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Out of Right Field: Where have you gone, Danny Hultzen?

By Gene Warnick The Spokesman-Review

Mariners fans might remember Danny Hultzen.

He was the can’t-miss kid, a John Olerud Award winner as the best two-way player in college baseball while at the University of Virginia.

And you all remember Olerud from his days at WSU and with the Mariners.

Hultzen, a left-handed pitcher, was selected No. 2 overall by the M’s in the 2011 amateur draft.

“Whenever I hear someone talk about that draft, they say, ‘Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer were the first and third players picked,’” Hultzen told veteran baseball writer Peter Gammons, now with the website The Athletic, just before opening day.

Hultzen signed with the Mariners for $8.5 million, plus a spot on the 40-man roster. He showed promise, reaching Triple-A Tacoma in 2013 and going 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings.

But he underwent surgery after that season to repair damage in his rotator cuff, shoulder capsule and labrum.

Hultzen missed all of the 2014 season and tried to make a comeback the next year. But he suffered recurring problems in 2016 after pitching two games for the Mariners’ rookie-level team in Arizona and subsequently had another surgery.

In all, Hultzen pitched 189 innings over five seasons in the M’s organization.

You’ll know some of the names selected after Hultzen in the first round: Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Cory Spangenberg, Brandon Nimmo, the late Jose Fernandez, C.J. Cron, Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, Tyler Anderson, Tyler Beede, Kolten Wong, Joe Ross, Blake Swihart, Robert Stephenson, Sean Gilmartin, Joe Panik and Mikie Mahtook.

Major leaguers all.

“I admit that when I got into pro ball, I didn’t deal with the pressure of being the second pick in the draft very well,” Hultzen told Gammons. “I thought I had to be that guy. I was insecure about being what they expected me to be, whether I was worth the investment. I thought I had to throw harder and harder, and I tried to fire away. I kept thinking that they thought I was supposed to be in Seattle right away. I tried to gas it all the time.”

Hultzen told Gammons he recently read a story on right-hander Mark Appel, the No. 1 pick in 2013 out of Stanford. Appel, who has retired, never quite embraced being selected first ahead of the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant.

“When one becomes concerned that one’s worth is perceived through baseball performance, it can be debilitating,” Hultzen said. “When one deals with the concern that people are thinking, ‘He should have been …’ about you, it stays in your head.”

As Gammons wrote, “The late Ken Brett once said that ‘the worst curse in life is unlimited potential,’ which, a couple of generations later, applied in part to Hultzen and Appel.”

(Yes, that’s the same Ken Brett who was a co-owner, along with brothers John, Bobby and Hall of Famer George, of the Northwest League’s Spokane Indians, Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs and a sporting goods company. Ken died in 2003 in Spokane from brain cancer.)

Hultzen, 28, spent last year completing his bachelor’s degree at UVa, where he also served as a volunteer coach. He began playing long toss and, with his arm feeling better, he’s trying to make a comeback. He signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago Cubs in late February and is at their extended spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona.

“He is an exceptional talent, so good an athlete that he also was a very good hitter in college, and a tremendous person who loves baseball. I am very optimistic about his future,” Cubs organizational pitching coordinator Jim Benedict, who worked with Hultzen’s brother Joe in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization, told Gammons. “Once he’s pitched in games in the extended spring program, we’ll know where he can go to pitch. It’s important for us to not rush things and be patient. He’s under the watchful eye of (former Mariners left-hander) Ron Villone in Mesa, and he’s as good a pitching rehab guy as you can find.”

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