By David Driver
Used with permission
By David Driver, Special Correspondent
BOWIE, Md. – Taylor Hill ran out of the clubhouse of the Harrisburg Senators and glanced over his right shoulder at dark clouds off to the west.
“More rain,” said Hill, 24, the minor-league pitcher and Mt. Juliet High School graduate.
Hill joined fellow Harrisburg pitchers for stretching and light tossing prior to batting practice before a Class AA Eastern League game, though the contest was eventually postponed due to rain.
That has been one of the only ways to slow down the Harrisburg pitching staff, which has several of the top prospects in the Washington system. One of them is Taylor Jordan, who was called up from the Senators to start for the Nationals on June 29 in New York against the Mets.
Hill was not among the top 30 prospects in the Washington minor league system prior to this season, according to industry leader Baseball America. But he was second in the minor league system in victories in 2012, with more wins that ranked prospects such as Robbie Ray and Paul Demny.
“You have to go out and battle. You have to go out and compete,” said the 6-foot-3 Hill, standing by the Harrisburg clubhouse here.
Right-hander Hill began this season with high Class A Potomac and was 6-2, 2.99 in 15 games, with 14 starts. He was named the Carolina League pitcher of the week in late April, two months before he was promoted to Harrisburg, which was in first place in its division through games of June 29 at 44-36 and led the league in team ERA.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I guess that is the right way to put it,” he said of the promotion to Harrisburg. “I was obviously excited.”
Three Harrisburg pitchers, while bypassing Triple-A Syracuse, have been promoted straight to Washington this season: Nathan Karns, Ian Krol and Taylor Jordan. Karns made three starts before heading back to Harrisburg while Krol did not allow a run in his first nine outings for the Nationals.
In his first start for the Senators at home June 26 against Akron Hill allowed just four hits and one run in seven innings to get the win. He struck out four and walked just one batter.
“I thought it went pretty well. Our defense played well,” Hill said. “My main thing is to go out there and throw strikes. I think I got more fly balls than groundouts. It ended up working out. Our defense played great.”
Hill was drafted out of Vanderbilt in the sixth round by Washington in 2011.
“He has great poise,” said Harrisburg closer Aaron Barrett. “I faced him at Vanderbilt when I was at Ole Miss. He is even keeled.”
“I like his go-get-‘em attitude,” said Paul Menhart, the Harrisburg pitching coach. “He challenges the hitters from pitch No. 1. He throws a little sinker, a little slider, a split-finger change. He is not afraid of contact. He has nice action on his fastball. His attitude impresses me the most.”
Menhart, who pitched at West Carolina University and in the Majors for Toronto, San Diego and Seattle, said his fastball is clocked in the low 90s. Hill also throws a slider, splitter and change up to go with his two- and four-seam fastball.
He was 11-7, 4.91 last season with low Single-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League and three starts for Potomac of the Carolina League.
Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy, a South Carolina native and former Major League catcher with Minnesota and Washington, has been impressed with Hill.
“I was definitely pleased with his first outing,” LeCroy said. “He is not afraid of contact.”
Hill is not the only local player in the Eastern League. Luis Martinez, a Cumberland University product, is a catcher for the Bowie Baysox, the Class AA affiliate of the nearby Baltimore Orioles.
Editor’s note: David Driver has covered the Eastern League and the Washington farm system for several years. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com.