Viera, Fla. – Taylor Hill, 25, the former Vanderbilt pitcher who was born in Old Hickory, was a player on the move last season for the Washington Nationals.
The Mt. Juliet High graduate had an eventful off-season as well, as he went to his brother’s wedding in Hawaii, attended a bachelor’s party in Las Vegas, saw a friend in Chicago and visited his grandmother in Florida.
Now it is down to business for the right-handed pitcher, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Nationals in 2011 out of Vanderbilt. Hill reported to spring training on the east coast of Florida with the Nationals, where he is one of several good young arms in the minor league system.
Last season the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Hill pitched at three levels in the Washington farm system: the Triple A Syracuse (NY) Chiefs of the International League, the Double A Harrisburg (PA) Senators of the Eastern League and the advanced Single A Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League in Woodbridge, Va.
“It was awesome, honestly. It was cool to move up and meet some of the guys. As far as that goes it was an honor to get called up to Syracuse, even if it was for a week,” Hill said after a morning practice session here recently. “I could not have asked for a better season."
He spent most of the season with Harrisburg and was with them in the Eastern League championship series, which they lost to Yankees’ affiliate Trenton. He was 2-7 with an ERA of 2.71 in 11 starts for Harrisburg, 6-2 with an ERA of 2.99 in 15 games with Potomac and 1-0, 4.22 in two starts for Syracuse.
Overall for the year he was 9-9 with an ERA of 2.95 in 28 games, with 27 starts. He threw 164.2 innings and allowed just 29 walks with 104 strikeouts, with 13 homers allowed.
“He pitched really well. He took a big step forward,” said Mark Scialabba, the director of player development for the Nationals. “He came in healthy and very strong. He was very consistent from outing to outing. That was the big difference. He attacked hitters and he commanded the fastball very well. He is just a good athlete. He definitely took a step forward.”
Scialabba added that Hill won a gold glove as the top fielding pitcher in the minor leagues. “He probably didn’t even know there was such an award,” Scialabba added. “That was exciting for him.”
He reported here to spring training Feb. 19 for the Washington accelerated program for top minor league prospects.
“It is never a bad thing to get invited here early. I can’t complain about going to Florida a week early, that is for sure,” said Hill, who won 11 games in 2012 to rank second among Washington minor leaguers.
Hill worked at this winter at his old high school and at Vanderbilt. Among the former Vandy players who were there around the same time were big leaguers David Price of Tampa Bay and Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh.
So what is a normal spring training day like? One recent day Hill showed up at the minor complex at 7 a.m., had breakfast, worked in the weight room, took part in team meetings, played catch, took part in defensive drills and was in a bunting contest where the winner pocketed $25. “Unfortunately I didn’t win,” said Hill, who did all of that before breaking for lunch around noon.
Since the end of last season the Nationals traded pitchers Nathan Karns to Tampa Bay and Robbie Ray to Detroit in deals that brought veteran major leaguers to Washington. Karns and Ray were both teammates at Harrisburg last year with Hill and they remain good friends. Karns made three starts for the Nationals last season while Ray has never pitched in The Show. “It was a great opportunity for them. I am happy for them,” Hill said.
Hill would love to begin the season at Syracuse but he knows that is not his decision. “I will go where they put me. They have put a lot of trust in me. I can’t control that. It is a waste of time to really think about that. They will find the best spot for your. If you pitch well you will move” up, he said.
“He has the ability to pitch at Triple A. He will try and earn a spot there. We will see where the cards fall,” Scialabba said.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer based in Maryland who covers the Nationals’ farm system. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com