The word “strange” doesn’t quite cut it when speaking of the off-season the Arizona Diamondbacks have had. When you’ve cornered the market on scrappy infielders (John McDonald, Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill) with a combined lifetime on base percentage (OBP) below .320 you’re practically begging for cyber ridicule. The signings of McDonald and Bloomquist should be inconsequential, as they shouldn’t see major playing time barring injury. However, Hill is slotted as the starting second basemen and that’s where things get interesting.
In 2006 and 2007 Hill was a very capable player, hitting .291 each season with a decent OBP and flashed good power for a middle infielder. A concussion limited him to just 55 games in 2008. Then 2009 happened and Hill vaulted himself into stardom, making the All-star team while hitting 36 home runs and driving in 108 men. If 2009 was Hill’s Mt. Everest then 2010-2011 was his Mariana Trench. In a combination of injuries, poor luck and poor play he hit .205/.271/.349 with an unthinkably low batting average on balls in play of .196, though he did hit 26 home runs. He didn’t fare better for the first 104 games of 2011 either. Still with Toronto, Hill mustered only six home runs with a how-could-it-be-worse-than-2010 line of .225/.270/.313. The Blue Jays finally had enough and shipped him off with John McDonald to Arizona. The heat seemed to breathe new life into him.
Over his next 33 games Hill looked like a new person, hitting .315/.386/.492 and helping Arizona clinch the N.L. West division crown. The question is weather or not those 33 games were a mirage in the Arizona desert. It’s always tough to evaluate a players’ worth when they find success with a new team in a new league. So many factors come into play. How much did the new ballpark help? The switch to the easier National League? The pitcher’s unfamiliarity with him? It’s impossible to know.
If he can produce anything close to his 2009 performance then the contract he signed with Arizona will look like a steal. On that same point, if he comes close to his 2009 performance – or 33 games in 2011 – he’ll also be a steal come draft day. There are plenty of reasons to be weary but also enough encouraging signs for you to target him as a sleeper. Where you draft him depends on your faith that he’s rediscovered his abilities.
Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.