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BSN Exclusive: Sam Hilliard shatters Isotopes' records; call up imminent

Patrick Lyons Avatar
August 25, 2019

If it’s become a chore to listen to the play-by-play details of another disappointing loss or view the box score for any Rockies’ game, you now have permission to shift your focus to their Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.

Last night, for example, the ‘Topes won handily against the Washington Nationals top affiliate, 17-7. You’ll first notice that LHP Chris Rusin has been converted into a starting pitcher. Further evidence that Pat Valaika continues to rake – extending his hit streak to 13 games – is also available for perusing and a little-known reliever named Matt Pierpont is somehow pitching to a 2.43 ERA in the hitter’s haven called the Pacific Coast League.

But the biggest story for a franchise with the eighth worst record in baseball during this transition period from summer to autumn may center around one of the biggest men in the organization: outfield prospect Sam Hilliard.

Hilliard finished Saturday night 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a home run and two RBI. With this performance, he is now the Isotopes single-season leader in runs scored (108) and extra-base hits (71).

On pace to also break the single-season franchise record for runs batted in, it’s hard to miss Hilliard when he walks through the clubhouse, filling up the doorway with little room for light to creep through. At 6’5” and 225 lbs, it’s hard to miss the Mansfield, TX native even when stationed in right field 300 ft away from where most folks sit at Isotopes Park.

Since Hilliard signed with the Colorado Rockies after being selected in the 15th Round of the 2015 MLB Draft, the Wichita State product has turned heads at every level of the minors. And that’s not just due to his size. 

An All-Star for the past four seasons, his career-high 35 home runs in 2019 are already the most by an Isotope during their time as a Rockies affiliate, not to mention third-most in the homer happy PCL, averaging a home run every 14.1 at bats (35hr/493ab).

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, Hilliard has swiped 21 bases with Albuquerque – his fourth straight season with 20 or more – all at an impressive 84 percent success rate this season.

With a rare combination of speed and power, he’s just the second Isotopes’ player to ever record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season, joining Los Angeles’ Joc Pederson who had 33 homers and 30 stolen bases in 2014.

All that being said, Hilliard is the only position player on the Rockies’ 40-man roster yet to make his Major League debut. Last October he was selected to represent Colorado in the prestigious Arizona Fall League and his chance for stepping on biggest stage under the bright lights of Coors Field was set in motion. 

“It’s was an honor,” Hilliard said of being one of seven selected by his parent club. “Everyone knows it’s a good thing to play in the Arizona Fall League. It’s really cool to get to compete against some of the best talent in the Minors. And for me and the other guys in the organization, to go and play well, it means a lot. And to represent the Rockies in a good way, that’s special.”

With solid play supported by a slash line of .328/.389/.516, Hilliard helped carry the Salt River Rafters into the championship game, prompting his placement on Colorado’s 40-man roster on November 20, 2018.

“I was with my family, actually, my parents and my aunt,” he said of learning about being added to the roster. “We were on our way to lunch, and I got the call from (Assistant GM and Head of Player Development) Zach Wilson. I was waiting on it all day, and it was just awesome to be with my family. It was a special moment because I got to share it with them. And it’s just another step closer to the goal.”

After another year of solid growth in Double-A with the Hartford Yard Goats in 2018, Hilliard picked up in New Mexico where he left off with a first half good enough to earn a spot representing the Pacific Coast League All-Star Team. 

While teammate Roberto Ramos participated in the Home Run Derby during the Triple-A All-Star Game festivities in El Paso, TX, Hilliard’s opportunity to flash some of his trademark power in his home state was undoubtedly impacted by an experience last season in the Eastern League All-Star Game.

“That was fun. I ended up being second. I didn’t win. I wish I would’ve won,” he confided regarding his 2018 EL Home Run Derby showing. “My body was hating me after that, because I was swinging as hard as I could. I was sore in my ribs for about a week. I think it might have affected me in the first games after the All Star break. So if I ever do Home Run Derby again, I’m going to take it light. It was nonstop swinging for four minutes with a thirty second time-out. It doesn’t sound like it’s that bad, but until you do it, you don’t understand. It kills you. You’re so out of breath.”

Hilliard is currently one of six players in Minor League Baseball this season with at least 20 homers and 20 stolen bases, joining the ranks of some notable top prospects around the game: Houston’s Kyle Tucker (32hr/30sb); the White Sox’s Luis Robert (30hr/36sb); Cleveland’s Will Benson (22hr/26sb), the Dodgers’ Donovan Casey (21hr/22sb); and Arizona’s Josh Rojas (23hr/33sb). 

While his combination of power and speed has to be near the top of his skillset, Hilliard is modest when describing the best of his five tools.

“I don’t know. I would say somedays one might feel better than the other. I feel like the ones that are usually always there for me is my speed. People look at me and my size and they don’t think I could be fast. I guess people are starting to figure it out, but it’s always fun getting to surprise people. They’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were fast.’ That’s one of the ones I take a lot of pride in.”

If you get a chance to view the Isotopes at The Lab in the final days of the 2019 season, not only may it be the last time you see Hilliard in Triple-A, but you’ll undoubtedly notice the cannon stationed on the left side of his body.

Capable of throwing out any runner trying to nab an extra base, the word around baseball has gotten out about not testing Hilliard’s arm. While his number of outfield assists has slowly decreased as he’s advanced through the minors, it’s been more of an indicator of opposing team’s trepidation to run on him. Not convinced? Simply watch the 25-year-old throw the ball back into the infield for a glimpse at his arm strength. 

With the Isotopes’ season ending September 2nd and several records having already been shattered at the top rung of the minors, we may finally see Hilliard get the chance to prove himself at the highest level of the game with the Colorado Rockies any day now.


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