Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 11, Juan Hillman

Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Moving up one spot from last season, left-hander Juan Hillman comes in at number 11 on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.

Who is Juan Hillman?

After debuting at number 12 on last year’s prospect list, Juan Hillman moves up one spot in 2017. The 19-year-old left-hander joined the Cleveland Indians in 2015 after being selected 59th overall (second round) in the June draft out of Olympia High School in Florida.

He stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 180 pounds. His big claim to fame coming out of the draft was the fact that his Godfather is former big league pitcher Tom Gordon, who also was his legal guardian in high school. Hillman moved up a level in 2016, spending the year at Short-Season Mahoning Valley.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Hillman continues the trend of non-flamer throwers on our list. He has a good, though inconsistent, fastball that sits 89-92 but can touch 94-95 mph at times and flashes “plus” potential. He also throws a good curveball though his best pitch remains his changeup, which looks like it could be a future plus pitch at the big league level.

Hillman showed good, but not great, control in 2016 as well, posting a reasonable 3.4 BB/9 rate. He has yet to produce much in the way of strikeouts, with just 47 strikeouts in 63 innings in 2016. He doesn’t project to every become a huge strikeout guy, but there is some hope with the improved curve and fastball that he will develop more in that area.

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One area he does need to improve is his stamina as he had a very rough second half after one of the best starts to the season among any prospect in the system. In his first nine starts, he posted a 2.55 ERA and held opponents to a .244 batting average. He also had 32 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 42 1/3 innings. At one point, Hillman even went five straight starts without allowing an earned run.

However, things turned very sour after that and in his final six starts, he posted an ugly 8.27 ERA. Opponents hit over .300 off him in that span and his strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped to 1.25 (15 K, 12 BB). He also failed to work into the fifth inning in any of his final six starts, after routinely working into the fifth and sixth in his first eight.

Where does he go from here?

Hillman enters 2017 as one of the toughest prospects to rank in the Tribe system for me. One day he’ll look like a borderline top-five prospect in the system and another you may question if he is even worth putting on the list. He will still be a teenager when the season begins so there’s plenty of time for him to learn consistency and improve the quality of his three pitches.

The Cleveland Indians were also very conservative with their handling of Juan Hillman in 2016, keeping him in extended spring training before sending him to Short-Season ball. Hillman will need to learn some stamina quickly as he should begin the 2017 season in full-season ball as a member of the Class-A Lake County Captains’ rotation where he’ll be joined by fellow 2015 draftees, Triston McKenzie and Brady Aiken.

So while Hillman will never have the elite/top of the rotation upside of guys like McKenzie or Aiken, he remains as solid of a bet as any teenager can be to become a big league pitcher. He has the potential to be a solid back of the rotation starter with the possibility of becoming to be a number two or three starter if everything clicks.

Next: Indians 2017 Top 30 Prospects: No. 12, Mark Mathias

He’s a guy that is not going to move fast and probably won’t see Cleveland this decade, but he could be a guy that moves up this list a lot come 2018 even if he spends the entire season at Lake County.