There is often a big disconnect between the prospect world and those primarily focused on the MLB level. Most prospect evaluators base their rankings on projectability, or "ceiling." How good can a guy be if everything clicks? Does he have the skill and physical ability to become an All-Star? Or is that swing too funky to ever handle the plus velocity and command he will see at the major league level?
It seems that Derek Hill's place on this countdown is a product of this collision. Just about everyone in the prospect world has Hill firmly atop the Tigers' prospect rankings, both because of his talent and the relative lack of projectability around him in the farm system. Here, our relative lack of familiarity with Hill -- and collective man-crush on players in the high minors, it seems -- has cost him a couple spots. Hill has the highest ceiling of any player in the Tigers' farm system, but it will be a few years until he gets a chance to display his capabilities at the MLB level. Until then, we get to dream on what could be, and that's a supremely gifted center fielder.
The son of an MLB scout and former first round pick, Derek Hill has the baseball pedigree that teams love to see when looking for fresh talent. Combine that with his raw, projectable skill set and it's easy to see why the Tigers selected him with the 23rd overall pick in the 2014 draft. In fact, many are surprised that Hill fell as far as he did. His game is predicated on speed and defense, as he has already drawn comparisons to Torii Hunter -- a 20-something Hunter, not the guy we saw last year -- for his glovework. Hill's bat will determine how quickly he moves through the system, and it sounds like he is better off there than his 2014 numbers suggest.
Hill's biggest asset is his speed. Virtually every report I've seen has him at a 70 grade or better, and there are a fair number of 80s -- the highest grade possible and not something thrown around lightly -- on his wheels. It makes him a constant threat on the basepaths and helps him play his excellent defensive instincts into an elite defensive profile. Fangraphs released a glowing scouting report on Hill last October, citing "elite speed" and an above-average arm. With potential 70 grades on both his speed and defense (and both present grades at 65 or better), there is little question that Hill's defense would play at the big league level.
Despite the defense-first profile, Hill has the potential to be a decent big league hitter. The Fangraphs report above has Hill's potential hit and power tools at league average or better. This is thanks to "above average bat speed" and an "advanced approach for someone his age." He has a classic, line drive swing that allows him to work from gap to gap, which will allow him to take advantage of his excellent speed. He probably won't be a .300 hitter, but should make plenty of contact and leg out a few infield hits along the way. If he continues to demonstrate the solid plate discipline he showed in the Gulf Coast League -- he walked 16 times in 119 plate appearances -- he could develop into a prototypical leadoff-type hitter.
Hill's biggest minus at this point is his inexperience. He is less than a year removed from playing high school baseball and didn't exactly light the world on fire during his first foray into pro ball. Hill hit just .212/.331/.333 with eight extra base hits in 119 plate appearances for the GCL Tigers last year, though that was with a BABIP of just .241. He also seemed somewhat overmatched in the New York-Penn League -- a step above the Gulf Coast League -- with a .233 wOBA in a small sample of 78 plate appearances. He has a long way to go before reaching the big leagues, and there are a lot of chances for his flaws to be exposed before he gets there.
The one tool that Hill really lacks is power. While Fangraphs slapped a 50 on his power potential, other publications aren't quite as optimistic. Hill's swing doesn't have a lot of natural lift, which will limit his home run potential. He makes solid contact and should drive gaps on a regular basis, but he should collect more doubles and triples than home runs. Many scouts think he will make enough contact to be successful at the big league level, but it's worth noting that he struck out 22 percent of the time in 197 total plate appearances last season. The 2015 season should provide a better look at the type of hitter Hill can be down the road.
Projected team: West Michigan Whitecaps
The Tigers are well known for being aggressive with their prospects, especially when it comes to getting them into full season ball. Despite Hill's offensive struggles in a brief spell in the New York Penn-League last year, expect the Tigers to start him off in the Midwest League. The club was equally aggressive with guys like Austin Schotts and Nick Castellanos in the past, and I don't see any reason why they would play it more conservatively with a talent like Hill. He's still a few years away from the big leagues, but Hill is one of the few players in the minors with true plus potential.
New addition: Austin Kubitza, right-handed pitcher
The Tigers' fourth round draft pick in 2013, Kubitza was one of four West Michigan Whitecaps starters to post a sub-3.00 ERA last season. He tied for the team lead in wins, led the team in innings, and had the second-best ERA behind Kevin Ziomek. Kubitza doesn't possess the velocity that most Tigers pitching prospects do, but his fastball -- which tops out around 90 miles per hour -- generates a ton of weak contact. Prospect evaluators are all over the map when it comes to assessing his potential, with MLB.com pushing him all the way up to third in the Tigers' system.