April 25, 2013: Danny Hultzen "can't get loose", is scratched from his start in Tacoma after pitching 22.2 innings.
April 26: Doctors say Hultzen has a left rotator cuff strain and tendinitis. Placed on the disabled list.
April 28: Hultzen is told by doctors that his injuries are "not worrisome."
June 28: Hultzen returns, performing admirably, allowing only two hits over six innings.
July 2: Hultzen again "can't get loose" and is scratched from his start.
July 10: Mariners shut down Hultzen, proclaim it as a minor setback and say there is no structural damage.
September 1: Hultzen returns to Tacoma, pitches two perfect innings with three strikeouts.
September 24: Hultzen pays a visit to Dr. James Andrews. "It's not his rotator cuff," says Z.
October 1: Andrews performs surgery on Hultzen to repair damage in his labrum, capsule, and partially torn rotator cuff.
October 1: Mariner fans hang their heads in depressed acceptance.
People often say there's no such thing as a pitching prospect. When Hultzen's surgery was announced, my timeline was full of #TNSTAAPP, and for understandable reasons. Danny Hultzen was supposed to be the safe one. His greatest quality out of the draft was not that he had the best stuff or the greatest upside, it was simply that his floor was high, and his path to the majors was expected to be swift. That was 2011. It's now 2013, and he was beaten to the majors by the 1st round pick in 2012, a toolsy prep pitcher who was expected to take the longest, and the other wildly inconsistent member of the big three. Nothing worked out according to plan regarding Danny Hultzen, other than him being a very good pitcher when he pitched.
There are over 5,000 professional baseball players trying to make it in America, and that's just in major league baseball organizations. It doesn't include independent leagues or players hanging out in instructional leagues, trying to break through themselves. When a college player is drafted, no matter where it is, he enters that bottomless pool of talent. He has better odds of making it to the top, but there's still years of work to put in, performance levels to achieve, and injuries to avoid. Hultzen did the first two, but couldn't do the third. When you put it into perspective, it seems silly to authoritatively state that everything will fall into place. To project somebody with confidence as part of a future rotation. Yet we do, and players are categorized as safe, or even locks. For all intents and purposes, Danny Hultzen was one of those pitchers.
Now, there's a question as to whether he'll ever pitch in the majors at all. Shoulder injuries, even when shrugged off by the organization publicly, are a pretty big deal. Labrum injuries are nasty. Michael Pineda still hasn't pitched in the big leagues from his labrum tear. A few years back, Larry Stone took a look at players coming back from labrum injuries, and it wasn't pretty. Some players returned within a year. Others took nearly two. Some, like Pineda, will be over two and counting.
All of this would be reasonable to stomach if there wasn't a partial tear in Hultzen's rotator cuff as well. That's even more scary, and while there's plenty of pitchers who came back from rotator cuff surgery, some were never the same. Velocity is affected. There's constant stiffness. Some didn't come back at all, and the injury eventually ended their careers. Brandon Webb worked for years to return and was forced to have more surgery and eventually retire. He never made it back. I don't want to get too caught up in speculation at this point, because the exact severity of Hultzen's injury is still somewhat unknown. All that we know is that Hultzen had surgery in two areas of his shoulder that have been death sentences to many pitchers over the years.
Toss in additional damage to his capsule, and things are looking pretty grim. Still, it would be speculative at best to say what's going to happen to Hultzen's career one way or another. Procedures and rehab treatments improve every year, and his surgery was performed by the best in the business. We don't know exactly how much damage was in each of these, and we don't know how Hultzen will recover. What we do know, is that there are a history of pitchers who have had their entire careers ruined by injuries like this, and Hultzen has three of them. If the Mariners see him again, there's a very good change it won't be until 2015.