Hultzen shines at Rising Stars Game

Former Virginia ace Danny Hultzen could debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2012. AP Photo/Nati Harnik

This year's AFL Rising Stars game proved disappointing, with a number of the best prospects unavailable due to injury and a rough outing from one of the two marquee starters that turned the game into a rout before the first inning was over.

&#8226; Seattle Mariners left-hander Danny Hultzen was very impressive in two hitless innings, sitting 91-94 and showing more confidence in a solid-average slider at 79-83 that he was throwing at the inner half to right-handed hitters. He was very aggressive in and around the zone with the fastball, and left-handed hitters were clearly uncomfortable against him. The only negative was his changeup, 76-81 mph, which just wasn't the plus pitch it normally is. Our own Jon "Boog" Sciambi asked me on Twitter last night if I thought Hultzen could pitch in the big leagues in 2011. I wouldn't rule it out. His command is good enough, and we're not waiting on any kind of projection. Hultzen is probably the fourth-best starter in the organization for 2012 after Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas.

&#8226; Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole was his own worst enemy in failing to get out of the first inning Saturday night. The critical sequence was against Atlanta Braves first baseman Joey Terdoslavich, who was completely fooled by back-to-back changeups from Cole (unsurprising, as it's his best pitch). So with two strikes, Cole had several options -- tripling up on the changeup, throwing a fastball up above the zone, etc. -- but instead chose perhaps the worst option of all, a 97 mph four-seamer right down the middle of the zone. Terdoslavich can hit a fastball, and in Surprise, where the ball carries really well, he hit it out. Cole's tendency to try to blow the fastball by guys in the zone was the source of much of his trouble in college, but at that point, his coach was calling the pitches. This is pro ball now, and Cole is going to have to come up with his own pitching plan; you can't have a plus fastball (96-98 on Saturday), plus changeup and above-average slider (up to 92), and give up five runs in the first inning on two home runs, hitters' park or not.

&#8226; Kansas City Royals right-hander Jeremy Jeffress worked a quick inning, but that was the best off-speed stuff I've seen from him. He's always thrown hard -- hitting 100 in last year's Rising Stars game -- but this year he was 96-98 with a hard slider at 86-87 and very sharp curveball at 78-80. He struck out all three batters he faced, including Bryce Harper and Derek Norris, and only two of his 12 pitches were taken for balls.

&#8226; Milwaukee Brewers lefty Jed Bradley was fair, 91-93 with a soft slider at 80-82 -- not as bad as it had been this spring, but still not an average pitch. He threw just one changeup -- his best off-speed pitch as an amateur -- at 84 mph that Robbie Grossman grounded to the shortstop.

&#8226; The offensive star of the game was switch-hitting Seattle shortstop Nick Franklin, who drove a fastball from Cole out to deep left-center while hitting left-handed, showing outstanding raw power for a 20-year-old. That remains his stronger side even though he lunges forward before he really gets his hands going. He had an inconsistent day in the field but showed some of the instincts and quick reactions that at least give him a chance to stay at the position long-term. Kansas City outfielder Wil Myers, hitting behind Franklin, hit a couple of balls hard as well, one of which hit shortstop Junior Lake in his weak spot -- the glove -- and went through to left field for a double.