Prospect Retro and Thinking about Rich Hill
Hill was drafted in the fourth round in 2002 from the University of Michigan. He had one of the best curves in the draft and a 90 MPH fastball, but mechanical problems and control issues kept him out of the early rounds. He was horrible in rookie ball, posting a 8.36 ERA and 14 walks in 14 innings. Grade C would be a decent rating at that point.
He split '03 between Lansing in the Midwest League and Boise in the Northwest League, fanning 149 in just 98 innings but walking 68. I gave him a Grade C in the 2004 book, noting that the excellent K/IP ratio stood out but that he was old for his levels and that his control still needed huge amounts of work.
Hill moved up to Class A Daytona in 2004, going 7-6, 4.03 with a 136/72 K/BB in 109 innings. Again, his K/IP was terrific and he gave up just 88 hits, but the very high walk rate elevated his ERA. I gave him another Grade C, noting that "he's a guy with great potential, but can he harness it?" He was 24 years old with no experience above the Florida State League and a career record of 8-15, 4.24 with 154 walks in 221 innings.
Things turned around for Hill in '05. More consistent mechanics, and more aggressive use of his fastball resulted in a decrease in his walk rate, while he maintained his gaudy K/IP totals, fanning 194 in 133 innings with 35 walks at three minor league levels. He was horrible during a major league trial, posting a 9.13 ERA with 17 walks in 24 innings, but overall it was clear that he'd made substantial progress. I boosted his grade to B- in the 2006 book, noting that he was now 26 years old, and that while I couldn't consider him a top prospect due to his age and the fact that he could easily regress, he was certainly an interesting prospect.
What should we expect from Hill in the future? PECOTA brings up a lot of interesting names, including solid strikeout lefties like Mark Langston and Rudy May. As much as I love Hill's K/IP ratios, I want to see more than a half-season of major league performance out of him before I start predicting stardom. My guess is that Hill is going to have 2-3 strong years, but then fade quickly as soon as his command waivers even a little.