The 2021 season was an emotional rollercoaster for Colorado Rockies prospect Sam Hilliard.
Colorado Rockies outfielder Sam Hilliard made the Rockies out of Spring Training, was demoted after a slow start, and recalled in July before eventually playing a career-high 81 games and setting personal bests in home runs (14), RBI (34), and total bases (99).
In September, Hilliard, 27, lost his father after a long battle with ALS. Less than a week later, he put together one of the best performances of his career, hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals. Hilliard was teary-eyed as he returned to the visitor’s dugout and the tears continued when he later took his place in the outfield.
After the game was tied, Hilliard singled in the ninth, stole second, and scored the winning run on a Brendan Rodgers single. It was a game that left Rodgers–a close friend and former roommate of Hilliard–choked up in his postgame interview.
Hilliard was also the leading force responsible for the “deal with it” sunglasses Rockies players would wear in the dugout after hitting a home run in the second half of the season–a lighthearted clubhouse ritual that coincided with a surge in home runs for the team.
After hitting .108 through his first 20 games (only six starts) before his demotion, Hilliard hit an improved .237 through his final 61 games (49 starts) while hitting 12 of his 14 home runs and collecting 30 of his 34 RBI.
Strikeouts continued to be a problem for Hilliard, but putting him in a position where he gets the vast majority of his at-bats as a pinch-hitter against late-inning specialists will not help his strikeout numbers. This was one of the contributing factors in his first stint with the club when only 6 of his 20 games were as a starter. During that stretch, Hilliard’s strikeout percentage was nearly 50 percent. That number improved to 34 percent after he was recalled, but it needs to continue to go down.
If Hilliard can cut down on his strikeouts and make more contact at the plate, he has the potential to break out for a monster season in 2022. His unique toolset is that of a superstar if he can hone it.
With a weak Colorado outfield, Hilliard has a chance to earn an everyday role next season if he can prove he deserves it–and when he gets the chance, he needs to take advantage of it.