When he was non-tendered by the team last month, the hope was that lefty Danny Hultzen would either get a big league job from another club (i.e. a 40-man roster spot), or, if not, would return to the Cubs on a minor league deal. Obviously you never want to lose a possibly-useful arm, but given his journey, if he found a big league roster spot out there right now, go, God bless, knock ’em dead.
With the Rule 5 Draft having passed, and a period of time for teams thereafter to make additions to the 40-man roster, it looks like that big league gig isn’t coming for Hultzen at this time.
Thus, I was happy to see that he’s coming back to the Cubs organization:
The Cubs will offer Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft who finally made his major-league debut in September, a minor-league contract.https://t.co/TXI98wpluy
— Chicago Tribune Sports (@ChicagoSports) December 18, 2019
Hultzen, 30, is a former tip-top prospect who washed out of the game in his first go-around because of serious shoulder problems, but then worked his way back the last couple years in truly impressive fashion. In 2019 with the Cubs, he threw just 14.1 innings at AAA Iowa (14 appearances), and just 3.1 innings in the big leagues (6 appearances). In them, Hultzen flashed a huge strikeout rate (near 40% at Iowa, near 30% with the big league team), but also a huge walk rate.
We also didn’t get a lot of time to evaluate just what he could be. In suggesting last month that a non-tender and minor league deal might be an appropriate path for the Cubs and Hultzen, Bryan described the tricky spot:
“With Hultzen, I have written about his stuff and deception before, the problem is that the sample of how his stuff worked in the Majors doesn’t tell us much. I’m intrigued that he threw 16 offspeed pitches to left-handed hitters and they whiffed on six of them, but no, I’m not going to use that to make a point either. You could just as easily cite that he had just two whiffs in 32 total pitches to right-handed hitters, which would be a serious problem going forward with the incoming three-batter-minimum rule. I like what I saw from Hultzen, but I didn’t quite see enough of it to make a career determination.”
Thus, Hultzen will come to Spring Training with a chance to win a job in the bullpen, and, if not, he could head to Iowa to keep working. Once he comes up, though, he will be out of minor league options, and cannot be shuttled up and down. He’ll have to stick or hit waivers, which means he’s unlikely to make the bullpen out of Spring Training unless he’s looking really fantastic, and also really durable/ready to throw 50+ innings.
Regardless of the initial assignment, though, and regardless of the small window we’ve had to evaluate, there’s pretty clearly arm talent there. I’m glad the Cubs will still have him around.
Note: According to Arizona Phil, there’s a timing element to these minor league deals, so the contract is still “pending” (gonna guess that’s a carveout for guys like Hultzen, Brandon Morrow, Hernan Perez, and Noel Cuevas just in case they would get a big league offer before Spring Training? That doesn’t really happen with these minor league signings, so perhaps that’s why we never hear about it).