- Full name Richard Joseph Hill
- Born 03/11/1980 in Boston, MA
- Profile Ht.: 6'5" / Wt.: 221 / Bats: L / Throws: L
- School Michigan
- Debut 06/15/2005
Drafted in the 4th round (112th overall) by the Chicago Cubs in 2002.
View Draft ReportHill was the same hot-and-cold pitcher (3-6, 3.50) this year that he was last year (3-5, 3.84), though his approach, stuff and command were consistently better. His fastball continued to hover in the 88-90 mph range, and he developed a harder curve to go with it. His curveball became his primary strikeout pitch--he fanned 98 in 69 innings, compared with 72 in 61 innings a year ago. He also cut his walks considerably. Hill went in the seventh round a year ago to the Angels as a draft-eligible sophomore and reportedly turned down $200,000. His improvement this season should bump him up into the top two or three rounds.
Organization Prospect Rankings
Hill always had a knockout curveball, but his inability to throw strikes (6.3 walks per nine innings) held him back in his first three seasons as a pro. The light turned on in 2005, which he credits to improved mental focus. Hill led the minors with 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings and made his major league debut. Hill's 12-to-6 curveball is often unhittable, and batters can't sit on it now that he can locate his 90-91 mph fastball. His changeup shows promise and would give him the third pitch he requires to remain a starter. He has cleaned up his delivery, which also improved his control. For all his progress, Hill didn't throw strikes when he joined the Cubs and big league hitters took advantage. He needs to trust and use his changeup more often. Hill will get a chance to crack Chicago's rotation in spring training, and he has the stuff to be a No. 2 starter. His curve is so good that he should at least become a dynamic lefty specialist.
As good as Renyel Pinto and Sean Marshall are, they can't match Hill's stuff. In fact, one Cubs official says Hill may have the best stuff in the organization. The problem is that he has little command of it. He has averaged 12.1 strikeouts but also 6.3 walks per nine innings as pro. The Cubs tried lowering his arm angle in 2004, from a high three-quarters to a true three-quarters, and put him in the bullpen for a while, with only minimal results. He led the Florida State League in walks, hit batters (19) and balks (five). With his 88-93 mph fastball and power 12-to-6 curveball, Hill can be untouchable when he finds the plate. Chicago thinks his control issues are more mental than physical, and the only solution is to keep putting him on the mound. He also has a promising changeup, but the Cubs have to force him to throw it. Hill will be 25 this season, and perhaps it's too much to expect him to command three pitches well enough to be a starter in the majors. His fastball/curveball combo would allow him to be a dynamic reliever if he could be trusted to throw strikes.
Drafted in the seventh round by the Angels in 2001 when he was sophomore-eligible, Hill turned them down to return to Michigan. Had Hill pitched enough innings to qualify, his 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings easily would have topped the minors in 2003. While he has no trouble missing bats, he has problems missing the strike zone. He has given up nearly as many walks as hits since turning pro, and his control was off so much last year that he had to be demoted from low Class A at age 23. Hill led the short-season Northwest League in strikeouts, thanks to his lively 91-93 mph fastball and knee-buckling curveball. But he's going to have to throw a lot more strikes to have a chance at being even a big league reliever. The Cubs think his control is more a mental than physical issue. Hill's pitches move so much that he gets himself in trouble by trying to paint the corners rather than challenging hitters. His changeup also needs improvement, but his command obviously is the key. He'll try to figure it out in low Class A this year.
Minor League Top Prospects
After leading the minors with an average of 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2005, Hill overmatched PCL hitters again in 2006. Better yet, after getting rocked with the Cubs last year and again this May, he finally established himself as a big leaguer. He went 6-3, 2.58 in the last two months with Chicago, including 78 strikeouts in 77 innings and a two-hit shutout of the Reds in September. Hill's curveball is a legitimate out pitch and ranked as the best breaking ball in the league. He has learned to locate his low-90s fastball, making it tougher to sit on his curveball, and has improved his command and ability to repeat his delivery over the last two seasons. He still needs to continue to improve the depth and fade of his changeup. "He dominated the entire season here and is as fine a lefthanded prospect as you'll see," Quade said. "He still needs to get a little more comfortable and add some confidence. The two pitches he has are outstanding, but he needs that third pitch in order to compete consistently as a starter in the big leagues."
Hill has always possessed electric stuff, but his bugaboo was command. Entering this season, he averaged 12.1 strikeouts and 6.3 walks per nine innings. But he finally harnessed his stuff this year, and it took him to the big leagues. His 10 Double-A starts included a pair of 14-strikeout, one-walk performances; a 13-strikeout, one-walk outing; and a 12-strikeout, two-walk game. His outstanding 12-6 curveball continued to befuddle hitters, and his 88-92 mph fastball exploded with late life at the plate. Hill continued to throw strikes in Triple-A but battled his control in the majors. Even if he can't consistently throw strikes, his curve alone should allow him to be an effective lefthanded reliever. The best-case scenario is that he becomes a No. 3 starter.
Hitters always have had difficulty making contact against Hill, who had just as much trouble finding the strike zone before 2005. After he cleaned up his delivery and improved his focus, his control improved dramatically. He went from never having pitched above Class A before the season to the majors in June. Hill easily led the minor leagues with an average of 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and he posted double-digit whiffs in six of his PCL starts. Though managers ranked Hernandez' curveball as the best in the league, Hill got Prince Fielder's vote and one scout described his bender as "defying gravity." Not that it would do them much good, but hitters can't sit on his curveball because he also has a 90-91 mph fastball. He also is working on a cutter and a changeup. Hill's control disappeared in each of his three stints with the Cubs, so he still has much to prove at that level. But his curveball is so devastating that the worst-case scenario is that he'd become a lefty specialist.
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Breaking Pitch in the Pacific Coast League in 2006
- Rated Best Curveball in the Chicago Cubs in 2006
- Rated Best Curveball in the Chicago Cubs in 2005
- Rated Best Breaking Pitch in the Florida State League in 2004