DETROIT — Derek Hill didn’t need much time in center field to back up his reputation as an elite defender, but his latest highlight grab came at a price. Ranked as the Tigers’ No. 30 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Hill left Wednesday night’s game against the Mariners with a right shoulder sprain after slamming into Comerica Park’s center-field wall to take a hit away from Kyle Seager.
Statcast projected Seager’s drive off Casey Mize to travel 429 feet. Hill covered 96 feet to get to the wall, then went flying into it to make the grab, holding on despite a hard impact.
Unfortunately, Hill’s right shoulder seemed to take the brunt of the impact. He stayed on the ground as the crowd roared in approval at the catch. Hill eventually got up on his own power and walked back to the dugout with manager A.J. Hinch, while moving his arms. Akil Baddoo replaced him in center field.
Hill has been regarded as a standout defender since joining the Tigers’ system as a first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, producing highlight grabs as far back at Class A West Michigan. His fearlessness to go flying into outfield walls and fences has allowed him to make seemingly improbable grabs, but that courage has also subjected him to injuries that slowed his progression. He had six stints on the injured list from 2015-17, including Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in ’16.
Hill’s recent health has been a big factor in his development, allowing him to get regular at-bats and find a consistent approach at the plate. The Tigers called him up last week and have been giving him an extended look as their primary center fielder; Wednesday marked his fifth consecutive start in center.
Hill is no stranger to making highlight catches for Mize. He made one for Erie in 2019 to help preserve Mize’s no-hitter in his Double-A debut against Altoona.