longer be the case. Hultzen returned to baseball with the Cubs last year – you can thank some good connections to the University of Virginia program for that one – and both sides agreed to take things very slowly. It’s worked, and Hultzen has found a groove.
For the season: 13.2 IP, 4 H, 1.32 ERA, 8 BB, 22 K
Last 5 outings: 5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K
Against LHHs: .053/.280/.053, 9 K’s in 25 PA
Pretty unimpeachable. When Hultzen rehabbed in Arizona during Extended Spring Training, we heard reports of his fastball entering the mid 90s. That hasn’t quite been the case. He’s instead been about 91-94 mph, showing a mid 80s plus change-up (RHHs hitting just .120!) and a breaking ball that he calls a curveball, but has more sweeping horizontal slider action.
You can see it a bit here. Hultzen stands with his right foot in a pretty unique spot, and his body not centered towards the plate. It even seems like his initial push-off is in that direction, allowing him to keep that front shoulder really closed off as long as possible. pic.twitter.com/Nf9ZiAjBLC
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) August 13, 2019
We can’t know if this deception will play in the Majors, but watching him in this past series against Salt Lake – a team loaded with ex-big leaguers like Justin Bour, Nick Franklin, Jarrett Parker – has me pretty convinced. They just don’t square up his fastball.
The larger question about his Major League viability instead centers on his left shoulder. The Cubs like their relievers to clear two hurdles before seeing Chicago: can you show the ability to get four outs, and can you show the ability to pitch back-to-back days? Hultzen was asked to do neither in 2018. This year, he came in for four outs on July 28, and has done it twice since.
He’s still yet to pitch on back-to-back days. In three instances with the Cubs, including yesterday’s save, he’s pitched with a mere one-day gap between appearances. Other than that, it’s been a cake schedule that the big leagues will not afford. I expect that before September 1, the I-Cubs will test Hultzen two days in a row. His body’s response will be important for this front office.
At that point, the decisions will come fast and furious. Hultzen is not on the 40-man roster, and so his addition to the roster would likely mean someone else loses their spot. If you call him up, do you do it right at September 1, or wait until the conclusion of Iowa’s season (which will include a playoff run)? And Brett hits on the longer term questions that surround Hultzen:
Huge rub with Hultzen heading into next year? No minor league options. So if he's on the 40-man come spring, he either makes the team or he hits waivers.
But if you don't add him to 40-man this year, good chance he gets plucked by another club in November.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) August 13, 2019
Like Allen Webster this year, there won’t be a lot of wiggle room in 2020 with Hultzen. He’ll have to be good right out of the gates, and stay good for the entirety, because there won’t be the ability to send him up and down to work on his development. He needs to be a finished, ready product, and that’s asking a lot for someone who has recorded just 47 Triple-A outs in two years with the organization in his late 20s.
This is absolutely the story we all want to happen. There’s plenty of reason to believe it could have the storybook ending this team could use. But the margin for error is small. Can’t wait to see how the front office plays it, and how Hultzen responds.