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Sam Hilliard remains a mystery for the Rockies

They jury’s still out on young outfielder

Welcome to the 2020 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2020. 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.

★ ★ ★

No. 20, Sam Hilliard: 0.0 rWAR

If the 2020 baseball season taught us anything... it’s that we didn’t know anything before it, and we certainly don’t know anything after it.

Take Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard, for instance. Based on a promising debut in 2019 (where he mashed seven homers in just 27 games) expectations for the 26-year-old were through the roof entering the season. In fact, he literally had some calling him Charlie Blackmon 2.0.

Back in July, Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan told the Denver Post, “I’m a big fan of Sam’s. He wants to be great. He doesn’t want to just be a big-leaguer, he wants to be a great big-leaguer.”

Because of his potential power from the left side, Rockies Manager Bud Black agreed.

“I’m going to echo ‘Mags.’ We are bullish on Sam,” Black also told the Denver Post. “We really like his potential, long-term, and even here in the short term. He’s made some great strides over the last year and it’s good to see… He’s got as much power as anybody on our team.”

But those expectations never came to fruition in 2020. It was literally an up-and-down season for Hilliard. There were flashes of that 2019 power — he hit six home runs and two doubles — but he also got sent down to the alternate site in September, mainly because his playing time dwindled after Colorado acquired Kevin Pillar at the trade deadline.

But even prior to addition of Pillar, Hilliard played mostly a reserve/platoon role for the Rockies — and perhaps that’s why he was never really able to take off at the plate. Hilliard finished the abbreviated season slashing .210/.272/.438, and his strikeout rate continues to be a concern. Hilliard whiffed 42 times in 2020, which gave him a dreadful 36.8 strikeout percentage (32.3 percent for his career). He also walked only nine times, translating to a 4.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Perhaps Adam Dunn 2.0 is the better evaluation at this point.

But it’s certainly not time to give up on Hilliard. The promise remains. Hilliard still has only 182 at-bats over 63 games his career, which barely disqualifies him from rookie status in 2021.

And those flashes in 2020? They were few and far between, but they showed his potential. Hilliard enjoyed four multi-hit games, including a four-hit effort on August 20 against the Houston Astros.

But 2021 remains a mystery on what it will bring for Hilliard and the Rockies. Can he reduce the strikeouts? Can he consistently showcase his power from the left side? The expectations, once again, will be high — and let’s hope he can meet them this time around.