Let me tell you something about electricity. Without it, the world would rot. Nights would be cold. Air would be damp. Life would be heavy. LSU would lack fuel.
Jaden Hill is electricity. He’s the pitching equivalent of baseballs spit out a jet engine. Jaden Hill is baseball’s Hadron Collider — seldom used, but loud as hell when activated.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a pitcher in the 2021 Draft with bigger stuff than Hill. A 38th round pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2018, Hill decided to postpone Major League Baseball in favor of Baton Rouge. He was the 78th ranked prospect by MLBPipeline in 2018, but as is the case with so many talented preps, he decided to roll the dice in pursuit of education and potentially more money. While it probably hasn’t gone as smooth as he had originally envisioned, Hill’s stock has skyrocketed over the past two years in the brief glimpses we’ve seen of him.
At 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, Hill, like fellow potential draftee Kumar Rocker, is a colossal, unnerving force on the bump. He was LSU’s prized recruit in the 2018 class, though he missed nearly his entire freshman season with a forearm strain. The injury was the result of irritation from a screw left in his shoulder from a previous clavicle injury. His frosh campaign wasn’t without highlights though, and his loss ultimately hurt the Tigers College World Series hopes down the stretch.
In 10 innings that year, Hill struck out 11 batters, surrendering just two earned runs while walking three batters. He touched 96 a few times and flashed a developing slider to compliment his already well-regarded changeup. He’d go under the knife in March of 2019.
Flash-forward 11 months to February 15 and Hill was back on the hill for LSU for an abbreviated appearance against the University of Indiana. The Hoosiers probably didn’t know what what little chance they stood. In two full innings of work out of the bullpen, Hill struck out three batters and didn’t allow a baserunner.
It just continued after that, notching 9.2 more innings over the course of 2020. In 11.2 total innings, Hill punched 17 batters and didn’t allow an earned run. He allowed just one hit, though he did surrender five free passes.
Hill ultimately put himself on another tier in his third appearance of the year, this one against Texas on national television. He’d pitch three innings, extinguishing six batters without allowing a baserunner. He’d hit 98 on the radar gun seven times (100 in several bullpens), though even that was overshadowed by his devastating breaking ball.
In total, Hill has notched just 21.2 collegiate innings, but the small sample size is enough to convince folks like myself he’s got front-of-the-rotation upside.
So, that begs the question — what’s a team getting in drafting Hill? Well, let’s start with the frame and the operation. At 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, Hill certainly looks the part. It’s an easy, repeatable mechanism that exhibits very good body control. There’s a ton of arm speed, but it’s controlled and lacks much violence whatsoever. The arm-slot is extremely vertical, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just generally won’t lead to much added deception. Hill has a strong, sturdy plant leg he braces and balances over. He rarely falls off the rubber and stays down plane throughout. He has good, not great extension on the fastball at 6.2 feet, but when you can touch triple digits, the gains in perceived velocity arguably become marginalized a bit. Hip, trunk and shoulder rotation is good, though a couple tweaks could lead to even more velocity. His positive disconnection with his glove hand is good, not great, staying low and lagging as he tires. That being said, I’ve only seen this on a few occasions from Hill, and the sample size is notedly small. The shoulders can lag behind his core at times, but it’s nothing alarming, The arm-path itself is safe. All in all, with the exception of some extension left on the table, and glove mechanics, he has all the fundamentals you like to see in a power pitcher.
Now that I’ve got you fully into the weeds, let’s revert back to an area of comfort.
TOOLS (Future Value).
That’s what you’re here for right? You want to know what kerosene the kid has in his arm. I don’t blame you.
The most important thing to recognize with Hill is just how green he is. He didn’t receive proper pitch coaching until he arrived at LSU. He played multiple sports in high school, and only threw two pitches — a fastball and a changeup. Yes, just 22 months ago, he didn’t have a breaking ball in his arsenal and was a two-pitch pitcher. Still, his raw talent got him marked a Top 100 prospect in the 2018 draft. Pretty telling.
