Elijha Hammill Departs Canada To Pursue Draft Aspirations
Elijha Hammill was struggling at home in Oakville, Ont.
The 17-year-old switch-hitting infielder could see the end of winter coming, after a pandemic-shortened season in which he was only able to play a handful of exhibition games, but there was no end in sight to his province’s lockdown protocols and stay-at-home order. He’d spent almost the entirety of his offseason hitting off a tee into a net, fielding balls against the wall of his parent’s garage and lifting weights in their basement, and it had grown tiresome.
“As a Canadian, you’re stuck inside through the winters because of cold weather, and when it’s time to get outside, you’re ready to get outside,” Hammill said. “But when you’re in lockdown and you’re shut down and you’re not supposed to be on a diamond or playing with your teammates, it drives you a bit crazy.
“Nothing was going on and this is a big, important year. I felt like I’ve got to get out, I’ve got to be playing right now. … I needed a team to join and play with because I’ve got to be playing games, showing myself, and raising my stock from where I sit.”
Like many young Canadians looking ahead to the draft in July, the Utah commit quickly realized that any spring opportunities at home would be limited, and in the fortunate position of being able to head south, that’s what he did. For over three months now, Hammill has been getting in his time on the diamond in the United States, first with Georgia Premier Academy—alongside Canadian teammate and No. 302-ranked draft prospect Mitch Bratt—and now in MLB’s Draft League, with the West Virginia Black Bears.
During his stint in Georgia, Hammill took some time to run through his strengths and areas of development, completing a scouting report on himself using a form previously utilized by MLB’s scouting bureau. The young infielder did not have a great familiarity with the scouting scale, but he took a stab at it, offering several large jumps from his present grades to his future grades, with some future Hall of Fame predictions.
“I love this game, so I’ll do whatever it takes to be the best at it,” Hammill said. “Obviously work hard, outwork everyone. I’m not just playing against the other team, I’m up against guys across the country or in other countries, so I have to bust my butt, take advantage of every moment I have, and make sure I’m taking care of my body and performing to the best of my ability every single day.”
In addition to grading himself out and defining the particulars based on the report, Hammill broke down each of his tools further, outlining what makes him successful now and what will continue to help him in the future.
“I have faced big league pitching with Team Canada and I’ve done pretty well,” Hammill said. “I’m a base-hit guy. I don’t hit many home runs but I connect the barrel to the ball really often … It starts with my approach, not chasing bad pitches and going after ones I can really drive. Good discipline, choosing my pitches correctly, and doing a lot of tee work and front toss, working the other way.
“I tend to stride and open myself up on both sides, so one thing I’ve really got to work on is staying closed and shooting the ball the other way. I have fast enough hands to really get around it and pull the ball, but I get beaten more on outside pitches than inside pitches, so I’ve got to work on staying closed and driving the ball the other way.”
Earlier this year, the No. 497-ranked draft prospect made some alterations to his stance and his starting position in the batter’s box as a means to an end.
“Usually I’m up in the box so when the pitch comes in I’m able to get it out there before it dies into the dirt or whatever may happen, so I can really pull the ball and crush it,” he said. “But now I’m staying deeper into the box so I have more time to see the ball and I’m able to load, wait a bit longer, and drive it the other way.
“In order for me to get better at what I’m trying to do, I’ve been working a bunch off the tee, working the other way, trying to get my stance to go straight back to the pitcher. When I stride, instead of opening my foot up, I’ll go straight towards the pitcher, keep myself closed, and then fire the hands through. I’ll do that off the tee for a couple rounds from both sides and then we turn that into soft toss, making sure I’m staying balanced and not opening myself up, and from soft toss we’ll go to overhand.”
From one side of the plate to the other, Hammill always does the same work and goes through an identical routine. Putting it into practice, he finds more similarities on both sides than anything, though one or two things set them apart.
“The only difference is my stance, which I’ve tried making the same,” Hammill said. “With my right side, I’m completely in line with my feet. On the left side, I tend to open up my stance a little bit and that’s because of the habit of me closing myself off. One thing I can work on both sides is striding towards the pitcher instead of closing myself off or opening up.
“From the left side, I’m more of a contact guy, I’m able to connect for base hits and make good contact, and on the right side, I have a lot more power.”
Hammill enjoys running, something he gets from his mom, who ran track in college. He’s been on the track since he was 12 years old, and since working with Performance Lab in Toronto in his offseasons, he’s expanded his running prowess to movements more suited for baseball.
“We do a lot of drills for agility and speed,” the 5-foot-11, 200-pound infielder said. “We were doing a lot of hurdle drills, which focused on the explosiveness of getting off the ground and being quick with my feet. I’ve been doing continuous broad jumps, getting off the ground and trying to be explosive and quick at the same time. And (in season) I’m doing sprints every single day, and … for overall speed I’ve been jogging on the warning track every single day, to get that feeling of running longer distances. So it’s a lot of drills, hip rotations and band work, just to open up my hips and stay flexible and in good shape, lots of stretching, and a lot of running.”
“Right now I struggle with understanding how much time I have, and really counting the hops, as a young player,” Hammill said. “At second base, I should understand I have lots of time and the throw is not that difficult—it’s just a short, accurate throw I need to make. At shortstop, you have to be quicker, but usually from second I throw down from the side which isn’t the best option for getting lots of velo, so when I go to shortstop it’s automatic to throw from the top and I get more velo from that.”
In his own evaluation of his fielding, Hammill jumped four full grades from his present to future ability defensively. He knows he has significant improvements to make and is looking forward to trying to get there.
“For me to make that big jump, it’s a matter of taking lots of reps, counting the hops, and keeping my feet underneath me,” Hammill said. “It’s something I’ve really got to work on because without good feet and working towards the ball, you’re not going to be that successful of an infielder. So timing, footwork, and building up arm strength to have a strong and accurate throw.”
“I don’t have my adult strength yet,” Hammill said. “Working with Performance Lab and all the work I do on my own, I’m going to get a lot stronger and hopefully bigger as well. I’ve started to use a trainer bat, which is a longer and heavier bat to help with bat speed and control of my regular bat. I always warm up with it, which will help me fire my hands through and have more control. Once I pick up my bat after using my trainer bat, it feels like a twig. So that will help with strength in the forearms, and with overall bat speed, I’ll have a much better swing and I’ll make better connections with the ball and drive it much further.”
“Strength building, and just taking care of it,” Hammill said. “I don’t ice a lot but taking care of my body, making sure I’m getting stronger is important. A lot of shoulder exercises, J-band work as well. Even when I’m on my bed doing nothing, I’ll search for drills I could be doing to help increase the strength in my arm.”