CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. | Danny Hultzen was up in the count 3-1 with the bases loaded Wednesday against Richmond when saw a fastball over the plate and knocked it toward left-center. Center fielder Robby Massar slipped, and the ball rolled to the wall with Hultzen in a dead sprint.
The junior from Bethesda didn’t even think about stopping at third, and the throw to the plate wasn’t in time. The inside-the-park grand slam, a rare enough feat on its own, was even more remarkable because Hultzen, Virginia’s designated hitter, also is the best pitcher in college baseball.
Two-way stars don’t come around often, yet they seem to follow Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor wherever he goes. When he was a pitcher at Creighton in the early 1990s, he had to face Darren Dreifort, an All-American at Missouri Valley Conference rival Wichita State.
The future Los Angeles Dodger was among the nation’s best on the mound and at the plate, but the two decades since have produced precious few true two-way stars.
“They are special players you don’t get the opportunity to coach very often,” O’Connor said. “At this level of baseball, you just don’t find the athletes very often that can do both of them.”
Which makes O’Connor particularly blessed. Hultzen, a former prep star at St. Albans, is making a strong case to become the Cavaliers’ third ACC Player of the Year. If he does, he’ll join Joe Kashansky (2004) and Sean Doolittle (2006). All three players excelled as pitchers and hitters while playing for O’Connor at UVa., but the coach said Hultzen’s pitching sets him apart.
“We’ve been fortunate here in the last eight years to have three and have a lot of success with it, and Danny is at the top of that list,” O’Connor said. “His numbers speak for themselves. I’d say Sean Doolittle was the best hitter, but Sean Doolittle couldn’t pitch like this guy could.
“They are different because of their value to the team, but as a prospect Danny is hands down the best one.”
Hultzen is 8-0 with a 1.17 ERA and leads the ACC with 99 strikeouts. At the plate, he’s hitting .329 with 19 RBI. O’Connor said he’ll get more at bats as a designated hitter as the Cavs enter the stretch run.
The 2009 ACC Freshman of the Year and 2010 Pitcher of the Year said he’s cherishing the opportunity to do it all, knowing his hitting days could be numbered if he’s drafted into the American League.
“I feel very lucky to be able to do that,” Hultzen said. “We do pitchers’ [batting practice] and it’s a big event for the pitchers, and I think about how I get to do that every day and it’s very cool.”