So what’s in the package now? Well...
The firework display starts with a plus fastball. While it only averaged 93.4 mph on the season, it reportedly averaged 94.8 over his final seven innings of 2020. As previously mentioned, the heater topped at 98 in-game and 100 in bullpens. The movement profile on Hill’s fastball is pretty exciting. While Rapsodo only credits Hill with ~2200 RPMs, the 16.2 inches of induced vertical break is slightly above average. For perspective, it’s just two inches less than Rocker, though the 11.1 inches of run bests the Commodore by half an inch. The fastball profile isn’t too dissimilar from the Padres’ Kirby Yates, who’s .176 xBA on fastballs in 2019 ranked among the best in baseball.
Another year of recovery and conditioning, while admittedly projecting a bit, it should be expected Hill averages closer to 94-96 throughout 2021, potentially touching triple digits in-game.
Hill’s second-best offering is his slider. Hill wasn’t known for his breaking ball coming out of high school, the changeup was his best secondary at that point. The slider is something he developed on campus, turning it into a true punch-out offering. It’s a slider grip, averaging just 80.4 mph on the radar gun. It actually didn’t even touch 84 this season. It’s not a power pitch at this stage, but some expected tinkering will likely bolster it up into the mid-to-high 80s by the time he debuts. Hill is still honing control and understanding for the pitch. It can get loopy and slurvy at times, exhibiting curveball tendencies now and again, but by and large it’s a sweeping slider with excellent characteristics.
The slider spins in at ~2350 RPMs, which is by no means great, but the transverse spin he puts on the pitch on what I can only imagine is a 2:15 axis allows it to sweep across the zone. It’s an impressive offering right now, but certainly has plenty of room for improvement in the consistency and spin rate departments. There’s a ton of untapped potential here.
The aforementioned changeup he leaned on so heavily during his preparatory days is his third offering, though he really hasn’t had the opportunity to show it off much at LSU, throwing just eight of them in 2020. That said, LSU’s Director of Video and Scouting Jamie Tutko provided some pretty high praise when Hill arrived.
“The first time I saw Jaden Hill throw, I saw the explosive fastball and the really, really, really good changeup,” Tutko said. “It reminded me of Fernando Rodney.”
The off-speed pitch tumbles into the strike zone at just 1700 RPM, very good for a changeup. It’s got plenty of arm-side fade at 16+ inches, suggesting it could be a very real offering at the next level. I haven’t seen enough of the pitch itself with the exception of this hanger below. Hard to go off anything but outside scouting reports which all seem to suggest it’s a potential solid average offering at times.
His fourth pitch, and frankly the pitch I think most should be excited about, is a cutter in the high 80s, touching 90. It’s hard to imagine with further refinement it won’t sit 90-92 at the next level.
Like his fastball, Hill’s cutter spins in at 2200 RPMs but exhibits more gyro spin than his slider. The 4.3 inches of vertical drop he gets on his cutter is significant, giving it a distinct and deceptive profile to play off the fastball. It doesn’t sweep like his slider, but that’s probably a good thing in this case as it mirrors the fastball tunnel for a long time through plane. The cutters Hill threw this season were frisbees leaving the opposition swinging at nothing but air. It’s a definitive 55 offering right now me.
All things considered, Hill has a starting pitcher profile with four distinct pitches that he commands well. The fastball/slider combo is the bread and butter but he’s shown the ability to get his other secondaries over. The size and physicality of the body makes it easy to dream on louder stuff in the near future.
There may not be another pitcher in the entire 2021 class that needs a full collegiate season next spring more than Hill. He has the arsenal, but we need to see more of it.
If there’s one guy in the 2021 class that may be a dark-horse to go first overall, I think Hill is the guy. There’s an immense package here to dream on if he can put it all together in February. The body, the physicality, the mechanics and operation, the arsenal, the present and projectable velocity, it’s all there. He’s not a complete pitcher yet, and some of Hill’s value certainly rests in his continued arm talent development, but Hill is a fine Geaux-Bordeaux — expect him to get better with time.