Hill fully embracing new role, showing signs of lights-out reliever

March 11th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It may not be long until Rockies right-handed relief prospect can face a star and be able to fall back on more than just facing the guy in a video game. On Sunday, the Brewers’ Christian Yelich came to life.

Hill struck him out on six pitches in the fourth inning of the Rockies’ 3-1 victory.

“That was pretty cool,” Hill said. “I played against him on MLB The Show multiple times, so it was fun getting to actually face him. He’s a great hitter, and I’m glad my stuff played.”

Hill, 24, a second-round Draft pick out of LSU in 2021, could be facing the human form of stars in short order. Hill underwent Tommy John surgery before the Draft and struggled through back and right shoulder pain -- and inconsistency -- last year as a starter at High-A Spokane (0-9, 9.48 ERA). But neither he nor the Rockies wavered from the belief that he would reach his potential, and a switch to the bullpen could quicken his path.

A wider audience could have a chance to see how close Hill is to his hopeful destination during Saturday’s Spring Breakout game against the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (5:10 p.m. MDT/4:10 MST). The game, which will be shown on MLB Network, is part of a series of showcase games of prospects from all MLB teams from March 14-17.

This spring, Hill has ridden the fast lane -- and not just because his fastball has remained in the 97-99 mph range. In four appearances, each for one inning, Hill has struck out six, held opponents to a .077 batting average and yielded just one run, a home run by the Mariners’ Josh Rojas on March 1.

The Rockies kept Hill, their No. 28 prospect per MLB Pipeline, through the first two rounds of camp cuts to take a longer look.

Hill showed the left-handed-hitting Yelich all sinkers, ranging from 97.7-99 mph. He came with the same sinkers to the righty vets before and after Yelich, Rhys Hoskins (grounder to third) and Willy Adames (fly to right field).

Hill also is taking advantage of independent study time off the mound.

“Tyler Kinley really sat me down because he’s really big on having a routine, and he was able to give me a lot of good information that I’ve taken,” said Hill, who said he also has spoken with Justin Lawrence and fellow high Draft pick Riley Pint, who also is transitioning to the bullpen.

Manager Bud Black said he continues to monitor how Hill rebounds from outings. Black, who wants Hill to pitch two innings in a game this spring, identified Hill and outfield prospect Jordan Beck (MLB Pipeline No. 81/Rockies No. 4) as having the “self-assurance” to hang in big-league camp as non-roster players early in their careers.

As a starter, Hill often flashed tough-to-hit stuff one inning, then struggled the next. The new role should take care of that. Hill also had nagging shoulder, back and general muscle issues -- possibly a product of ramping up from college to pro ball, having his collegiate career interrupted by the 2020 pandemic, and from being a football/baseball player who did not pitch many high school innings.

“You look at Marinao Rivera, you look at Trevor Hoffman, a lot of guys were starters in the Minors. It’s a great development tool because you get a feel for your pitches and figure out what works for you,” Rockies pitching coach Darryl Scott said. “His college experience, starting and relieving, I don’t think it’s a tough adjustment.

“I’ll watch video, see how you’re moving and look at the analytics, but when you walk through that door you get a clean slate. And he’s got something special.”

Before going to the Arizona Fall League, where he began his relief transition, Hill worked with Rockies athletic trainers Rob Mahoney, Maranda Briney and Arnaldo Gomez on a roadmap to make physical improvements.

“It’s all connected -- one big chain,” Hill said. “I’ve been told some of the injuries could stem from an ankle sprain that I had in eighth grade. It’s up to me to take as much information as I can, put it together and keep myself healthy.”

Feltner back in control
Right-hander Ryan Feltner held the Brewers to one run and fanned three in three innings, as a nice bounce-back from giving up five in one inning against the Giants in his last outing.

“I’m just trying to get everything dialed in, and wasn’t worried about the other team today,” Feltner said. “But it did feel like a good lineup -- one that was close to their regular lineup.”