This is a continuation of the series started by IHSB, where he gave a detailed account of why it would make sense for the Dbacks to draft Bubba Starling at #3. We've expressed this in many different ways, but it can't be stressed enough that the upcoming draft is probably the most important draft in the team's history. Even more important than the draft where we ended up with Justin Upton at first overall, since we were only able to pick one premier talent that year, whereas this time around we'll have access to two premier talents.
So why should we pick Danny Hultzen?
The Name Game
We had Danny Haren and he was a major success. We currently have Danny Hudson and he is on his way to being a major success. We will have Danny Hultzen and he will become a major success. Q.E.D.
If the above proof isn't good enough for you, then I guess you'll have to read on for the rest of the argument.
The Big Board
There is a huge stigmatism in general fandom when we hear the term "drafting for need." On the other hand, picking the "best player available" is oftentimes considered synonymous with good drafting. While I generally agree with this, I think it's important to remember how much nuance goes into what constitutes the "best player available." It's not really like some baseball deity is going to publish a list of players in the order of who will end up being the best player in the majors. Different teams will inevitably have different valuations of the same player. For instance, some GM's just want a specific type of pitcher or hitter (Rizzo loves himself some big-bodied pitchers). To complicate matters further, some talent evaluators weight upside much more heavily than median expectations or floors. I'm looking at you Keith Law. Finally, other talent evaluators will place a greater emphasis on polish, and the prospect's distance to the majors.
In light of all this, my own personal top 7 for the upcoming draft is in the following order: Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Bubba Starling, Francisco Lindor. A quick disclosure: I don't do my own scouting, so my opinion of draft prospects is derived from the combination of the opinions of others that I read (heavily influenced by Baseball America), arguments of theirs that I find convincing or unconvincing, and my own personal risk profile. I am a relatively conservative guy, and prefer prospects with high floors, and am willing to sacrifice upside for it.
Some short notes on why I've ranked the draft prospects in this order. Some scouts are incredibly high on Lindor, and I've read in some places that he could go as high as #2 to Seattle. I don't buy it. Historically, SS prospects in general, and high school SS prospects in particular, miss a lot more often than they hit. In fact, the only reason I have Lindor 7th, is because Sonny Gray and Jed Bradley have enough question marks as well that the rarity of a true minor league SS prospect is enough to give Lindor the edge for me. As for the remaining prospects, Cole, Hultzen, and Bauer are the only three pitchers in this draft that have the polish to start pitching in the majors in early 2012, so I gave them priority. Finally, Anthony Rendon is just simply Anthony freaking Rendon. He's a beast and unless his medical report comes back waving a huge red flag he will be the best prospect in this draft. He's got the purest eye scouts have seen in a long time, and to me that's probably the most important aspect of a hitter that I care about.
There is no way we can analyze a draft strategy without taking into account the overall development strategy of the Dbacks. So the key question we should all be asking ourselves is this: Can we compete in 2012. To me, the answer is yes. To be fair, I hate losing and I have very little patience. But when I look at our current roster, I see a roster constructed to win.
I see a top five NL bullpen when it comes to ERA/FIP/xFIP that can remain entirely intact if we choose to keep it. Even if we trade J.J. Putz for prospects at the winter meetings, buying another closer is not difficult. My preseason expectations were that we'd have around a league average bullpen, and it's reassuring to me that we're not really outperforming my preseason expectations all that much. It's true that bullpens in general tend to be a fickle beast, but I'm willing to trust KT when it comes to building a bullpen (even if I don't trust him with much else).
I see a set of position players that rank sixth in the NL right now, due to a combination of stellar defense and league-average hitting. Now, the sample sizes for defensive metrics are way too small to draw anything substantive from the data. But our defense passes the eye test, and I'm sure almost all of us expected to have one of the best defenses in the NL this year, so it makes sense to me. The league-average hitting is a bit surprising to me, and I hope it gets better, because I thought preseason that we had a top five and potentially top three offense. We have plenty of talent at the scarcest positions though (SS, CF, C) which is a huge determinant towards why I think we need to try to compete in 2012.
Our problem then, is the starting pitching. We rank in the bottom three of the NL in ERA/FIP/xFIP. Which is absurd considering how well Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have been pitching. And while everyone figured the starting pitching would be a serious problem for us this year, I think it's safe to say the vortex of suck that has been Barry Enright, Armando Galarraga, and Joe Saunders has been pretty frustrating to say the least. In fact, as I mentioned before, if we still had Dan Haren instead of Joe Saunders pitching for us this year, then we're probably only a game back from the NL West division lead, or maybe even the division leader.
The key to all of this is that we're bringing back all the good pieces of our roster (the bullpen and position players) and have a chance to overhaul the bad pieces (starting pitchers). We only have two real question marks on offense next year at 3B and 2B. While I don't think Ryan Roberts will keep up this power surge, I love his approach and discipline at the plate, so I believe he can fill one of those capably (I prefer him at 2B), which means it's only really one hole we need to fill. Of course there are some questions about 1B, but Juan Miranda has been better than expected, and I believe in Paul Goldschmidt's bat, so we have options there. We're really only one game below .500 based on our Pythag, and with upgrades next year to the rotation (Jarrod Parker and the draft) and offense (Paul Goldschmidt) I see our 2012 Dbacks as a legitimate playoff contending team. Based on this, I really want to see our FO push for talent that can help us immediately. If Rendon or Cole are available, you have to take them. If they are gone by the time we pick though, then I think we should go for Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer at #3 and #7.
The Pitcher and The Stuff
I feel like a lot of fans are still underrating Danny Hultzen. Yes, Jim Callis and other talent evaluators have expressed Hultzen's upside as "only" a #2 starter. What this hides though, is the fact that Jim Callis also has Danny Hultzen as #3 on his entire big board. So why the discrepancy?
First we have to understand why scouts and talent evaluators peg a player as having #1 or #2 starter upside. This has more to do with a player's raw stuff than anything else. Fangraphs had a great article about this, but when it comes to raw stuff, scouts really only care about two things: velocity on the fastball and a biting slider. Neither of those is Hultzen's specialty which is why his stuff gets downgraded, and in turn scouts say he "only" has #2 starter upside. However, that doesn't tell the full story about how good of a prospect Hultzen is relative to his draft peers.
Hultzen has a fastball that sits 92-93 mph and can touch 96 mph, which from the left-side registers as a plus pitch. Then there's his changeup, which is a true plus pitch, with plenty of fade. Combined with sinking action on his fastball, that combination should be able to generate plenty of groundballs. While his slider is only a major league average pitch for now, it's shown flashes of being an above-average pitch. In other words, he's basically a left-handed version of Daniel Hudson. In addition, I think people tend to underestimate how much benefit can come from having a pitcher with a good bat in the NL. Most pitchers tend to generate negative 0.5 WAR over the course of a year. With Hultzen's batting ability, he could be a plus 0.5-1.0 wins above replacement pitcher over the course of a whole season in addition to his starting pitching value.
The best part about Hultzen though, is his polish as a pitcher. He's got great control, and rarely walks a batter. Even more importantly though, his command is considered to be an above-average asset, and will let him arrive in the majors in early 2012 if the Dbacks pushed him. I don't know much about deliveries, but I envision Hultzen being the next Cole Hamels. Hamels came into the majors with three pitches, and just like Hultzen, he had a mediocre fastball that sat 91-92 mph, an averagish breaking ball (for Hamels it was his curve, for Hultzen it will be the slider), and a devastating changeup. Hamels succeeded, because he was able to command the zone.
We could seriously do a lot worse than the next Cole Hamels with the #3 pick.