Left-hander Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, signed too late to make his Minor League debut for the Mariners last summer.
However, the club got a chance to see what Hultzen is capable of doing during the Arizona Fall League. Hultzen, pitching for the Peoria Javelinas, started six games and went 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA that was the second-lowest in the league. In 19 1/3 innings, he struck out 18, walked five and allowed 16 hits. He struck out 16 in his final 10 1/3 innings.
"The Arizona Fall League was an incredible experience," Hultzen said. "It gave me a taste of what to expect in a regular professional season, playing against some of the best in the world. It gave me a lot of confidence that I can do this."
The Mariners expect him to be able to "do this," and so does MLB.com. Hultzen has been ranked as the 16th-best prospect by MLB.com. He was the Seattle's highest-ranked prospect until they acquired Jesus Montero (No. 12) from the Yankees earlier month. Also making the list for the Mariners were pitcher Taijuan Walker (18), infielder Nick Franklin (52) and pitcher James Paxton (77).
This year's edition of MLB.com's Top Prospects list has expanded from 50 to 100 players. The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLB.com's Draft and prospect expert Jonathan Mayo, who compiles input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, closeness to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLB.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2012.
Hultzen is a rookie in every sense of the word, but he is on the 40-man roster and will be in big league camp competing for a job. The Mariners have signed veteran starters Kevin Millwood and Oliver Perez to Minor League contracts that could keep them from pushing pitchers like Hultzen and Paxton. But Hultzen will get a good look in Peoria, Ariz.
"He's on the 40-man roster, so we'll bring him into Spring Training," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We'll watch him perform. We don't have any great expectations, but we don't have any limitations on him. Anybody who has seen him pitch feels he could be a fast-track guy, but until you see him pitch on a big league field it's hard to say.
"He probably needs some development time in the Minors, but like I said, we're not going to put any limitations on him. He's a very talented guy."
The Mariners have been relentless in their pursuit of talented young pitching, and Hultzen was a major addition when they selected him last summer.
Hultzen was 11-3 with a 1.57 ERA for the University of Virginia and was a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year. He had 148 strikeouts and 17 walks in 103 innings while holding opponents to a .189 batting average. He was also a two-time Academic All-American, and that is part of why he is held in high regard by the Mariners.
"Obviously he has great stuff -- this kid can throw 95-96 miles an hour and he has a good slider and a good changeup," Zduriencik said. "But the thing that stands out is his composure and his intelligence. He brings a lot to the table and knows how to pitch. Beyond stuff, that's what makes a good pitcher."