Derek Hill was drafted 23rd overall in the 2014 draft for the Detroit Tigers. His professional career has had its ups and downs so far, but expect big things from this young center fielder.
After Derek Hill was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2014, there was instantly a lot of pressure put on this young kid coming out of high school. But, on his draft day, he was nothing but smiles as he learned he would someday be a Tiger. “Speed, defense, and instincts,” were three things Hill said fans could expect from him.
Hill compared his game to a young Torii Hunter because of, “the intensity he brought on defense, on the bases, and even in the [batter’s] box. He treated everybody with respect.”
Tigers’ fans were pumped to have a young, defensive center fielder at the top of their fairly weak farm system. But, Hill didn’t let any of that hype get to his head.
“[It] never even crossed my mind,” said Hill. “How can you be a top prospect when you haven’t gone out and proven yourself yet?”
So that was his goal, he had to prove himself as the top prospect everyone told him he was.
Injuries have halted Hills’ career.
Unfortunately it didn’t come so easy for him to start his young career. Hill played decently in 2014 in his first year in the Tiger’s organization. He stole nine bases in the GCL in 28 games, and was constantly praised for his raw athletic ability.
But there was only one worry that the Tigers and many other GM’s had for Hill: could he hit the ball? Early on in his career he did struggle at the plate. He hit .208 in the 47 games he played in 2014. He also seemed to struggle to see the ball very well striking out 45 times in 47 games.
To make matters worse, Hill missed a majority of 2015 with a quad injury. He played in only 53 games with the West Michigan Whitecaps (A-Full), but was definitely improving at the plate. He hit .238 and had an on base percentage of .305 before the injury. On top of that, he stole 25 bases in that time span which continued to show his incredible speed. There is no doubt that Hill was developing into a great prospect.
The injury bug struck again in 2016 as Hill needed to have Tommy John surgery after 93 games.
“[You] can’t really prepare for a Tommy John injury… it was just a freak accident,” Hill said.
Before his injury, 2016 was a very impressive season for Hill. He hit .266 and was really coming into his own as a hitter. Bruce Fields, a hitting coach in the Detroit Tigers organization, said, “Obviously, there are still some areas he needs to work on. But I’m definitely seeing improvement, some big improvement, with his swing” (via Lynn Henning, The Detroit News).
Hill was also impressing scouts and coaches on the defensive side of the ball by patrolling center field. On top of that, Hill was torching the Midwest League with 35 stolen bases and 66 runs. At this point, Hill was only 19 years old and really keeping his own as a professional baseball player.
Since his Tommy John surgery, he said he has been doing a lot of stretching and weight lifting. These are the type of puzzle pieces that need to come together in order for Hill to be a major league hitter someday.
Hill’s spectacular return from Tommy John.
Hill’s cousin, former MLB great Darryl Strawberry, gave him some advice that he continues to hold on to:
“Keep your eye on what matters. Don’t get distracted from the main goal.”
This is the mindset that allowed him to return to baseball midway through the 2017 season.
He started with a rehab stint with the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League. After 14 games, he returned to the Whitecaps (Low-A) and played the best baseball of his career. Hill’s line was .285/.367/. 444 in 35 games. Along with that, Hill had six triples, 21 RBI’s, 12 stolen bases, and walked 16 times. It’s fair to say that Hill was red hot and ready to finally show what he could do.
Hill played so well that the Tigers’ organization called him up to the Lakeland Flying Tigers (High-A). He played only nine games there as the season came to an end, but Hill continued to impress.
With the 2018 season approaching, Hill isn’t worried about where he’ll start the season.
“Honestly, that is one thing I’m not worried about,” he said. “My main focus is just staying on the field, playing as many games and getting as many reps as I can… I know if I go out there and do what I need to do, I’ll be in Detroit when I’m supposed to be.”
My analysis of Derek Hill.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by this talented prospect. His status as a top prospect has unfairly been diminished based on the injuries he has experienced in his first few years as a professional ball player. He currently sits as the Tigers’ number 11 prospect on MLB.com.
However, ESPN’s Keith Law seems to be very high on Hill. Law put him as the number 3 prospect in Detroit’s farm system. Some people went bonkers because of this decision, but I definitely see it.
Hill has a fire inside of him. His passion for the game is evident on the field, and even by just a few messages we exchanged. I was incredibly impressed with how humble and respectful he was, how hard working he is, and by his perseverance.
On the field, Hill continues to get better. I project that he will be playing with the Flying Tigers (High-A) to start the season. Eventually, Hill work his way to finishing the season with the Tigers’ AA-affiliate, the Erie Seawolves.
What I do know is Hill will never give up. He just turned 22 years old, and has a long career ahead of him. Hill told me, “I’ve learned throughout my life that you have to earn yours.”
I expect Hill to do just that. Based on how his offensive numbers continued to climb over the years, I believe he will break into the majors by 2019 and will be a solid center fielder in Detroit for years to come.