Rockies rookie Hilliard showcases his speed

Outfielder legs out a triple, even shows elite speed on grounders

September 1st, 2019

DENVER -- put his most unexpected tool on display Saturday night.

Hilliard is listed at 6-foot-5 and 238 pounds, so power is expected -- and he homered in two of his first four games after debuting this week. But three times during the reeling Rockies’ 11-4 loss to the Pirates at Coors Field on Saturday night, he essentially reached elite speeds on offensive bolts, according to Statcast.

The most productive dash came on his fourth-inning triple, when he reached a top sprint speed of 29.7 feet per second. Hilliard then scored on ’s sacrifice fly. And Hilliard really flew on a pair of infield groundouts -- 30.7 feet per second on a grounder to first base in the second inning and 30.5 feet per second on a sixth-inning grounder to the mound.

Statcast considers 30 feet per second as elite.

“I didn’t really realize that I was a threat speed-wise until junior year of college, when they let me loose and be aggressive on the base paths,” said Hilliard, who was a combination pitcher/hitter at two two-year schools and at Wichita State before being drafted in the 15th round in 2015.

The Rockies -- who had home runs from and that weren’t nearly enough -- have dropped 11 of their past 13 games as a season of expected contending continues to circle the drain. The loss ended a 9-19 month, tied with 2003 for the worst August in their 27-season history. That follows a 6-19 July that was the worst month in club history. The Rockies’ 59 wins are tied with the Pirates for second-fewest in the National League.

But the Rockies have some assets. Speed is one, and Hilliard adds to it.

On their team sprint speed leaderboard, according to Statcast, the top five averages on maximum-effort runs belong to Hampson (29.9 feet per second), (29.2), (29.2), (28.5) and (28.1).

Hilliard does not have enough max-effort runs to be included on the leaderboard, but should he end up with enough chances he will be by far the biggest Rockies player toward the top of the list. The biggest among the current top five, at least according to media guide listing, is Story at 6-2 and 214 pounds.

Of the 13 players on the MLB-wide leaderboard of players whose average is at least 27.5 feet per second, not one is taller than 6-2 nor heavier than 210 pounds.

“I don’t want to get caught up in comparables, because a lot of times that’s unfair to the player,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “But he’s got the tools to be impactful. Now it’s going to be up to Sam whether they translate to a big league game over time.”

Speaking of fast, the Rockies were out of Saturday’s game in a hurry.

Kevin Newman homered on the first pitch off , who gave up six hits and five runs (four earned) in just two innings. Before Saturday, Melville’s two starts with a 0.75 ERA marked the only times in the previous 12 games that a Rockies starter had given up fewer than four earned runs.

“This definitely wasn’t one of my games where I was on point, ‘A’ game, but you still have to go out there and compete,” Melville said. “I didn’t do that as well today. So I have to prepare for my next start and make changes quicker. I wasn’t able to make changes quickly, and at this level you get exposed pretty quickly when that happens.”