Prospect Retro: Aaron Hill
One of the breakthrough players in the American League in 2009 was Aaron Hill of the Toronto Blue Jays, who hit .286/.330/.499 with 36 homers and 108 RBI, more than doubling his previous-best home run output. This year Hill is off to a slow start, hitting just .175/.303/.340 thus far for the Blue Jays, although he's been hampered by a bad hamstring all season. Hill has had an erratic career but has been effective when healthy. What was his tenure as a prospect like, and what does his future hold?
Hill was a strong college player at Louisiana State University, hitting .329/.391/.550 as a sophomore in 2002 and .358/.467/.592 as a junior in 2003. Although scouts rated most of his tools as just slightly above average, they also noted his tremendous makeup and strong polish. His power was rated as average, and most didn't think he had the range to remain at shortstop in the long-term. But his plate discipline was excellent, and scouts felt he had the athleticism and arm strength to handle second base or third base if shortstop didn't work out. He was great in the New York-Penn League after signing, hitting .361/.446/.492 in 33 games, then held his own in 32 games in the Florida State League (.286/.343/.345) though the power drop off was notable. Nevertheless, I was impressed with him and gave him a Grade B+ in the 2004 book, writing that "I don't expect him to be a superstar, but he should be good." I ranked him as the Number 30 hitting prospect in the game.
Hill spent all of 2004 with Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .279/.368/.410 with 26 doubles, 11 homers, 63 walks, and 61 strikeouts in 480 at-bats. The season was considered okay but somewhat disappointing; his OPS was just +5 percent, and scouts remained concerned about his range at shortstop. On the other hand, he showed excellent strike zone judgment, and scouts continued to give him good marks for a compact swing, polish, and makeup. I gave him a Grade B in the '05 book, cutting his grade slightly but still seeing him as a solid player even if a position switch was in order.
Hill split '06 between Triple-A Syracuse (.301/.339/.468 in 38 games) and Toronto, where he hit .274/.342/.385 in 105 games. He performed showed more power in '07 (.291/.333/.459), but was less effective in an injury-plagued '08 season (.263/.324/.361). As stated earlier, he had the big home run spike last year but has slumped again this year, granted the hamstring injury is a mitigating factor. He's drawn 18 walks in 122 plate appearances and has hit four homers, and I think the main problem this year is a combination of bad luck and the injury. If he gets healthy he should return to effectiveness, though probably not hitting 36 homers again.Defensively, he's developed into a very good second baseman, making few errors and demonstrating good range, statistically anyway.
Comparable Players to Hill through age 27:
By SIM SCORE: Mike Young, Marcus Giles, Gil McDougald, Jeff Blauser, Mike Andres, Brandon Phillips, Placico Polanco, Frank Bolling, Adam Kennedy, and Ray Durham.
By PECOTA comp: Rich Aurilia, Hubie Brooks, Vern Stephens, Bob Johnson, Davey Johnson, Jeff Kent, Brooks Robinson, Miguel Tejada, Bill Mazeroski, and Jose Vidro.
This is a list of very good players, no bums among them.
Despite a few ups and downs, Hill is basically a very solid major league player. Interestingly, he was considered a slight overdraft when the Blue Jays picked him at 13th overall in '03. Here is a list of the players picked after him in the first round that year: Ryan Wagner, Brian Anderson, Jeff Allison, David Murphy, Brad Snyder, Connor Jackson, Chad Montero, Matt Moses, David Aardsma, Brandon Wood, Chad Billingsley, Brad Sullivan, Brian Snider, Eric Duncan, Daric Barton, Carlos Quentin, and Mitch Maier. I think the Blue Jays made a good pick.