Hillman One of Indians’ Impressive Pitching Prospects from 2015 Draft

Pitching was a priority at the top of the 2015 June draft by the Cleveland Indians, as each of the club’s first three picks were starting pitching options.

Left-hander Juan Hillman was the final of those three selections, but there were some who were surprised he was still on the board when the Indians second rounder came at pick number 59. The southpaw starter from Olympia High School in Orlando, Florida was coming off of an impressive senior season, where he went 10-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 12 games. He worked 62 innings on the mound, striking out 80 and walking just 12. He had made a commitment to play for the University of Central Florida after high school, one that the Indians were able to make him reconsider.

He appeared in eight games for the Indians in the Arizona League over the summer after signing. He worked anywhere from two to four innings per outing and showed good control, issuing three of his five walks in his third outing on the year. In just four innings in his sixth outing, he struck out seven batters, matching his previous total of seven that he had over his first five starts.

“He has a solid average fastball at 90 to 91 MPH. He has real good life to his fastball and a feel for a curveball and change-up,” said Indians’ director of amateur scouting Brad Grant after the selection of Hillman. “This is another guy who throws a lot of strikes.”

Hillman is said to have excellent command of his pitches and that his fastball is complemented well by his two offspeed pitches. His velocity could even tick higher as he ages and develops more strength.

“I go after hitters, try to finish them as much as I can,” Hillman said in a story in the West Orange Times & Observer last February. “I know that if you leave a ball down the middle, they will hit it – no matter how hard you throw it, they will swing and hit it. I just make sure I hit my spots and go after them and don’t let them hang in there.”

Hillman stood 6’2″ and 180 pounds during his high school playing days. In addition to his dominance on the mound, he was steady at the plate, hitting .363 during his senior season and .364 on the varsity as a whole, adding to the claims of his athleticism on the diamond. He was looked up to on the Titans’ squad because of the loose, laid back attitude he brought to the game, as well as his skill set and his character.

But despite his natural gifts and talents, it may have been an off-the-field event that has guided Hillman’s star to where it shines today.

At the age of eleven, his path crossed that of former Major Leaguer Tom Gordon, who saw Hillman while coaching his traveling baseball team. “Flash” took an interest in the youngster and would eventually become Hillman’s godfather and legal guardian, bringing him into a home already crowded with MLB experience and potential. Gordon’s son, shortstop Nick Gordon, was a teammate of Hillman’s at Olympia and was the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Minnesota Twins. Nick’s half-brother, Dee Gordon, is the All-Star second baseman of the Miami Marlins.

The senior Gordon has acted as a mentor to the prodigy Hillman, who also benefited from time with the two Gordon boys.

“You love it,” said the former 21-year Major Leaguer Gordon in a draft week story about Hillman on MLB.com. “You see them accepting him and accepting him into their household. They’ve kind of given him that feel of comfort, that feel of, ‘Hey, you’re one of us. Of course we’ll do what we can to help you.’ It’s been gratifying for all of us. Of course, when you bring kids in your home, you want them to feel comfortable and not feel like they’re an outcast in any way. For Juan, he never felt that.”

“It’s amazing, man. Juan works hard. He works with my dad pretty much every day on throwing, so to see him go so high [in the Draft] is amazing,” Dee said in the same story. “I texted him when I could from the hotel to congratulate him. It’s just exciting. His family’s excited. We’re excited. The sky’s the limit for him.”

While Hillman spent nearly four years in the Gordon home, he still was inspired by his mother, who was a single parent and had tried to juggle his athletic needs with tending to her other children.

“She’s a strong woman,” Hillman shared in the West Orange Times & Observer story. “[She] always kept me on the right path and made sure I stayed in line, and she always likes to see me happy.”

Now, he will look to have the type of success that made the senior Gordon a Rookie-of-the-Year runner-up with the Royals in 1989 and a three-time All-Star reliever while with the Red Sox, Yankees, and Phillies over the course of more than two decades in the MLB circuit, while his supporters Dee and Nick continue their own professional journeys. Hillman has several quality sounding boards to rely on and to help keep him on the right path towards a successful MLB career.

Photo: West Orange Times & Observer

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