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Why Danny Hultzen Had the Worst Year for the Seattle Mariners

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | A team doesn't get to 90 losses, which the Seattle Mariners seem all but certain to do, without having some regular players that struggle all year.

Sure enough, a look at the stats will show several players -- Aaron Harang, Joe Saunders, Brendan Ryan, and Mike Morse, to name a few -- who performed well under league average for the majority of the year.

However, the player who had the worst year didn't take the field at all in Seattle. A series of injuries and setbacks made 2013 a year to forget for pitching prospect Danny Hultzen.

The Mariners drafted Hultzen second overall out of Virginia, and he instantly became one of the team's top prospects. He wasn't regarded as a future overpowering ace like fellow prospect Taijuan Walker, but more of a "safe" pick who was near major league-ready and would make for a very good No. 2 or 3 starter down the line. Hultzen figured to be plugged into the Mariners' rotation very quickly -- possibly even in 2013.

The pick turned out to be anything but safe. Hultzen showed his potential and collegiate experience by destroying AA during the first half of 2012. Things went downhill in 12 starts at AAA Tacoma as Hultzen posted a huge walk rate of 17.9%, but his strikeout numbers were still very good. The potential was still there, but the Mariners just had to be a little more patient with Hultzen than they thought.

For a brief moment in 2013, Hultzen looked more like the pitcher he was supposed to be coming out of college. His AAA walk rate shrunk to a miniscule 5.7%, and there was talk of Hultzen making an appearance in Seattle around the All-Star break. Unfortunately, Hultzen ran into a series of injuries in late April that he never fully recovered from.

On April 25, Hultzen was scratched from his start in Tacoma, as he was unable to get loose. The injury was initially supposed to be a one-game setback, but that turned into a two-week issue as he was diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain.

Things quickly got serious after that. Despite the two-week prognosis, Hultzen did not start again until June 28. His next start, he was unable to get loose yet again and was scratched. Hultzen hasn't started since, and he was officially shutdown for the season in mid-August.

Now, a visit to Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion is on tap for Hultzen, after experiencing more discomfort throwing a simulated game. There are fears that he may be suffering from a labrum issue , which would be extremely concerning for the Mariners. It's not yet known if the injury will require surgery, but labrum issues can often be even more difficult for pitchers to recover from than Tommy John surgery. If surgery is necessary, Hultzen will probably be lost for the entirety of 2014.

Of course, an injury like this will always raise questions about how a team handles a young pitcher, but Hultzen wasn't throwing a terribly excessive amount of innings. He pitched 124 innings in 2012, but that was his age 22 season -- not nearly as young as someone like Walker or Felix Hernandez when they came through the minors.

Hultzen is a player that the Mariners desperately need. They will have to hope that 2013 was just a bump in the road rather than a year that ends up derailing his promising career.

Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.

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