Relief prospect Hill brings the heat in spring debut

February 25th, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed relief prospect Jaden Hill’s fastball reached 99.2 mph on Saturday afternoon. Was it his first trip on the fast lane to the Majors?

The Rockies drafted Hill in the second round in 2021 out of LSU, even though he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow that season. Last year in his first pro season with High-A Spokane, there were hot fastballs and hot stretches, but there was also shoulder soreness and struggles.

Hill, 24, began a transition to the bullpen during the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 3.18 ERA and struck out 13 in 11 1/3 innings. During Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the D-backs, Hill pitched a clean seventh with two strikeouts. His 99.2 mph sinker blew past J.J. D'Orazio on his first K. He didn’t have a fastball slower than 98.4 mph, and he mixed in a low-to-mid 80s changeup.

“This plays well to my velocity,” Hill said after pushing 100 mph in a live batting practice earlier in camp. “As a reliever, I don’t have to hold back as much. That’s going to make me effective. I can pitch up in the zone more. I’ve added the slider, and I’m going to use that a lot more. The changeup, I’ll use it as I need it.”

Sounds like a plan that could get him to Denver sooner rather than later.

“It’ll probably help to a quicker ascent to potentially the big leagues, and I think he’s taken to it,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We’ll check as we go on the resilience as we go through the season -- the ability to bounce back as a reliever. The stuff is solid. It’s a really good velocity fastball and good feel for secondary pitches.”

A football/baseball standout at Ashdown (Ark.) High School, Hill played less than a handful of summer tournaments and he didn’t even become a starting pitcher until his senior year. So Hill, after underwhelming numbers at Spokane (0-9, 9.48 ERA in 16 games), is eager for an all-baseball education, from whatever vantage point.

“Everything is new to me,” Hill said. “The success is new, as well as the failures and the lessons within it all.

“When I got here, my only goal was to get healthy and learn. I felt like I was a couple steps behind. I had limited innings at LSU. Wherever they wanted me, ‘Yes, sir. Give me the information and let me roll.'”

• Righty Peter Lambert, coming off a full and healthy 2023 after finally moving past a 2020 Tommy John surgery, started the Rockies’ split-squad 5-1 victory over the Athletics in Mesa, Ariz., with two hitless innings. Two walks represented his only blemishes.

• Switch-hitting first baseman-outfielder Michael Toglia, who bounced between the Majors and Triple-A last season, launched a solo shot off Athletics righty Osvaldo Bido. Toglia batted .189 with all four of his homers as a lefty swinger last season.

• A scary moment occurred in the third inning against the D-backs, when third baseman Ryan McMahon stayed on the ground after making a leaning throw to second base. McMahon, however, stayed in for another at-bat.

“And I took a really good swing,” he said. “I hit a changeup today. I hit a fastball today. For me, my goal this spring is fewer swings and misses, more consistency with the barrel.”

• Righty Noah Davis went two innings and gave up a run on three hits and one walk against the D-backs. The overall task for Davis, who is trying to make the rotation but could be a solid depth piece with Triple-A Albuquerque, is being efficient. However, he noted that because it’s so early, he asked catcher Jacob Stallings to call everything.

“I really wanted to make sure that we got all five pitches into the mix,” said Davis, whose 40 pitches in two innings is a figure that must improve. “Maybe we made some pitches we wouldn’t otherwise use. If you’re out there for 100 pitches, you might save some for the second time through the lineup.”

• Lefty prospect Joe Rock’s first Cactus League Spring Training started rough -- five runs (three earned), with four hits, a strikeout and a walk in two innings. He also didn’t bust it to home plate on a short wild pitch, and it cost a run.

“We didn’t help him on defense, but the fastball was 93 -- which is the expectation of velocity -- and he threw some good sliders,” Black said. “That was a good one for Joe to get started, even though the results weren’t great.”