12. Jaden Hill (391 points, 20 ballots)
Jaden Hill represented a top-five talent entering his junior year at LSU in 2021 due to an elite pitch arsenal. Unfortunately for the righty starter, his draft year didn’t go as planned. Hill was limited to 29 2⁄3 innings pitched by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. The injury and some inconsistent command issues during the 2021 season led the 22-year-old to drop out of the first round altogether, where the Rockies selected him 44th overall in the second round and signed him to a slot bonus of $1.69M.
The surgery wasn’t the first setback for Hill, who had only thrown 21 2⁄3 innings collegiately at LSU in his first two years combined due to elbow issues his freshman year as well as the shortened COVID season. In the seven 2021 starts Hill did get in before the surgery, the 6’4”, 234 pound pitcher struggled to a 6.67 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while only striking out 7.6 hitters per nine innings — some evaluators speculate these struggles were due to Hill pitching while hurt.
So far I’ve probably got you down on Hill as a prospect. There’s definitely the injury history and Hill doesn’t have many game reps, both contributing to the risk he’s a reliever. However, when healthy, Hill possesses an upper 90s fastball graded in the 60-65 range, a plus changeup graded in the 60-70 range, a potentially above average slider, and decent control. If he can regain that stuff after surgery and maintain his results with a starter’s workload, that’s a clear difference-maker in the starting rotation with an impact late inning reliever role as a fallback.
Here’s some video of Hill early in the abbreviated 2020 season courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball:
Baseball Prospectus ranked Hill 5th in the system back in November as a 55 OFP player:
On talent alone, Hill was mentioned amongst the very best draft prospects heading into this Spring at LSU. What needed to be demonstrated in his junior year—after an injury-riddled freshman campaign and short 2020 season coming out of the bullpen—was that he could handle the workload of the Friday night starter for the duration of the campaign. The talent was never the question, with an electric fastball that hit the upper-90s and two potentially plus (or better) secondaries in his slider and changeup that were inconsistent despite their flashes. After getting out of the gates quickly, his velocity began to dip. Hill tried to pitch through it, but eventually underwent Tommy John surgery.
Hill had a chance to pitch his way into the 1-1 discussion and certainly become a top-five pick when his elbow blew out, ending a college career that had both incredible highs and a lot of injuries. He’s a big, physical kid who has touched 99 mph with a plus changeup, although he’s one datum in the argument that size does not, in fact, matter, at least for pitcher health. If he comes back 100 percent, he’ll be their best pitching prospect at this time next year.
Between the injury and the overall lack of innings, it’s hard to know exactly what kind of pitcher Hill might be. When he’s healthy, he’s shown off high-octane stuff, with a fastball that touched the upper 90s in relief work and the ability to sit comfortably in the mid-90s, touching 99, in a starting role. He’s always had an outstanding changeup, a mid-80s plus offspeed pitch that features a lot of tumble. Before he got hurt, he was making strides in tightening up his mid-80s slider, though he struggled executing it in 2021.
A very good athlete who could have been a college quarterback, Hill has a strong and athletic 6-foot-4 frame. He’s shown the ability to throw strikes in the past, but his command within the zone and proving he can maintain his stuff with a full workload will determine if he can start long-term. The Rockies were very pleased with how his rehab had gone, giving Hill high marks for his makeup and work ethic. They’re hopeful they might have a Walker Buehler-type of Tommy John recovery case on their hands.
That evaluation includes a 65 grade on the fastball, a 60 on the change, and a 55 on the slider with a 50 control grade.
[Hill] showed occasional feel to pitch as a Tiger freshman and looked to be turning the corner in the weekend rotation when he went down with a strained UCL. He didn’t pitch in the fall but was ready to go for his sophomore spring and was up to 97 in the preseason before being up to 99 during the early part of the shortened 2020 campaign. After generating mixed results early in 2021, Hill blew out and needed Tommy John. In addition to his changeup, Hill has two breaking balls (LSU called them a slider and a cutter, but they have more curve/modern slider sensibilities), the best of which is a slider/cutter in the 88-90 mph range. Knowing he’d spend most of his first pro season rehabbing from surgery, the Rockies used their second round pick on him. He looks like a late-inning power bullpen arm to us, but has starter advocates.
Hill was a 40 FV player for ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel recently:
Hill isn’t the prettiest analytically, but shows the broad abilities scouts are looking for. He’s a big righty that’s often in the upper-90’s (without bat-missing shape or much deception at the moment), an above average slider, and a plus-plus changeup, though the execution with those weapons wasn’t always there. He blew out and needed Tommy John surgery in his draft spring, helping him slide from the mid-first round to the second round. There’s lots to work with here, but Hill is also 22 without a very long track record of sustained multi-inning success.
There’s a wide error bar with Hill. If he emerges out of surgery with his stuff intact and is able to remain in the starting rotation, he becomes Colorado’s best pitching prospect (certainly top three in the system). The word “if” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence though. Hill is a risky pitcher not only for injury but also for role because it’s not a lock he stays as a starter either. If he’s a starter, it’s a 3-4 year ramp to the big leagues; as a reliever, it’s probably 2-3 years for Hill.
I always have trouble ranking these types of prospects, but in the end I am more intrigued than I am worried. I slotted him 7th on my personal list with a 45 FV grade. I look forward to see where he ends up in 2022 once he is healthy enough to do so; Low-A Fresno seems most likely.