Luke Stuckmeyer

So, you're saying there's a chance?: Danny Hultzen could be the answer to the Cubs’ search for a lefty reliever

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NBC Sports Chicago

So, you're saying there's a chance?: Danny Hultzen could be the answer to the Cubs’ search for a lefty reliever

 

Which pitcher in the Cubs organization is a former No. 2 overall draft pick and was selected ahead of Trevor Bauer, Javy Baez, Francisco Lindor, and Anthony Rendon in 2011?  Pay attention, because Danny Hultzen could be an answer to a $100 trivia question on an episode of "Beer Money." He might also be the answer to the Cubs’ search for a lefty reliever.

After the Pittsburgh Pirates selected UCLA's Gerrit Cole with the top pick, the Mariners went for Hultzen from the University of Virginia. He made it all the way to Triple-A next summer, but that's when life started dealing Danny Hultzen some incredible challenges. Not one, but two shoulder surgeries, the first in 2013 and the second in 2016.

"The [number of] people that have had the surgery that I've had is very small, and the people that have come back is basically zero. So, those are not the most encouraging statistics, but I still always believed there was a chance that I could still keep doing it," said Hultzen when I interviewed him a couple weeks ago in Des Moines, IA.

So, you're saying there's a chance.

The money wouldn't be driving the Sisyphean task of another comeback. He'd already made $8.5 million when he first signed with the Mariners. The doctors told him to hang it up and Hultzen went back to school to finish his degree. He was out of professional baseball and serving as a volunteer coach at Virginia while continuing with his rehab. The spark never went out.

"I really don't want to look back at it in 20 years and say I should have given it one last opportunity." 

Hultzen's parents kept encouraging, but despite the incredible physical hurdles he faced, Hultzen says 95% of the challenge has been in between his ears.

"I think the vast majority of it is mental. The points when you're trying your hardest and can't lift two pounds. You're throwing it your hardest and the catcher can catch it with a bare hand. It seems like it's just floating in there."

So, you're saying there's a chance.

Hultzen kept fighting. He kept throwing. The radar gun readings slowing increased. First up to 80 MPH - then 90. Eventually, the Cubs signed Danny at the end of February 2018, and he pitched some in the Arizona league while his fastball made it to 92 and 93 MPH. He then finished last summer with a couple of appearances for Triple-A Iowa.

That's where he is now, but something crazy happened over the last year. Hultzen's fastball has reached as fast as 97 MPH, and more importantly, his arm is pain-free. He throws that heater mixed in with a changeup and a slider that occasionally turns into a curveball. By the way, like most teams, the Cubs could use a lefty arm in the bullpen that strikes fear in opposing lineups.

Maybe it's this fall. Maybe it's next year. Danny Hultzen dreams of that day.

"That's the goal. That's the ultimate goal. As far as it being me constantly thinking about it, you can't operate that way. You can't go out and compete that way. But yeah, it would be a dream come true to be called up. I know I'm doing everything I can to give myself the best chance to do that. Hopefully it comes true."

He might be the best feel-good story in baseball. 

I'm saying there's a chance. 

 

Bulls must find their diamond in 2019 NBA Draft, no matter where it may be hiding

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USA TODAY

Bulls must find their diamond in 2019 NBA Draft, no matter where it may be hiding

Holding the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft is great, but finding a diamond can happen anywhere. Just pay attention to the NBA Playoffs. The teams that are thrilling us this spring have rosters featuring draft picks that most franchises missed on. They didn't all look like Zion Williamson. Actually, none of them did. They weren't that obvious and some weren't even first round selections. There were living outside the United States, hiding in mid-major schools and, in some cases, found via trade.

Bucks - Milwaukee built their team around the most stunning diamond in the rough. By now, we all know that 14 NBA franchises undervalued the Greek Freak, as Giannis Sina Ougko Antetokounmpo is now arguably the best player in the NBA. It's easy to see how he slipped through the cracks, having started playing the game in Greece just six years before getting drafted. The Bucks didn't miss him, though they've also teamed him with more talent that was once undervalued on draft day.

George Hill and Kris Middleton did plenty of damage against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Middleton was a second round pick by the Pistons, while Hill was the 26th overall pick out of little IUPUI. The Savvy Spurs later turned him into Kawhi Leonard. More on that guy later. The bottom line is this: Brook Lopez is Milwaukee's only player who was drafted in the top-10. Their bench features four former second round selections

Raptors - Toronto doesn't have a single player that was drafted in the top-14. Kawhi Leonard was traded by the Pacers to the Spurs and later to the Raptors, but he was drafted 15th overall in 2011. He just put up the highest scoring average in a playoff series since Michael Jordan and won it with an insane buzzer beater. Playing at San Diego State didn't matter. Stars come from all over and the same goes for role players. The Raptors start two second round guys, a 24th overall pick and a 27th.

Blazers - Did you see CJ McCollum in Game 7 against the Nuggets? There's a 10th overall pick taking over a game (from the same draft as Giannis). Nine teams passed on McCollum. He entered Sunday averaging more than 26 points per game in the Western Conference semifinals. With Portland star Damian Lillard struggling, McCollum put the Blazers on his back to the tune of  37 points and nine rebounds in the series' deciding game.

While Lillard was off in Game 7, he's been All-World in the playoffs. The Blazers found Dame at No. 6 in 2012. That's Weber State and Lehigh University carrying Portland to the Western Conference Finals.

Warriors - You don't build dynasties without hitting on some draft picks. Adding Kevin Durant was huge, but Golden State built their foundation with incredible draft success. Steph Curry was the 7th overall pick in 2009 out of Davidson. Klay Thompson went 11th out of Washington State in 2011. Draymond Green was a 2nd rounder (No. 35 overall) and a pick the Warriors got from the Nets.

Together that's a combined 50 times NBA general managers passed on the Warriors original 3. The rest is history.

If that's not enough? See Nikola Jokic (41st overall), Jimmy Butler (30th overall) and, to a lesser degree, even Joel Embiid (third overall).

The Bulls must find their diamonds no matter where the ping pong balls drop, wherever they might be hiding.

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Fly the W and fly high, number 31

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USA TODAY

Fly the W and fly high, number 31

Ten years ago, the Cubs finally retired a jersey number in honor of a pitcher. Make that two...

On May 3, 2009, the number 31 was raised at Wrigley Field for Hall-of-Famers Fergie Jenkins and Greg Maddux. Fergie's flag floats in left field and the Maddux flag ripples in right field. Here's the funny part: after his trade to the Cubs in 1966, Fergie only wore #31 because his number with the Phillies, 30, was already taken by Cubs pitcher Ken Holtzman. Fergie says he negotiated with longtime clubhouse attendant Yosh Kawano.

"I said, well is 31 available? Because I was born on the 13th and it's just the number reversed. I wore that number for almost 18 years."

Jenkins and Maddux both won the Cy Young award while pitching for the Cubs and Fergie thinks the similarities don't end there with his fellow #31.  "Control was very important. Getting ahead of the hitter. Don't walk anybody and you might have 6 or 7 strikeouts, but I pitched to contact a lot of times in certain games," Jenkins said.

He was durable and dominant. Fergie Jenkins won 20 or more games seven times in his career. He won 15 or more games a stunning 12 times over 19 seasons. But you want durable? Jenkins threw more than 200 innings in 13 different seasons and more than 300 innings five times.

"I ran all the time to keep the core of my body strong. I didn't try to overthrow or throw sidearm. I was a 3/4 arm pitcher. I threw 4 pitches - fastball, curveball, slider and change-up. I tried to stick to that routine and I was fortunate to never have a sore arm."

Fly the W and fly high, number 31.

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