GLENDALE, Ariz. – Through the first two weeks of the AFL season, Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Logan Hill sat at the top of the leaderboard in one very interesting category: the hardest tracked batted balls of the AFL.

That leaderboard is a bit misleading. There is only data in two of the six parks, so it’s not recording every hit. In this case, Hill had a double that was 113.5 MPH. He didn’t have a reading on his two home runs from earlier in the season, which may or may not have been harder. And it’s entirely possible that other players have hit unrecorded balls harder than Hill’s 113.5 MPH.

Still, when I saw Hill at the end of last month, I asked if he saw that he had the hardest recorded hit ball in the AFL.

“I didn’t know that,” Hill said. “How hard was it?”

I told him 113-114 MPH.

“Whew! I’ll take it.”

I told him it was the double he hit the week before, and Hill remembered every detail of the at-bat.

“It was a line drive. Not super high, but it was a guy who was throwing really hard,” Hill said. “It was a 1-0 count. He started me with a slider that was a good pitch, down and away ball, so I knew he was probably going to come with something hard after that. So I sold out to fastball, middle-in, got it there, stayed simple, short, compact, and was able to get to the velocity and put the barrel on it.”

That at-bat is almost a microcosm of Hill’s season, and the focus this year on his development. Allow me to break it down.

Staying Simple

Hill talked about staying simple, short and compact with his swing, and the ability to catch up with velocity. That was all possible by an adjustment he made coming into the 2017 season.

“I just simplified everything,” Hill said of his season. “Even when I went to Altoona, I wasn’t feeling great with my swing, but with how simple I made everything, I found a way to where I could go in there and compete every night. The same with coming back from those injuries. Just being simple has led me to be successful here.”

For more specifics, Hill’s hitting coach in Bradenton and in the AFL, Keoni De Renne, broke it down.

“One thing that he did [last] offseason, he actually changed physically,” De Renne said. “He had a big hand pump and kind of a high leg kick. I think he’s toned that down from 2016 to this year. … He’s got smaller, shorter movements, which allows him to see the ball earlier, to be on time a little bit better, create a little more rhythm, but also it allowed him to see the ball, pitch recognition-wise.”

Hill saw a reduction in his strikeout rate this year, and an increase in his walk rate. Both improved as he went up to Altoona later in the season. His power also took a huge jump, and while it dropped a bit in his short time in Altoona, he still showed promise. Further developments are where his approach comes in.

The Cat and Mouse Game

Hill saw that the opposing pitcher started him low and away, and correctly predicted that a fastball was going to come inside right after that. He “sold out” to that, meaning he was swinging for an inside fastball on the next pitch, giving him a big advantage if he guessed correctly.

When talking to both Hill and De Renne, they both mentioned “the cat and mouse game” of pitching. That was a big focus for Hill throughout the season, and continues to be a focus in the AFL.

“The only thing that we really talked to him about more was understanding his approach, what he needs to do when he steps to the plate, what he’s looking for, and then obviously counteract that with how pitchers are throwing and attacking him,” De Renne said. “It’s a cat and mouse game that we can’t stress to these players enough, that’s going to happen until they’re done playing baseball.”

Hill noted that this process was a bit tougher to adjust to in Altoona. He needed to learn to accept his walks — and he saw an increase from 10.2% to 14.6% in his jump to Double-A — while trying to maximize his power output by attacking mistakes. But that’s not as easy as it sounds in Double-A.

“The mistakes get fewer and further in between,” Hill said. “They get better and more consistent, so you have to be ready. Sometimes a mistake is a hanging curveball, so you can’t just be sold out to a mistake fastball. You have to be ready for that pitch when they come. The game where I hit two home runs [in the AFL], I got two hanging breaking balls that they tried to sneak by me. It goes with that approach of just being ready for that pitch in the zone.”

While it seems like this approach would lead to more conservative at-bats, that hasn’t been the case for Hill. He’s still an aggressive hitter, but as De Renne says, he’s eliminating bad pitches down in the zone, and attacking things that are left up in the zone.

“His aggressive mentality is what I really like. He’s just carrying it over, and he’s not going to be passive,” De Renne said.

Returning From an Injury

Hill had his promotion to Altoona cut short when he went down with a broken hand. The return went well, to the point where he could participate in the AFL. That did come after a short rehab.

Hill got his clearance to hit late in the season. He still wasn’t ready to play when the Fall Instructional League started, and began his rehab a week into that league. By the time he was ready for the AFL, he only had 20 at-bats. So when I talked with him at the end of last month, he said that it felt like he was finishing up with Spring Training.

“The experience has been amazing so far,” Hill said of the AFL. “Just competing against these guys, and to really prove that I belong. I felt really good at the plate. I feel strong again. My hand feels good. The way I can describe it right now with the at-bats, I feel like I’m about to break Spring Training and go into the season.”

