Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
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No. 12, Sam Hilliard (0.6 rWAR)
Sam Hilliard, who debuted on August 27th and will retain rookie eligibility for 2020, was the Rockies’ second most valuable outfielder outfielder in 2019. That says something about how the season went for the Rockies (bad). It says something about Sam Hilliard (good). And it says something about sample size (neither nor).
Hilliard entered the 2019 season as a fringe prospect. Indeed, his number 14 PuRP ranking was part of the “fringe bat” part of the list. He’s big, athletic, fast, and has a lot of raw power. But he also has a lot of swing and miss in his game, and there were a lot of questions of whether or not he’d be able to handle major league pitching. Strikeouts were a particular concern. He hit for a lot of power in Triple-A, knocking 35 home runs and slugging .558, but even that had to be taken with a grain of salt given the environment and juiced ball. His adjusted batting line was seven percent above league average.
On August 27th Sam Hilliard made his major league debut against the Boston Red Sox, playing center field. It was memorable. He went 1-for-3, and hat one hit was a home run. Hilliard hit six more home runs the rest of the season, ending with seven dongs and a .273/.356/.649 batting line. Hilliard even hit a home run off of Milwaukee’s Josh Hader in a clutch situation in late September. After Nolan Arenado, Hilliard was the Rockies’ second best hitter in September.
Even Hilliard’s strikeouts didn’t look like a major concern. He struck out 26.4% of the time, which was less than his 29.3% strikeout rate in Triple-A. If he maintains a strikeout rate around there, he should be fine. He also couples that with a decent walk rate that nears about 10%.
The sample size is still small though. He could find himself more exposed to major league pitching come April 2020. At the very least, Hilliard has certainly earned the opportunity see what he can do out of the gate. Hilliard is the Rockies’ third best outfield option heading into 2020. To protect Dahl and hide Blackmon, Hilliard seems the ideal center fielder for the Rockies’ situation. He may turn out to still be that fringy bat, but he’s already shown that he has enough upside to be much more.