Consistent Hultzen moving up Draft board
Virginia southpaw could leapfrog others all the way to No. 1
Every time University of Virginia southpaw Danny Hultzen has toed the rubber this spring, there has been a lot on the line. Not that you could tell by looking at him.
Pitching for the top college team in the country in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference? No problem. Taking the ball with scores of scouts watching as your name is being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft? Whatever.
"I go out there with the same aggressive mentality," Hultzen said about pitching in the postseason compared to the regular season. "You can't put too much pressure on yourself. You can't get in your own head.
"[The Draft] hasn't entered my head yet. There will be a time for that, but that time's not now. We'll decide that stuff when the time is right."
The fact that Hultzen has remained focused on the here and now -- next up is the NCAA regional the Cavaliers are hosting as the national No. 1 seed beginning this weekend -- is a big reason why he's pitched his way into the top of the Draft. All accounts have the left-handed starter going in the top five picks, with discussions about him starting all the way at the top with the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 1 overall.
To follow the Draft and find out when Hultzen gets taken, tune into live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, beginning with a one-hour preview show on Monday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, Tuesday and Wednesday, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
"Danny Hultzen has handled his situation this year as well as any player I've ever seen handle it," said Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor, who has shepherded his fair share of Draft prospects through the very successful university program. "There's a lot of pressure on somebody who's projected to go very, very high in the Draft.
"He's completely focused his attention on his teammates here at UVA, and he's never been derailed from that. Because he's made that his focus, he's been able to put up consistent results like he has. The fact he's going to be a high Draft pick on Monday hasn't changed Danny, hasn't changed the way he looks at this season or this team. That's what separates him from a lot of people. There's no selfishness in Danny Hultzen. So he's being rewarded with the results that he's getting because of the way that he's handled it."
Consistency may not sound sexy, nor is it like the kind of high-ceiling impact type one thinks about when considering a top-of-the-first-round talent. But in a year in which the perceived top college pitcher, Gerrit Cole, has not performed consistently, and the top college hitter, Anthony Rendon, has had shoulder issues, the lack of question marks surrounding Hultzen cannot be undersold. Performance, especially in the Draft spotlight, can go a long, long way.
"To Danny's credit, he's taken the ball from the start of the year and had a consistent, absolutely positive performance throughout the entire season," a scouting director said. "In terms of maintaining a consistent package of stuff, performing, throwing strikes [and] minimizing hits and runs, he's performed as you'd hope he would in his Draft year.
"A left-handed starter with an advanced feel on the mound, he maintains his composure. You like his demeanor. He's able to regain his focus and shows determination, staying within himself. He's not a finesse guy, but he has the pitch-ability to work with. There's a lot to like."
The "advanced college lefty" label can be a positive and a bit of a knock. The truth is that Hultzen's stuff has played up this year. The scouting director confirmed that the lefty has thrown harder than he had in the past. He can command his fastball to both sides of the plate, even with the increased velocity. He's got one of the better -- if not the best -- changeup in the Draft class. And even though his breaking ball is his weakest pitch, it's an effective offering. That might make him more than just a "safe" pick, though being that may not be a bad thing.
"We like to use that word a lot, but I'm not sure it exists in the amateur Draft," the scouting director said. "I definitely think there is higher probability and less risk to his potential value as a Major Leaguer compared to most. When you're talking about an advanced, polished, successful college left-handed starter, there's a lot of positives that point you in that direction."
Hultzen, meanwhile, will take the ball on Saturday, hoping to help send Virginia toward the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and erase a disappointing Super Regional loss at home to Oklahoma a year ago -- all the while oblivious to the fervor surrounding him and impervious to the impact that pressure can often have on a young player.
"I've just tried to get better and better," Hultzen said. "I don't think about it as I've moved up the Draft boards. I've just tried to get better and stronger. Luckily, that's been working out for us and that's what I will continue to do. That other stuff will work out."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.