Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #12 Juan Hillman

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #12 Juan Hillman

The first 2015 pitching draftee to appear, left-hander Juan Hillman comes in at Number 12 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Juan Hillman?

Hillman was the Tribe’s second-round pick in 2015 (59th overall), out of Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida. He signed for $825,000, which was $216,900 under slot.  The 18-year-old stands 6’2” and weighs 183 pounds. His Godfather is former big league pitcher Tom Gordon, who also became his legal guardian while Hillman was in high school.  Hillman saw some brief action with the Tribe’s Rookie Affiliate in Arizona this past summer.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Unlike a lot of Tribes young pitcher, Hillman isn’t a power pitcher. He sits about 89-91 right now with his fastball though can run it into the low-to-mid 90s at times.  He combines that with an advanced changeup for his age. He also throws a curveball that also has some plus potential. Scouts love his athleticism and projectable body, which helped Hillman being viewed as a top 50 draft prospect by several publications prior to the 2015 draft. 

Thanks to being tutored by a former All-Star pitcher, Hillman has a good feel for pitching and has credited Gordon with helping him develop. He also has very good command for such a young player. While the lower velocity may lead some to think he’s strictly a finesse pitcher, there’s actually a lot of optimism that as he fills out his frame and matures he’ll be able to add a few ticks to that fastball. He’s already added a few ticks to that fastball in the last year alone.

He only pitched in eight games for the Tribes Arizona Rookie Level team in Goodyear so not much to go on, but in his 24 innings, he looked very good. Solid strikeout rate (7.5 K/9) and even better walk rate (1.9 BB/9). That was consistent with the work he did in high school, posting 80 strikeouts to just 12 walks in 62 innings his senior year.  There really aren’t a ton of weaknesses in his game at this point other than inexperience. Remains to be seen just how well he’ll do once he faces stiffer competition.

Where Does He Go From Here?

Given the tutelage he got from his mentor Flash Gordon, there’s some that believe Hillman is capable of jumping right in full-season ball at Class-A Lake County in 2016, despite only being 18 years old on opening day (he’ll turn 19 in May). And honestly, I think he probably could handle himself there. Justus Sheffield, one of the Tribe’s first-round picks in 2014, made that leap as well and showed he belonged. Whether or not the Tribe will do that with Hillman remains to be seen though as the Tribe’s system is getting some serious pitching depth at the lower levels.

No matter where he begins, Hillman, like almost all the 2015 draftees, is still a long ways off from seeing Cleveland. He may not be as much of a project as some guys but still will need a lot of work refining his craft in the minors.  I really like the upside he provides though as well as a rather high floor for such a young kid. Unlike some who are strictly projection guys, Hillman’s feel for his pitches and control make it easier to see him at least developing into a big leaguer reliever or spot starter. He’s got the upside of a middle-of-the-rotation starter (at least). Some publications even have him as a top 10 prospect in the Tribe system already, and while I’m not quite ready to put him there, I could easily see myself doing so by this summer. Just want to get more of an extended look at him. The talent is definitely there though.