The Colorado Rockies have done well in the outfield thanks to players like Charlie Blackmon and David Dahl but more help could be on the way in the form of Sam Hilliard. The small-school slugger had an outstanding 2019 and is the next outfield option in the event of injury.
Sam Hilliard Prospect Report
Hilliard is a 6’5″, 238-pound left-handed bat originally from Mansfield, Texas. He began his collegiate career at two smaller colleges before transferring to Wichita State as a two-way player in 2015. He pitched 60 innings that year with a 6.15 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 31 walks. The team decided to move him to the field full time where Hilliard started to blossom. That year he hit .335/395/546 with eight home runs in just 243 plate appearances. He did strike out almost 19 percent of the time but there were enough positives to make him Colorado’s 15th round selection in the 2015 Draft. The Minnesota Twins tried to draft Hilliard in the 31st round in 2014 out of Crowder College before he transferred to WSU.
Minor League Progression
Hilliard has steadily progressed through Colorado’s minor league system. He had a .277/349/480 hitting line in five minor league seasons before getting a brief promotion to the majors last year. Colorado’s minor league parks are some of the most offensive-oriented in the country but there is some definite power. The combination of environment, the ball, and Hilliard’s development finally helped him hit 29 doubles and 39 home runs for AAA Albuquerque in 2019.
His most complete season was indeed last season. Hilliard hit .262/335/558 with 35 homers. He also stole 22 bases and collected 10 outfield assists. He truly did a little bit of everything in the high-octane Pacific Coast League. Hilliard did strikeout in 29 percent of his plate appearances but walked 10 percent of the time. The ball used last season helped boost offense but Hilliard showed off all of his skills at the same time. It was enough to get Hilliard 87 plate appearances where he hit .273/356/649 with seven homers.
Hilliard is Top Outfield Prospect
Hilliard is Colorado’s top outfield prospect thanks to a combination of power and speed. His career minor league slugging percentage of .480 is a great figure and he has over 120 stolen bases as well. Hilliard has at least 20 stolen bases in four out of five seasons in the Rockies’ farm system. He also has ok potential as an outfielder but he doesn’t have the experience after changing positions that his peers do.
Hilliard’s biggest issue at this time is strikeouts. Many players strike out a great deal in today’s offensive environment but Hilliard’s career rate of almost 28 percent is a glaring weakness. It makes some sense given his overall lack of experience as a hitter but good MLB pitchers will exploit it often. However, he also has almost a 10 percent walk rate. That offsets part of the negative value for striking out. Hilliard is an extreme pull hitter with over 40 percent of his hits in 2019 going pull side. That makes him a prime candidate for the shift when he reaches the majors. Overall, Hilliard has the tools to be a quality platoon outfielder and a prime example of three true outcomes in modern baseball.
What to Expect from Hilliard in 2020
Hilliard probably would have been back in AAA to start the season. He was only batting .176/222/441 in 36 spring plate appearances before play was suspended. It feels very unlikely there is minor league baseball in 2020. A second spring to jumpstart players also changes the landscape for players on the line between the majors and AAA. If there is no minor league season but major league rosters are modified to accommodate extra players, Hilliard will be on that expanded roster. He is the team’s best outfield prospect with very little left to prove in the minors.
He would be a strong backup to the team’s other left-handed sluggers like Blackmon and Dahl. Hilliard could also sub for Ian Desmond or Yonathan Daza in a right/left platoon. There are very real concerns about the strikeout issues and defensive limitations will hold him back but he’s produced at every stage of his career. Spending time around Colorado’s veterans will help him develop skills more quickly too. His talent is very exciting and deserving of a real shot at the major league level.
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