Breakout or Bust: Will The Rockies’ Sam Hilliard Live Up To The Hype?

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There’s a lot of chatter surrounding the Rockies’ Sam Hilliard, especially with the potential of MLB to institute a universal DH for 2020.  It makes sense, considering the biggest question facing him was AB, but just how high is the ceiling?  Can he be a true difference maker? 

We recently ranked him as the 18th best outfield prospect, giving him a “B” grade.  That doesn’t match the hype, as there are concerns about his ability to make consistent contact, though the grade and ranking came with a caveat:

“The question is if a change in his approach (reports have him cutting down his leg kick) will allow him to maintain that improved contact rate.  If he can, which doesn’t seem impossible, he has the combination of skills to be an offensive monster in Coors Field.”

The obvious concern comes from the strikeout rate, as you can tell by looking at these numbers the past few years:

  • Double-A (2018) – 15.6% SwStr%
  • Triple-A (2019) – 15.7% SwStr%
  • Majors (2019) – 11.0% SwStr%

Obviously the mark in the Majors would give an indication of improvement, though it came in 87 PA.  This spring he had struck out 12 times in 36 AB, casting a shadow of doubt over the alterations he’s made.

He showed a blend of power and speed in ’19, with 42 HR and 24 SB between Triple-A and the Majors last season.  Of course you can also question the sustainability of the power, considering these HR/FB marks:

  • Triple-A – 25.5%
  • Majors – 33.3%

That’s not to say that he can’t maintain the marks, though he had never shown quite that much before.  Playing in Colorado does help, though it doesn’t make it a given that he can replicate the mark.

Then there’s the question about playing time.  While he didn’t show an obvious split, could the Rockies bench the left-handed hitter against southpaws?  How about watching Hilliard fall victim to the typical issue when it comes to the Rockies, opting to sit their youngsters behind a slew of questionable veterans?  A universal DH would help, but it’s not like there aren’t other options:

  • Garrett Hampson – He proved he could be a difference maker at the top of the order, but a super-utility role was in his future (assuming he didn’t win the 2B job over Ryan McMahon).  However, could the Rockies utilize him as the DH in order to put their sparkplug in the lineup?
  • Ian Desmond – The aforementioned veteran, he could be an option in the outfield or at DH.
  • Raimel Tapia – Another youngster who has been waiting for an opportunity.
  • Colton Welker – Blocked by Nolan Arenado at 3B, could the fact that there is likely no minor league season expedite his arrival with the opportunity for AB at DH?

No one is questioning Hilliard’s upside, but he also isn’t a given.  There are questions about his ability to make contact as well as the number of AB.  Roll the dice for your bench, but don’t assume he’s going to be a lineup fixture.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, MILB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings:

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PositionLast Updated
Catcher04/13/20
First Baseman--
Second Baseman04/15/20
Shortstop04/17/20
Third Baseman04/20/20
Outfield04/24/20
Pitcher--

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