Sam Hilliard: Rockies 2019 Minor League Player Of The Year
Outfielder Sam Hilliard continued his steady rise in the Rockies’ system this season at Triple-A Albuquerque, setting career-highs in doubles, home runs, RBIs and runs scored, all while exhibiting his across-the-board skills. And Hilliard again struck out often.
With just under two weeks remaining in the Pacific Coast League season, Hilliard, 25, who bats and throws lefthanded, was hitting .261/.331/.554 with 33 home runs, 96 RBIs, 103 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. He was leading the PCL in runs, third in homers, fifth in RBIs and topped the league with a career-high 159 strikeouts.
In 121 games, his strikeout was 29.7 percent, down from 31.2 percent at Double-A Hartford in 2018.
Late last season, Hilliard incorporated a leg kick in his swing. Farm director Zach Wilson said it enabled Hilliard to stay back a little longer, gave him a bit more time to recognize pitches, added leverage to his swing and helped him keep his bat in the strike zone longer.
When Hilliard can get his front foot up and down on time, Wilson said, "He’s able to hit any pitch with authority.” And there have been times this season when Hilliard has done that for extended periods.
"I keep saying if he’s able to cut it down by just 10 strikeouts a month, he might be one of the top prospects in the game,” Wilson said.
Hilliard, taken in the 15th round out of Wichita State in 2015, is a plus defender in left and right field and very capable in center field. He has a plus arm, throws with accuracy and his first-step quickness and speed are assets on defense.
In Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, the Rockies already have three left-handed hitting outfielders. Regardless, Hilliard is an intriguing prospect.
"The power is pole to pole,” Wilson said. "He recognizes he doesn’t have to try to do too much. And when he’s timed up and just takes an effortless swing, it’s dangerous. Very rarely does he try to overswing or really gear up because he knows he doesn’t have to do that.”
— Middle infielder Terrin Vavra hit .318/.409/.489 for low Class A Asheville in 102 games with 10 home runs, 52 RBIs and 18 stolen bases before a back strain ended his season in early August.
— Double-A Hartford corner infielder Colton Welker returned in mid-August after missing 29 games due to a left shoulder strain. Before the injury, Welker was hitting .257/.311/.415 with nine homers and 51 RBIs in 89 games.