Lancaster, California —— At the top of this post, watch our scouting video of Colorado Rockies outfield prospect Sam Hilliard, taken from some of his at-bats during an April 2017 series for the Lancaster JetHawks against the visiting San Jose Giants.
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Sam Hilliard scouting report notes
A two-way player in college with a strong arm on the mound, the Colorado Rockies liked Sam Hilliard as an outfielder when they drafted him in 2015, and early returns this year in Lancaster—Hilliard’s third professional season—have that decision by the Rockies looking like a smart one. Hilliard is tearing up the California League through his first 30 games entering Wednesday night with a .376/.444/.624/1.067 slash line, and he’s doing it thanks to an impressive, and rare, combination of speed and power that could turn him into a star if all goes right.
Hilliard’s plus power is undeniable, and his good bat speed and phenomenal bat plane through the zone combine to provide him the ability to hit the ball very hard and very far with regularity. He’s a big kid at 6’5″ and 225 lbs., and that’ll help, too, as he one day should have a legitimate shot to hit 20+ home runs at the big league level. Couple that with exceptional speed, especially for his size, and Hilliard could become a very highly-coveted 20/20 guy. His foot-speed has proven to be a plus tool and his instincts on the bases are honed with controlled aggression and a natural knack for getting good reads. He stole 30 bases in Low-A last year and already has ten stolen bases through his first month here in the California League, to boot.
In the outfield, Hilliard still has the arm of a former pitcher, and it’s that strength and accuracy throwing from every outfield position that further makes him a valuable prospect. He can play all three positions thanks to his speed and range, but he’s probably best served in right field, where he can let his arm do the work as needed, or in left field as an everyday starter, rather than trying to man the spacious terrain in center field on a daily basis.
If there’s a knock on Hilliard right now, it’s his contact skills and strikeout issues. He whiffed 150 times in 127 games in 2016 with the Low-A Asheville Tourists for a 28.5% strikeout rate — a number concerning at the Low-A level for a product of a major college baseball program. He’s generally patient at the plate and he has the ability to draw a walk or two, so that’ll help him a bit, but the swing-and-miss in his game is pretty significant. Encouragingly, he’s cut that down somewhat early in 2017—just 27 strikeouts in 30 games, a 21.3% rate—but strikeouts will likely continue to be a part of his game as he struggles with off-speed pitches and may never build his hit-for-average tool quite as strongly as his power and speed tools should become.
Long term, Sam Hilliard is on the verge of a big season in Lancaster—or, if he continues at this torrid pace, a season split between High-A and Double-A after a midseason promotion. You get the sense that he’s on the verge of a massive breakout right now, and this summer should go a long way in determining whether he’s a fringe prospect who could one day challenge for a versatile fourth outfielder role, or a bona fide future slugger who pushes his way into the conversation for an everyday big league role in the starting lineup. Even more interesting would be whether the Rockies ever consider moving a guy like Hilliard to first base, knowing how crowded and young their outfield is, and knowing how they’ll eventually need to find someone long-term to play first.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit, of course—for now, enjoy the fireworks show he’s putting on in hitter-friendly Lancaster, because at this rate, he won’t be here for long.
Sam Hilliard scouting report: 140 characters or less
With three plus tools and versatility in the outfield, Sam Hilliard is one of the best prospects you probably don’t know about.
Sam Hilliard scouting report video
Here’s a look at our most recent Sam Hilliard baseball video, taken during a mid-April series for the JetHawks against the San Jose Giants:
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Sam Hilliard scouting report GIFs
In addition to our video clips, we broke out some Sam Hilliard baseball GIFs for a deeper look at his mechanics, etc.:
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