De Renne said that Hill hasn’t shown any signs of being in pain or tired, and hasn’t voiced any concerns.

“I think he’s in a really good spot,” De Renne said. “He’s a big, physical, strong kid. He’s a confident player as well. I think he likes being here for the fact that he can see who he can compare himself to everyone else. I know he feels that he can play among his peers, and I think that’s a great attribute for him to have, and I think he’s going to keep carrying that over.”

The stats haven’t been great for Hill in the AFL. He does have a few hard hits, including those two home runs in the first game of the year, and a few doubles to follow. He’s still drawing walks, and limiting strikeouts. And you can understand why he’s been inconsistent coming off the injury and a two-month layoff from the game.

The 2018 season will be a big test for Hill. He’s a bat-first corner outfielder as far as his value goes, and will need his big frame and power potential to carry him. He also turns 25 at the end of next May, so he’ll need to move through the upper levels quickly. The 2018 season will give a chance to see if the new simplified swing and learning the cat and mouse game will work for Hill over the long-run in the upper levels. If it does, he could have a similar upside to someone like Jordan Luplow, with a chance for his bat to lead him to a MLB bench role, and maybe being an average starter in the future.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I’m having a hard time getting excited about him if he turns 25 in May. He’ll have to progress quickly, but I know it can happen.

    • This is Tim’s conundrum in a nutshell right now.

      I mean, objectively speaking, this was a *fantastic* article on the development of a Pirate prospect with information and interviews that nobody else will cover. However, there’s a *reason* nobody else is covering; it’s just not a very interesting story.

      Being brutally honest, this was about a player who you’d be forgiven for never knowing in his history with the Pirates. Likely to be inconsequential.

      It’s not like Tim can write an article about Mitch Keller and Shane Baz three times a week until spring, but in a system lacking high-end talent it’s tough to find compelling players to discuss. The reason prospect sites like BA and BP and FanGraphs are successful aren’t because they work harder or write better, it’s because they have compelling content. They talk about the exciting kids who are impressive regardless of your fandom. Tim just doesn’t have that luxury.

    • Hill is a longshot but I do like having guys like him in the system. Never know, maybe he puts it all together. He is a little old but does have nice minor league lines.

  2. All you people hating on Logan Hill need to knock it off. He and Luplow represent the only true power potential in our entire minor league system. He is going to be great, mark my words.

    Then again I also predicted that the Pirates would make the playoffs this year.

    • Problem with Hill is that he was drafted old and the injury hurt more because now he will be a 25 year old at AA in 2018. Luplow, OTOH, will be entering his age 24 season in 2018 with AAA already behind him.

      THIS IS THE GUY WHO SHOULD BE GETTING PT AT 3B INSTEAD OF KANG AND RODRIGUEZ. FREESE USES 2018 TO TEACH LUPLOW.

      Keoni De Renne – he was part of my “dream coaching staff for 2018 ” that had Cora as the Manager, and Kevin Riggs as the Hitting Coach and De Renne as the Assistant Hitting Coach.

      • Why does age matter? I don’t care if a guy is 22 or 32, if he is hitting then he deserves a chance. I hate the arguement that a guy is too old so a younger guys should be playing over him. If the guy is hitting, then he should be playing.

        • The point isn’t to win Minor League games, it’s to develop Major League players.

          If a player’s success comes from beating up on kids younger than him, that will have no bearing on his success against Major Leaguers.

          • The median age for the Eastern league is 24, International league is 26. So while he might be on the high end, he is not old for the level. A player’s prime years are 27-30, so he is in line with getting his cup of coffee during his prime.

            In reality, I do not expect Hill to be much of anything, but name 5 player’s in the entire Pirates organization that you believe have a better chance of hitting 25 home runs at any level.

  3. Glad he’s hitting the ball hard, that OBP of .276 though… ouch.

    Kramer’s OBP isn’t much better at .309

    And Tolman well…

    Fortunately, as has been reported things look much better on the pitching side of things especially with Brubaker putting together a solid line.

    Small sample size but nothing here to really encourage me position player help is really coming anytime soon.

    • I don’t put much stock in the AFL stats for him. Like the article says, he missed two months with a broken hand, had 20 at-bats over a few weeks time when returning, and said he felt like he was coming out of Spring Training only at the end of October.

      The real test will be next year when he has an extended period of time in Altoona.

      As for OBP, nothing about his 2017 season would indicate that the AFL stats are a big concern, especially when combined with the above information.

      • Yeah it’s only 50 At bats for these guys IIRC. But in aggregate, I’d say there’s nothing terribly exciting about what these position players are doing in the AFL. Hill is an interesting wildcard because of the power but given his age I’m not real excited.

        I did notice Knizner is tearing it up

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