Zduriencik explains drafting another pitcher
Count me among the surprised when Seattle tabbed Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen with the second pick in Monday’s baseball draft.
Hultzen had been mentioned everywhere as a top-five talent and a rising draft pick as one of the premier college pitchers in the country, but I fell into the thinking that the Mariners would opt for offense, given the chance to pick any position player they wanted after the Pirates took UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole.
Instead, GM Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara stuck to their guns, selecting the guy they felt had the most talent instead of just taking the best possible hitter, even for a franchise that has drafted pitchers with their top pick five of the past six years.
It’s the smart way to approach a baseball draft, even if frustrating for fans who then sat through a lifeless 3-1 loss to the White Sox later Monday evening when another strong Michael Pineda start went for naught.
Zduriencik and McNamara know the best way to get better is to get the best possible talent available. If that’s pitching for an already pitching-strong Major League club, so be it. If you have great pitching, you can always deal it. The key is to have something great.
When you’ve got the No. 2 pick, you need to land the biggest stud possible. Time will tell, but the Mariners felt better about Hultzen’s chances there than anyone else.
They won’t talk about guys they didn’t pick, but if Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon — who I thought would be the pick — was a sure thing in their minds, they’d have nabbed him. If they thought Bubba Starling was going to be the next superstar outfielder — and that they could sign him instead of watching him go play football at Nebraska — they’d have gone that route.
Instead, they went with Hultzen, who by all accounts is an intelligent, motivated, well-grounded 21-year-old with a talented arm and enough athleticism to hit .320 in college as a designated hitter when he’s not pitching for top-ranked Virginia.
I’m in Chicago with the Mariners on their current road trip, but MLB.com associate reporter Taylor Soper was at the Zduriencik press conference in Seattle and sent along this quote about his thoughts on picking Hultzen instead of Rendon.
“We can’t comment on a player that’s under the control of somebody else,” he said. “But I can tell you there were several players we could have taken. We would have been happy with three, four, five guys at different positions. We’d love to take an outfielder, love to take a shortstop, love to take a third baseman, love to take a pitcher.
“But at the end of the day you get one call. You get to make one decision and have to wait 60 some picks to get your second decision. So you have a choice and this is the choice we made and we think it’s a good one.”
Zdurincik noted that Safeco Field is an excellent park for pitchers, particularly left-handers, and that with Pineda, Felix Hernandez and young prospects like Taijun Walker, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton, the Mariners are building a significant arsenal of arms.
“You’ve got to create something somewhere and pitching is a premium,” Zduriencik said. “Try to sign a really, really good pitcher on the market and if this guy is on the fast track and this is the kind of guy we think he is, it’s going to be nice to add him to this staff.”
Zduriencik also said Hultzen, as a college junior, has a chance to get to the Major Leagues in relatively short order.
“Each guy has his own time frame and you never know till they get out there, and it depends on when they sign, of course,” Zduriencik said. “But his ability and the other intangibles that he has should enable him to move fairly quick.”
So there you go. That’s the rationale. As with all draft decisions, time will tell. But rest assured, the Mariners took the player they think has the best chance to succeed at the Major League level. And if they’re right in the long run, adding a quality left-hander to the rotation is never a bad thing.