HARRISBURG, Pa. – Taylor Hill stood under the grandstand outside of the home clubhouse at Metro Bank Park on Sept. 12 as some drops of rain leaked between the metal bleachers at the home of the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.
A right-handed pitcher from Mt. Juliet High School, the 6-foot-3 right hander reflected on his impressive season as a minor league prospect with the Washington Nationals.
It may have been raining on an overcast afternoon prior to Game 3 of the Eastern League Championship Series between host Harrisburg and the Trenton Thunder, a farm team of the New York Yankees. But the future is bright for Hill, who was drafted out of Vanderbilt in the sixth round by the Nationals in 2011.
Hill ended regular-season play with a 2-7 record for Harrisburg but had a 2.71 ERA in 11 starts. In 69.2 innings for the Senators, he gave up 67 hits and 16 walks with 41 strikeouts with a WHIP of 1.19 as opposing hitters batted .256 against him.
“You can’t control it. You just have to go out and give your team a chance to win. There is nothing you can do about it,” he said of the lack of offensive support.
“He is the unfortunate victim of no offense,” said Matt LeCroy, the Harrisburg manager. “He is one of the biggest competitors I have had in five years as a manager. He gives the team a chance to win. He could be 7-2. He does not have overpowering stuff, but he is not afraid of contact.”
The Mt. Juliet product was slated to start Game 4 in the best-of-five Eastern League playoffs Friday, but Trenton won, 11-4, on Thursday to sweep the series for its first title since 2008.
Hill will now begin a busy off-season, which is scheduled to see him take part in four weddings, including that of his brother’s in Hawaii. He plans to work out again this off-season at Mt. Juliet and Vanderbilt.
But come March during spring training in Viera, Fla., the 24-year-old pitcher figures to contend for a spot in the starting rotation of Triple-A Syracuse in a Washington farm system filled with pitching prospects.
“I hope so. Menhart has been working with me,” Hill said of Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart. “I can’t say enough about the pitching coaches I have had here [this season]. They have all done a great job. They have all put a stamp on me in a good way.
“I am going to do my best. You never know. I would have never thought I could have done some of the things I have done this year, but it has worked out really well.”
Menhart, a former big league pitcher, confirms Hill should contend for a spot in the starting rotation for Triple-A Syracuse of the International League in 2014.
Hill throws a fastball in the low 90s with a slider and circle change up.
“He goes right after hitters. He doesn’t nibble. He knows who he is [as pitcher]. He is going to sink the ball,” said Menhart, sitting in his office on City Island in Harrisburg. “He is one of the most cerebral guys I have ever had.”
Hill was not among the top 30 prospects in the Washington minor league system prior to this season, according to industry leader Baseball America. But he was second in the Washington minor league system in victories in 2012, with more wins that ranked prospects, such as Robbie Ray and Paul Demny.
Hill began this season with high Class A Potomac and was 6-2, 2.99 in 15 games, with 14 starts. He was named the Carolina League pitcher of the week in late April, two months before he was promoted to Harrisburg, which beat Erie in the divisional playoffs before falling to Trenton.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I guess that is the right way to put it,” he said of the promotion to Harrisburg. “I was obviously excited.”
That excitement should continue in 2014.
David Driver is a freelance writer who covers the Washington Nationals and their minor league teams. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com.