By Shannon Drayer
Danny Hultzen's first year of professional ball had an ending he did not anticipate.
After dominating Double-A ball and earning a promotion to Triple-A midway through the season, his ERA soared to an ugly 5.92 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted to a 1.33.
The command that helped establish him as the favorite to be the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft completely abandoned him. He walked nine batters in just seven innings during his first two games with the Rainiers. He finished out his season in similar fashion, walking 14 in 7 1/3 innings over three games.
Danny Hultzen believes he wore down last season because he overworked himself. (AP)
Tough but perhaps an experience that will pay off in the long run. Better to experience failure for the first time at the Triple-A level than in the big leagues. This is precisely why the Mariners did not rush Hultzen or the other "Big Three" despite the hype and can't-miss labels that were put on them. This is why they will do the same with Mike Zunino.
The jump to professional ball is a big one both physically and mentally and no matter how prepared you are for that you really don't understand how it will impact you as an individual until you actually experience it, according to Hultzen.
"I think a lot of it has to do with mentality," he said. "In Double-A and Triple-A you see these guys that people are talking about and you see on TV once in awhile and you try to be too perfect. I tell myself this has to be right on the corner, this has to be a good pitch or he is going to smoke it. But in actuality it shouldn't really matter who you are facing. You just need to throw strikes.
"I think that is something I kind of took for granted and tried to be too perfect."
Then there was the physical aspect of it that that came into play for Hultzen late last year. In college he threw once a week. In the pros it was every five days. In order to get through his first pro season he knew he wanted to get stronger. When the season began he thought it would be a good idea to put in extra work to maintain that strength.
Looking back, he believes the extra work had the opposite effect.
"I think I was doing a little too much at the beginning of last year," he admitted. "I was not blowing it out, throwing the ball as far as I could every day, but there was some stuff I should have probably toned down a little bit. Working hard doesn't necessarily mean throw extra. There's other things you can do to be working hard that won't wear you down. I didn't realize that. I was doing stuff that I was thinking was making me stronger but was actually wearing me down."
Hultzen said that he knows now how to better manage his body and that he is finally comfortable with his in-season routine. His offseason work was geared towards keeping him strong throughout the year. In camp he is focusing on throwing strikes. Not "perfect strikes," rather focusing on hitting the zone and going for a pop-up instead of trying to hit the much smaller corner for the strikeout.
He is much more comfortable in camp this spring having learned the ropes last year. His goal is to make the club out of spring training but trusts if he doesn't, that decision is in his best interest.
"I know in the end that if I didn't make it that would probably be the best thing for me," he said. "If I do make the team then they think that is the best thing for me. I am obviously going to work hard and do my best to try to win that spot, but in the end I know if it doesn't work out then I am going to keep working hard to get up there someday."