How one exchange illustrates Hill's instant value to Bucs

February 20th, 2023
Justice delos Santos

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Johan Oviedo didn’t speak much. Mentees often don't, and he was content to listen. In this makeshift classroom, one which resided behind the bullpens at Pirate City, Oviedo hung on every morsel of wisdom that Rich Hill imparted.

Oviedo had just finished his first bullpen session of Spring Training. He hurled heaters. He spun sliders. As Oviedo, 24, worked, Hill, 42, watched. As soon as Oviedo finished up, Hill was right there, waiting to share his observations.

Before Oviedo could share his frustration that he couldn’t quite execute his breaking balls, Hill already began offering pointers. They talked about sliders, and Hill demonstrated how he would release the ball. Hill, in essence, compressed more than two decades of professional experience into just a couple minutes.

This exchange won’t be found in stat sheets or box scores. It won’t show up on Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball or Baseball Prospectus. But this exchange encapsulates the immense value that Hill, the oldest player in the Majors now, provides to Pittsburgh’s blossoming pitchers.

“One reason he’s been in the game so long is because of the type of human being he is,” Oviedo said. “He doesn’t have to do that. … For guys like me that are trying to get there and trying to be in the game as long as he is, it’s amazing. We have to appreciate that. It’s incredible how humble people like that are.

“Sometimes, you don’t expect that from people who have [spent] a long time in the game. So, when you get treated like that, I think it’s a blessing that we have a chance to hear guys like that speak about the game.”

To Hill, entering his 19th Major League season, these interactions come naturally. They stem from a love of the game and a love of analyzing its minutiae with other players. Hill enjoys the process of working with players and watching them grow; he wouldn’t do so if it didn’t feel genuine. 

“The fact that Rich is invested in everyone else and the fact that he's out there watching a young starter and then able to have a conversation about his process is definitely something we knew we were getting when we identified [him],” manager Derek Shelton said. “We're a couple days in, and it's already showed itself, which is outstanding."

Hill might possess the resumé and the seniority, but he views himself as a student, too. The southpaw has seen just about everything the game can offer, but his travels and paths don’t prevent him from keeping an open mind.

“The learning doesn’t stop, really,” Hill said. “It’s kind of a give and take on both ends.”

Hill remembers being in Oviedo’s shoes. When Hill attended his first Major League camp with the Cubs, he observed the habits of pitchers such as Greg Maddux, Kerry Wood, Glendon Rusch and Ryan Dempster. Each pitcher curated their methods with nuance, and Hill took notice.

“I had a really good experience in that camp in 2005 being around those guys and seeing how they went about their business, seeing the sense of urgency and how efficient they were -- and understanding why they were efficient,” Hill said. “You can be efficient, but there’s no plan behind it. They had a plan behind their efficiency.”

Oviedo is far from the only young starter in Pittsburgh who stands to benefit from Hill’s library of knowledge.

Roansy Contreras only has 22 games under his belt. Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker have pitched in only two full Major League seasons. There’s also Quinn Priester and Mike Burrows, the Pirates’ No. 3 and No. 8 prospects, respectively, who stand to earn their first callups this season. In time, maybe they’ll all have their individual moments to learn from Pittsburgh’s sage.

“At the end of the day, I want guys to get the most out of their career for them because that’s really ultimately, at the end of the day, why we’re here: to help each other,” Hill said. “The more times we can do that, the better off we’re going to be as a whole.”