Danny Hultzen's first start this year at Double-A Jackson did not go particularly well, as the left-hander allowed four hits, three walks and five runs over 4.0 innings. It was not an ideal beginning for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, a kid who was (and is) expected to claim a spot in Seattle's big league rotation, perhaps this summer.
Hultzen followed his season-opening clunker with seven mostly terrific outings, as he's managed to lower his ERA to 1.81 and his WHIP to 0.99, while striking out 44 batters in 44.2 innings. On Thursday, the 22-year-old held Mobile to three hits and one run over 7.0 frames, walking one batter and striking out eight. He now ranks second in the Southern League in ERA, behind only Trevor Bauer (recently promoted to Triple-A), and second in WHIP.
Hultzen's biggest issues this season — arguably his only worrisome issue — is the fact that he's walked 24 batters over 44.2 innings. He hasn't really been made to pay for the lack of command, however, since Double-A batters have managed just 20 hits against him, only two of which have cleared the fence. It was a good sign that he allowed just one free pass in Thursday's win, and he suggested in postgame comments that he'd made a few adjustments. Wildness wasn't really part of the profile when Hultzen was mowing down hitters at the University of Virginia; he went 12-3 last season with a 1.37 ERA over 118.0 innings, striking out 165 batters and walking 23.
There's a good chance we'll see Hultzen pitch in Safeco later this season as he was considered a polished prospect when drafted, plus he's excelled in the Southern League. He throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a slider, and a change that gets rave reviews. Dynasty owners should have already stashed him; the rest of us should simply keep him on the radar.
• Wil Myers' reign of terror in the Texas League finally came to an end, as the Royals promoted him to Triple-A. He went 2-for-5 in his Omaha debut on Thursday. In 134 Double-A at-bats this season, Myers hit .343/.414/.731 with 11 doubles, 13 homers and 30 RBIs. He figures to reach KC this summer.
• Yankees prospect Manny Banuelos opened his year with back-to-back brutal starts (5.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 7 BB), then hit the disabled list due to back pain. So he wasn't really doing anything in April to ease the Pineda-related anxiety for New York fans. But since returning from the DL at Triple-A, Banuelos has made three solid appearances. He's allowed 11 hits and just one earned run over 14.2 innings, striking out 15 and issuing no walks. The 21-year-old lefty could get a mid-season look in the bigs.
• Double-A shortstop Jurickson Profar extended his hitting streak to 27 games on Thursday, going 1-for-2 with a pair of walks against Midland. The 19-year-old Profar is generally considered the best prospect in a very good Texas Rangers system, and he's obviously off to a nice start at Frisco, despite being the youngest player in the Texas League. He's a switch-hitter with all-category potential and a terrific eye — he walked more often than he struck out last season at Single-A. He's also a former Little League World Series hero, having led Curacao to the title in 2004, then nearly a repeat in 2005. Profar is a dynasty building block.
• Josh Bell used to be a buzzy prospect, but the O's eventually kicked him to the curb. Still just 25, he's resurfaced in Arizona's system at Triple-A Reno, and he's on a tear in recent weeks. Bell is hitting .409/.451/.659 with five multi-hit games in his last ten. He's been a complete dud at the big league level (career .200/.221/.264), but stranger comebacks have certainly happened.
• We close with your weekly Billy Hamilton update: His average has dropped just a bit at Single-A Bakersfield (to .329), but his stolen base total is already up to 39. Three-nine. In 37 games. That's nuts. Only one major league team (Miami) has stolen as many as 39 bags, year-to-date.