A's 16th-Rounder Hurlbutt Overcoming the Odds

Oakland A's 16th-round pick Dustin Hurlbutt overcame Tommy John surgery to reach his goal of being drafted by a major-league team.

It was the most exciting oil change of Dustin Hurlbutt’s life.

The Oakland A’s 16th-round pick wasn’t sitting in front of a computer during Day Three of the MLB Draft. Instead, he was out taking care of everyday activities when his life changed forever.

“I was actually getting my oil changed,” Hurlbutt said. “I was following the MLB Draft Tracker on Twitter. [A’s area scout] Yancy [Ayres] texted me and asked if I was watching the draft. I said, ‘I’m actually watching it on Twitter right now.’ I looked and I didn’t see my name. Then I scrolled back to the top and my name popped up.”

For Hurlbutt, being selected in the draft was the realization of a life-long dream.

“It was just pure excitement,” he said. “It was just an unbelievable feeling. I was with my mother and it was pure excitement. It was incredible.”

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Hurlbutt pushed his way onto the draft radar with a standout 2015 season for Tabor (Kan.) College. The right-hander helped to lead the Bluejays to the NAIA World Series. He was an All-KCAC selection and he won 10 games. In 88.1 innings, Hurlbutt posted a 3.16 ERA and he struck-out 106 batters. He walked 33 and held opposing batters to a .225 average.

The 2015 season was Hurlbutt’s first at Tabor, and the Bluejays won a school-best 54 games during the season.

“It was a great experience. We had a great team. We had great chemistry,” Hurlbutt said. “We all really wanted to win and we all had the same goal. We ended up reaching our goal and getting to the World Series. We all worked really hard and came together. We all bonded really well. It all fell into place and we ended up reaching our goal.”

Hurlbutt said he heard from Ayres and the A’s about four weeks before the draft and that it wasn’t until he was pitching in the post-season that he started to see scouts in the stands. He is just the third player in Tabor history to be selected in the MLB draft and he is the school’s highest-round draft pick.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hurlbutt said of being drafted. “It just shows that all of the hard work paid off. It feels great to get that recognition.”

Hurlbutt is very appreciative of the time he spent at Tabor.

“It’s a great atmosphere at Tabor,” he said. “They are really focused on baseball. It’s a smaller school, so there’s not much to do. Not much of a nightlife there, so I could really focus on school and on baseball. It was a really good atmosphere to focus on working towards what I wanted to reach.”

Hurlbutt’s journey to Tabor and eventually to professional baseball wasn’t without significant obstacles. Hurlbutt began his collegiate career at Coffeyville Community College. After two seasons at CCC, Hurlbutt landed a spot with Division II Northeastern (Okla.) State for 2014. Unfortunately, Hurlbutt’s career at Northeastern State ended before it really began. He injured his elbow before the start of the season and had Tommy John surgery on October 8, 2013.

Hurlbutt sat out the entire 2014 season as he rehabbed his elbow. He credits his trainer for helping him through the arduous rehab process.

“Every step of the process, he was there, so he made it really easy for me,” Hurlbutt said.

Hurlbutt began his throwing program over the summer and carried that into the fall. During that time, he transferred to Tabor, where he was given the opportunity to start. Hurlbutt earned the starting nod for the first game of the season. He was nervous to step back on the mound after more than a year away, but after that start, his anxiety melted away and he was able to concentrate only on pitching.

“That [first start] was a big confidence booster,” he said. “After that first game of the season, I knew everything was going to be okay. I felt great and I knew I was going to be able to work towards pitching a full season.”

Hurlbutt says his best pitch is his change-up, a pitch that has been a staple of the A’s pitching program for the past two decades. He said it didn’t take long for him to get his feel back for all of his pitches.

“It all came back very quickly actually,” Hurlbutt said. “The most nerve-racking part was that it’s always in the back of your head that you don’t want to get injured again, and I didn’t want to push it to the limits but at the same time, I didn’t want to sit back and not give it everything I had. After that first game of the season, I knew everything was going to be okay. That made it a lot easier.”

Hurlbutt says his philosophy on the mound is simple: focus on each pitch and try not to think too far ahead.

“I really just want to go out there and compete to the highest level,” Hurlbutt said.

The A’s officially announced that they had agreed to terms with Hurlbutt on Saturday and he said that he is headed to Arizona on Sunday. He is looking forward to making the jump to professional baseball.

“I’m just excited to play with some of the best players in the world,” he said. “Everyone is playing at the highest level. I’m excited to get up there and join them and work really hard and get to the next goal.”

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