Meet New Detroit Tigers pitcher Garrett Hill
By Chris Brown
Garrett Hill is an unlikely success story.
Monday’s Independence Day doubleheader against the Cleveland Gaardians marks the MLB debut of right-handed pitcher Garrett Hill. He’s the 6th Detroit Tigers player to debut on the 4th of July since 2000, joining Jeff Ferrell, Zach Miner, Dustin Molleken, Cody Ross, and Justin Verlander — who also happened to debut in a doubleheader against Cleveland.
Detroit Tigers fans who follow the minor leagues may already know of Garrett Hill. His rise to the majors has been slow and steady, but he has been on the prospect radar. We had him ranked as the 19th best prospect in the Detroit Tigers farm system heading into this season, and he was ranked in the same range to Baseball America and MLB Pipeline.
The Detroit Tigers are scrambling to find arms, and Garrett Hill is the 14th pitcher to make a start for them this year, but this isn’t entirely an emergency situation. Hill hasn’t been a priority prospect for the Tigers, but they liked him enough to send him to last year’s Arizona Fall League, where he posted terrific stats (13.1 IP, 1.98 ERA, 15H, 21K, 3BB) and made the Fall Stars roster.
The club could have called up Elvin Rodriguez again, but Hill has earned this shot.
Garrett Hill’s Unique Climb
After an excellent career at Analy High School (alma mater of Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia) in Seabastopol, California, Garrett Hill (and his twin brother Evan) enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College. Garrett had an excellent freshman season at SRJC in 2015, posting a 0.88 ERA over 72 innings. But he had Tommy John surgery and missed all of the 2016 season.
Hill returned to the mound successfully in 2017, producing a 2.83 ERA in 92.1 innings for Santa Rosa, and then transferring to San Diego State. He instantly became the ace of the 2018 Aztecs’ staff, going 7-3 with a 3.91 ERA over 78.1 innings, and pitching them to a Mountain West Tournament win and NCAA Tournament berth.
The Detroit Tigers selected Garrett Hill in the 26th round of the 2018 draft, with the 765th overall pick, and signed him to a $100,000 bonus. He is set to become the 81st player from the 2018 draft to reach the majors, joining fellow Detroit Tigers Casey Mize, Kody Clemens, and Tarik Skubal. The only player taken later than Hill to reach the majors is Penn Murfee, who was drafted in the 33rd round by the Mariners.
How uncommon is it for a 26th rounded to reach the majors? The draft has existed for 56 years, and Hill will be the 56th big leaguer who was drafted and signed in the 26th round. He joins former Tigers 26th-round pick Jeff Ferrell and Max St. Pierre, and notable big leaguers like Phil Coke, Dusty Baker, and Lyman Bostock.
Much like fellow late-rounder Beau Brieske, Hill’s arrival is a testament to his hard work, but also a nice win for the Tigers scouting and development groups.
What to Expect from Garrett Hill
Garrett Hill isn’t an overpowering pitcher, but he owns a solid four-pitch mix and average command. His fastball isn’t particularly noteworthy for its velocity or spin, sitting in the 91-93 MPH range and occasionally scraping 95, but in the minors it has been a highly effective offering for him when he locates it near the top of the zone.
Hill’s best secondary pitch is his low-80s changeup that features above-average sink and fade away from left-handed hitters. At times it shows almost splitter-like vertical action, and he’s not afraid to throw it up in the zone or use it against righties. He also throws a low-70s curveball with good depth that can get him swings-and-misses, and a low-80s slider that generally lacks bite, but will occasionally flash as an average pitch.
For most of Hill’s professional career he has done an excellent job limiting home runs (0.4 HR/9), but hitters in the upper minors have been able to do more damage against him, particularly this year (0.9 HR/9). Hill succeeds by staying near the strike zone, but at times that leads to frustrating nibbling that can lead to walks and elevated pitch counts.
The Cleveland Guardians could be a tough matchup for Hill. They don’t expand the zone very often, and they have the lowest swinging strike rate in the majors this year. They do take more strikes than most teams, though, so Hill may be able to steal some strikes and get ahead in the count.
Garrett Hill doesn’t have much margin for error, and he’s bound to have some nerves in his MLB debut, so fans should probably expect a rough outing. They should also expect him to get a few more chances to prove himself at the big-league level before the season ends.