I think I speak for many of us at Purple Row when I say that we are big fans of Sam Hilliard. Not only is he a high-quality individual, but we have seen the raw athleticism and talent he can and has shown on the field. Unfortunately for Sam, things have not gone as planned at the big league level after he turned some heads in his September call-up in 2019. The prevailing trend has been an overabundance of strikeouts, a low walk rate, mixed in with some glorious home runs.
Back in March, fellow Purple Row-er Mario DeGenz talked about how Hilliard could become the Joey Gallo of the Rockies, but in order to do so, he would need to improve his plate discipline and approach at the plate. One month into the season and with some semi-regular playing time, Hilliard appears to be more comfortable taking that next step forward.
Walk the line
Through 14 games this season, Hilliard has a .368 on-base percentage, which is currently the highest it has been since 2015 when he had a .397 OBP in rookie ball. Perhaps the most telling stat that points to his improved OBP is the fact that he is drawing walks and making contact at an increased rate while striking out less.
In 38 plate appearances, Hilliard has drawn seven walks and struck out 10 times. For reference, Hilliard drew nine walks in 2019 in 87 appearances, and nine walks in 114 appearances in 2020. Even in his limited big-league playing time (that included plenty of time in the minors) in 2021, Hilliard drew just 23 walks in 238 plate appearances.
Entering Saturday, Hilliard has posted a walk rate of 18.4%, which is eight points higher than the 10.3% rate he posted in 2019 during his September call-up. In the previous two seasons, Hilliard struggled with drawing a walk and failed to reach a clip higher than 10%, all while striking out over 36% of the time. Currently, Hilliard has evened things out and reached back to the short sample size that was so exciting when he debuted in 2019. Along with the better walk rate, Hilliard is now at a career-low 26.3% strikeout rate for the season. While these aren’t sustainable throughout the season (slumps are inevitable), Sam has found a consistent and calm approach that is working for him and earning him more playing time.
Yes, home run numbers are way down for Hilliard this season. However, that isn’t as bad as it may sound right now. As mentioned before, strikeouts and quality contact was a struggle the past couple of seasons. Despite having some of the best raw power on the Rockies, that tool was moot because he couldn’t put the ball in play. That’s changing this season.
A key indicator for that change is that Hilliard is hitting more line drives. At 23.8% Hilliard is driving the ball more on a line rather than uppercutting the ball to the moon. Line drives indicate that he is hitting the ball more level, and driving it cleanly. On Friday evening against the Cincinnati Reds, I saw Hilliard hit an absolute laser to centerfield that was caught for an out, but it was a great piece of hitting. A lower flyball rate of 28.6% is okay for now because he is making contact and driving the ball around the field.
A worrying trend that will need to be addressed is that Hilliard is driving the ball into the ground more often. Nearly 47.6% of his batted balls are grounders, which isn’t too far off from his career average, but as he looks to improve his contact and overall slash line, he’ll need to elevate the ball a bit more often and continue to hit line drives.
Lastly, Hilliard’s approach at the plate is so key to these improvements that we are seeing. In the past, Hilliard has chased more and more outside of the zone. He had a career-high 30% swing rate outside of the zone in 2020, it lowered slightly in 2021, but entering Saturday he was swinging at pitches outside of the zone a staggeringly low 16.5% of the time. Not only that, he is swinging at more pitches inside of the zone and making more contact on those swings. He’s developed a better vision of the plate and is more selective in the pitches he is firing away at.
And when he is making contact on those pitches, he is posting a BABIP of .333 which is much higher than the .226 AVG we have seen so far. He hasn’t barreled anything up yet, but we are seeing Hilliard hit the ball consistently well, and as he continues to do so, the power numbers will flourish once again and he can become the well-rounded offensive threat that we know he is.
Hilliard’s improvements are a testament to the small changes in hitting philosophy the Rockies are trying to implement. If his trends continue, he will do so much to lengthen the Rockies' offensive prowess throughout the lineup and the bench.
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Rockies’ Elehuris Montero, who thought his call-up was a prank, ready for debut | The Denver Gazette ($)
The Rockies highly anticipated offensive prospect, Elehuris Montero got the call on Friday to join the Rockies after Kris Bryant was put on the injured list. However, it turns out that he was called early that morning, but didn’t think it was real and headed to the Isotopes ballpark in Albuquerque anyway. He was then informed it was in fact real and that he needed to head to Denver ASAP. It’s a funny story, and hopefully, it’s just a footnote in what could be a fantastic career.
Bud Black on the new faces in the clubhouse | Rox Pile
Joining a new club can be tough, but Bud Black talks about the challenges of being traded or joining a new squad and how well the Rockies' new additions have done in the first month of play. So far all the new faces for the Rockies have performed quite well and brought some excitement to a team to a team that’s off to a decent start in 2022.
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On the Farm
Triple-A: Sacramento River Cats 14, Albuquerque Isotopes 11
Sacramento exploded for 12 runs in the first two innings was enough to keep the Isotopes at bay as they won the slugfest 14-11. Dillon Overton started on the mound for Albuquerque and was roughed up for 10 runs, five earned, on six hits in 1 1⁄3 innings of work. J.D. Hammer settled things down, allowing two unearned runs on one hit in 2 1⁄3 innings of relief, with the rest of the bullpen keeping things close enough for the offense to battle back. Garrett Hampon, playing on rehab assignment, had three hits including a double at the top of the lineup. Scott Schebler slugged his fifth homer of the year for a two hit night while D.J. Peterson and Wynton Bernard combined for five hits and drove in six runs.
Double-A: Hartford Yard Goats 4, Harrisburg Senators 2
Ezequiel Tovar continues to have a strong start to the 2022 season in Double-A putting up another three-hit night that included his fifth home run of the year and a triple. On the mound, Karl Kauffmann pitched six strong innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out seven on 87 pitches. Hartford took the lead in the eighth on an Aaron Schunk sac fly and tacked on an insurance run in the ninth thanks to a Michael Toglia RBI single before Nick Kennedy shut the door for his fourth save of the season.
High-A: Everett AquaSox 7, Spokane Indians 6
Spokane was unable to force extra innings, after Everett celebrated a walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth. After several stellar starts, Joe Rock wasn’t as sharp as he allowed six runs on six hits, including two home runs, while striking out eight in five innings of work. Eddy Diaz led the charge offensively for Spokane with a pair of hits and with three RBI. Julio Carreras also had a multi-hit night with a pair of doubles. Boby Johnson took the loss after allowing the winning run in the ninth after tossing 1 2⁄3 innings.
Low-A: Fresno Grizzlies 8, Stockton Ports 3
Hunter Goodman tallied three hits and drove in three, thanks in part to a two-run homer in fifth inning, his fourth of the year, helping the Grizzlies to victory once again over Stockton. Fresno struck first in the top of the first, scoring four runs, and later adding three more in the top of the fifth. Victory Juarez started on the mound for Fresno, allowing one run on four hits while working around four walks, but Fresno’s bullpen held firm to secure the victory.
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