'Fearless' Hill pays price for catch at wall

Tigers rookie outfielder sustains right shoulder sprain; Hinch: 'We'll see'

June 10th, 2021

DETROIT -- 's teammates have seen it before, the highlight catch on a ball seemingly over his head. That doesn’t make catches like Wednesday night’s grab in a 9-6 loss to the Mariners humdrum, but it doesn’t make them surprising for the Tigers’ No. 30 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“I've seen him do it a bunch of times in the Minor Leagues,” said Detroit catcher Jake Rogers, who said he had the best view in the house. “He's made some unbelievable catches, over the shoulder, up against the wall, robbing homers. I knew he had a chance as soon as the ball was hit in the outfield.”

The way Hill can play the outfield, the suspense wasn’t whether he would get to Kyle Seager’s drive to deep center, but whether he would hold on. Then, after watching Hill crash into Comerica Park’s center-field wall, the suspense was waiting for him to get back up.

That, too, has been unfortunately familiar. After Hill left the game with a right shoulder sprain, the wait turns to the severity of the injury and the timetable for his return.

“Coming out of the game, it’s always concerning,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I didn’t love what he was describing coming off the field. I was trying to keep his spirits up. He was pretty down. My history with players, when they’re a little fearful like that, it never feels good. We’ll see.”

Detroit pulled Daz Cameron, the club’s No. 9 prospect, from his game at Triple-A Toledo after five innings as a precaution to have him ready for a callup if needed with the rubber match of this series against Seattle on Thursday afternoon.

Statcast projected Seager’s first-inning drive off Casey Mize to travel 429 feet. Hill covered 96 feet to get to the wall, then he went flying into it to make the grab, holding on despite a hard impact.

Unfortunately, Hill’s right shoulder seemed to take the brunt of the impact. He stayed on the ground as the crowd roared in approval of the catch. Hill eventually got up on his own power and walked back to the dugout with Hinch, while moving his arms. Akil Baddoo replaced him in center field.

Like Rogers, Mize is no stranger to Hill catches. Hill made one for Erie in 2019 to help preserve Mize’s no-hitter in his Double-A debut against Altoona.

“He is unbelievable out there,” Mize said, “so not a surprise that he caught the ball. He’s very impressive, and it was an amazing catch, and I was definitely relieved. But then to see him down on the warning track for a while definitely stinks, that he was injured on such an amazing play. So definitely hoping the best for him.”

Hill has been regarded as a standout defender since joining the Tigers' system as a first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, producing highlight grabs as far back at Class A West Michigan. His fearlessness to go flying into outfield walls and fences has allowed him to make seemingly improbable grabs, but that courage has also subjected him to injuries that slowed his progression. He had six stints on the injured list from 2015-17, including Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in '16.

Hill’s recent health has been a big factor in his development, allowing him to get regular at-bats and find a consistent approach at the plate. The Tigers called him up last week and have been giving him an extended look as their primary center fielder; Wednesday marked his fifth consecutive start in center.

“He’s very, very special out there,” Mize said. “He can cover some ground and he’s fearless, and we saw that tonight.”

That fearlessness included three crashes into outfield walls for catches during a six-game series for Triple-A Toledo last month at Indianapolis. Hill bounced off an electronic board in the left-field wall for a grab one night, then slid through the bullpen mounds into a low wall in front of the stands down the left-field line for another grab the next day.

“I’ve seen that kid run down some balls, run into the wall, throw the ball in, lay there for a little bit and then get up,” Rogers said. “He’s a tough guy. It’s just crazy. Hope he’s OK.”