Evan Hill is a tall, lean lefty out of the University of Michigan. He went undrafted after his junior year, although I think much of that was due to missing a large chunk of the season to injury. He was also recently the week three Cape Cod Pitcher of the Week. Let's take a deeper look at him.
Hill was a tall projectable lefty coming out of high school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Although he went undrafted, that was due to a very strong commitment to the University of Michigan. He was seen as the best draft prospect in Michigan, and #242 overall in the 2012 Draft, according to Perfect Game.
In high school, the athletic lefty sat in the upper 80s with the fastball, with a change-up and curve ball that showed both promise and surprising feel for a cold-weather arm. After being undrafted, Perfect game still ranked him the #51 draft prospect for 2015. A year later, he was still ranked highly by them, coming in at #52.
He threw 82.0 innings as a freshman in fourteen starts, with a 3.51 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, and a mediocre 1.2 K/BB ratio. He threw two shutouts and had a Big Ten-leading nine pickoffs. Although it wasn't great, it was a respectable showing for a freshman. It was good enough to make the Big Ten Freshman All-American team.
He entered 2014 as a preseason Big Ten Player to Watch, and the #49 ranked sophomore, and #1 ranked 2015 Big Ten draft prospect, by Baseball America. And he did show some improvements as a sophomore. He threw 89.0 innings in sixteen games and fifteen starts. He increased his strikeout rate (6.4 K/9), and decreased his walk rate (2.8 BB/9) and WHIP (1.21), which led to a lower ERA (3.24). It wasn't a big enough jump to lower his draft prospect status, as he was ranked as only the 175th best 2014 Cape Cod prospect by Perfect Game. Hill held his own, putting up a 3.46 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 5.5 K/9, and 2.3 K/BB over eleven games and 26.0 innings for the Brewster Whitecaps.
Coming into his junior season, he hadn't seen any growth in his fastball velocity. It did have enough arm side action to generate some ground balls, but it was a below average pitch overall. His curve showed some growth, transforming closer to a slider in the upper 70s. But it wasn't consistent enough to be a plus, either. Many had been pointing towards his size (6'5", 190 lbs), athleticism, and easy delivery as signs that he could add some mph to the fastball, but it hadn't yet happened. His strikeout rates remained mediocre, and his secondary stuff was still too hittable.
But, there still was that hope he would take the next step forward, the step scouts have been waiting on since high school. Hell, he could throw from one outfield corner to the other almost completely on the fly - there had to be some growth potential. Unfortunately, he started his junior season on the disabled list, due to an offseason knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. He still entered the season as the #11 ranked 2015 Big Ten draft prospect, #6 in Michigan, and #381 overall by Baseball America.
Hill ended up throwing only 38.0 innings, although he did see a big jump in his strikeout rate, all the way to 8.8 K/9. However, the walk rate jumped back up to 4.0/9, and along with the 10.7 H/9, his WHIP ballooned to 1.63 with a 4.50 ERA. That wasn't enough to get him drafted, which is surprising given he throws from the left side and still has a projectable frame. He went back to the Cape Cod League for a second season, this time with the Gatemen.
So far, he has a 0.64 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.3 K/BB, and an astounding 477 ERA+ in 28.1 innings in the 2015 Cape Cod League. This is a bit luck-driven, given the .131 BABIP. Without that, he is basically repeating his college sophomore stats. Hill won the Pitcher of the Week award by throwing 11.0 shutout innings over two starts.
I decided to watch some video of Hill, to see if my amateur eye could pick anything up. One of the first things I noticed in the video below is the pronounced head wack and aggressive back bend. At release point, he is no longer looking at the catcher. It reminds me a bit of Hideki Okajima, the former Red Sox All-Star reliever, and it makes me think a reliever role is in his future.
But then I remembered the comments from high school and his first few college seasons that pointed to an easy, low-effort delivery. That isn't what I was seeing in this video. At one point, his baseball cap gets thrown against the mound because of the violence in his delivery (watch at about the 50 second mark in the video above). Looking at the second video below, from his freshman season, you can see a much smoother delivery. The only thing I can think is he was trying to throw for more velocity. That could explain the jump in strikeout rate, and it could also explain the similar jump in his walk rate.
Hill has made some mechanical adjustments in the Cape this summer, throwing less over the top and more relaxed, closer to his earlier mechanics. He also has really pushed along the development of his change-up, to go along with his cutter and slider. He will be an interesting senior sign type in the 2016 draft, possibly being taken in rounds 5-10. If he has a breakout season, he could go as high as the second round. I do think he ends up in the bullpen to start his pro career, but if a team thinks they can work out the kinks in his delivery and tap into that projectable frame, it wouldn't surprise me to see him in a minor league rotation next summer.