Tigers’ Fall Star Hill enjoying AFL success

Detroit Tigers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It was a banner day for Tigers prospect Garrett Hill before he even threw a pitch Wednesday afternoon. Clad with a personal cheering section seated just to the side of home plate, the newly minted AFL Fall Star spun another impressive outing for Salt River.

Hill struck out three batters across three innings, allowing a tough-luck run on four hits and one walk in the Rafters’ 6-1 loss to the Scorpions at Scottsdale Stadium.

A whirlwind day for the right-hander kicked off with a couple of treats. Hill was named a Fall Star just after his twin brother arrived in town on a spur-of-the-moment trip.

“It’s an honor to be called an All-Star in one of the best leagues that Minor League players can play in,” Hill said. “It’s a huge honor.”

While Detroit’s Top 30 prospect list includes 11 hurlers, Hill’s the only one of them who has enjoyed a flurry of activity to conclude the year. The 25-year-old has compiled a 1.98 ERA over his first five appearances, striking out 21 batters in 13 2/3 innings, en route to Saturday’ showcase game.

“There’s incredible competition,” Hill said of his Fall League experience. “On the other side, behind you, you’ve got some of the best defenders that you can ask for, so it makes it a whole lot easier to do my job when I know I’m getting good plays made behind him. It pushes me to make better pitches and grow as a pitcher when I know everybody’s a future big leaguer out here.”

The 25-year-old, who has made just four starts above High-A, has utilized his time in Arizona for wholesale development. The biggest takeaway?

“Learning how to pitch and how to use your stuff to the best of your ability,” Hill said.

Since the Tigers selected him in the 26th round of the 2018 Draft out of San Diego State, he has stacked up strikeouts and impressive outings at every level he has appeared. In 49 professional games (46 starts), the 6-foot righty sports a 2.54 ERA with 10.4 K/9 IP. Across 237 1/3 innings, he has yielded just eight home runs.

Hill features a four-pitch mix, but he felt his fastball and changeup were sharpest Wednesday. Known for his adaptability on the hill, the 25-year-old navigated crowded bases during his three innings.

“[I tried to] bust [them] inside hard a couple of times and tried to keep guys more off balance,” Hill said. “It seemed like they were sitting more offspeed, so when I could go hard inside, then it kept them more off balance and led to more weak swings.”

The right-hander peppered a first-pitch strike to seven out of eight hitters from the conclusion of the first inning through the second.

Hill’s outing was boosted by a pair of Rockies prospects. Shortstop Ezequiel Tovar (COL 11) — known for his superb defensive ability — made a pair of slick plays with the glove, while catcher Willie MacIver (COL 25) continued to provide much-appreciated support behind the plate.

“Willie’s awesome,” Hill said. “He is super, super supportive behind the plate. I love throwing to him. He’s starting to learn me and the way I pitch better.”

The Tigers organization has churned out top pitching prospects in recent years, headlined by recent system graduates Casey Mize and Matt Manning. While talent remains in the pipeline, maybe most encouraging is its depth, which features arms like Hill’s.

In the opposite dugout, Scorpions starter Seth Corry also delivered an impressive start. The Giants’ No. 11 prospect spun three scoreless frames, striking out five while allowing just one hit.

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