No Puig, No Problem: Sam Hilliard’s fit with the 2020 Colorado Rockies

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 27: Sam Hilliard #43 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates his first hit in his Major League debut, a two run home run, during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Coors Field on August 27, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 27: Sam Hilliard #43 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates his first hit in his Major League debut, a two run home run, during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Coors Field on August 27, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /
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With the Colorado Rockies rumors of adding Yasiel Puig put to rest by Nick Groke of The Athletic Friday, the Rockies will look for production from within. Second-year player Sam Hilliard could solidify the third outfield spot if given the at-bats.

In September call-ups last year, Hilliard impressed in his 34-day cup of coffee with the big league club. in 27 games, Hilliard was coined with the nickname, “Slam Hill-Yard” for his raw power at the plate. Hilliard also showed defensive flexibility starting at least three games in each outfield position. Two thirds of the Colorado Rockies outfield are anchored by All-Stars and the other is seemingly filled by Ian Desmond. What role will that leave for Hilliard in a franchise known for leaving its outfield prospects on the operating table?

After an impressive debut in the fall of 2019, Hilliard has surged up prospect rankings (#5 PuRPs) and made not only his case for the 26 man roster (increased from the year prior) but also regular at bats. A slash line of .273/.356/.649 while mashing seven home runs gave the Rockies some much-needed quality pipeline depth. Albeit, the sample size is small (77 AB) and his contact issues remain a question (26 K%) but Hilliard has shown he can barrel Major League pitching.

If he can cut down his strikeout rate, average to above-average offensive production should come immediately due to his ability to barrel the ball.

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2020 could be a transition year for the Colorado Rockies outfield. Ian Desmond’s contract is approaching a very DFA’able range should his performance continue to be below average. Raimel Tapia is out of options to be sent down to the minors. Garrett Hampson, a capable outfield defender who’s late season offensive surge solidified his roster spot, but he is better suited as an infielder. Desmond is more than likely get the bulk of starts in center field/left field leaving the Rockies with little depth and production behind their two All-Stars.

Bud Black historically favors his veterans regardless of performance.  Rockies GM Jeff Bridich seemingly favors his acquisitions see time in the field as well. However, in a perfect world where Mike Klis of The Denver Post isn’t reporting CU Buff coaching news and where the Rockies give playing time to players based on production and not personal ego, Sam Hilliard would be perfect platoon fit with Ian Desmond.

Hilliard posted a 0.6 fWAR (6th best among Rockies) and posted similar OPS number against lefties and righties (.877- LHP) (.899- RHP). unlike his potential counterpart, Ian Desmond whose spilts are more welcoming that a platoon might be a better fit.

Desmond posted a .657 OPS against righties and a .977 OPS against lefties, respectively. Desmond finished 2019 with a wRC+ of 86 compared to Hilliard’s 138. However, Bud Black and Jeff Bridich hold that “veteran, salary” trump card in their pocket.

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I recently asked Bryan Kilpatrick of Rocky Mountain Baseball about Hilliard’s outlook for the 2020 season.

"“He’s surpassed Tapia in terms of upside,” said Kilpatrick. “He’s a serviceable outfielder who is reminiscent of early career Charlie Blackmon in that he has deceptive speed. If he can cut down his strikeout rate, average to above-average offensive production should come immediately due to his ability to barrel the ball. In 2019, Hilliard was one of the fastest Rockies on the base paths. in regards to the Rockies maybe moving him into a lead off role.” Kilpatrick added that Hillard “doesn’t have the on-base skills for that yet, but that doesn’t stop the Rockies from putting someone there anyway.”"

For more on Hilliard, give

Jeff Aberle’s article at Purple Row a look

. He dives into how the Rockies slugger is ranked on different prospect platforms.

Next. Black on the offensive improvements he hopes to see in 2020. dark

Whatever the Rockies do with Hilliard in 2020, I’m sure it will be worth revisiting these spring training takes.

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