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Hilliard stays hot, leads Salt River to win

October 17, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- It took one of the Arizona Fall League's toolsier players to cool off the circuit's hottest team. Rockies No. 9 prospect Sam Hilliard drove in a first-inning run and scored the game-winner in the ninth as the Salt River Rafters edged the Mesa Solar Sox 2-1 on Tuesday

MESA, Ariz. -- It took one of the Arizona Fall League's toolsier players to cool off the circuit's hottest team. Rockies No. 9 prospect Sam Hilliard drove in a first-inning run and scored the game-winner in the ninth as the Salt River Rafters edged the Mesa Solar Sox 2-1 on Tuesday evening.
Hilliard is off to a hot start in Arizona, ranking fourth in the league with a .462 average after a 2-for-4 night. He said he was excited to get to end the year on a positive note after batting .262/.327/.389 with nine homers and 23 steals in Double-A, a comedown from posting an .847 OPS with 21 homers and 37 steals in Class A Advanced in 2017. He's working on adding a leg kick and is pleased with the initial results.
2018 Arizona Fall League rosters
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"I did it the last couple weeks of the season and it feels good, natural," said Hilliard, a 15th-round pick from Wichita State in 2015. "The thing with that is it's tough to be on time and I'm going to toy around with that and work on it, get with the hitting guys on my team and see how it feels."
Hilliard's rough year in Double-A belies his upside. He's more athletic than most 6-foot-5, 225-pounders, and his raw power, speed and arm strength all grade as plus tools. He originally was drafted as a pitcher, turning down the Twins as a 31st-rounder in 2014, when he showed an 88-92 mph fastball at Crowder (Mo.) JC.
Because Hilliard is a lefty-hitting right fielder with a broad base of tools, one Rockies official said there were similarities between him and Larry Walker.
"It's an honor to even be in the same sentence as that guy's name," Hilliard said. "He's one of the greatest Rockies to ever play and it's a huge honor for someone to say that."
The key for Hilliard will be making consistent contact, because his big frame naturally gives him a long swing. He struck out in a career-worst 31 percent of his plate appearances in Double-A this season.
Salt River improved to 3-3 with the victory, moving within a game of Mesa (4-2) in the AFL's East Division. Five Rafters pitchers combined on a six-hitter, with right-hander Luis Reyes (Nationals) starting with five scoreless innings and righty Justin Lawrence (Rockies) earning his first save with two strikeouts in the ninth.
Bryson Brigman (Marlins) and Tres Barrera (Nationals) also had two hits apiece for Salt River, and Pavin Smith (Diamondbacks) drove in Hilliard with the winning run by grounding a single off right-hander Brett Hanewich (Angels). Skye Bolt (Athletics) and Bobby Dalbec (Red Sox) each had two hits for the Solar Sox, with Bolt tripling in the seventh inning and scoring on a Dalbec single for their lone run.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.