You generally only see Cameron Hill at two times between when the gates open and the end of the game – pre-game, when he is wearing his headphones and getting his mind focused on the upcoming game, or late in the game, when he is summoned from the bullpen to shut down opposing hitters.
For the current season, Hill has made 29 appearances out of the bullpen – 28 for High-A Lynchburg, and one for the AAA Columbus Clippers. The 6’1”, 185 lb. right-hander out of El Reno, Oklahoma, has put up strong numbers, earning a brief promotion to AAA when the organization was short on pitching following the 19-inning marathon game between Cleveland and Toronto to open the month of July.
Hill grew up with a love of baseball, in part because his father had been a ballplayer.
“My dad played four years of college ball and had some tryouts with professional teams, so it’s kind of in my blood,” said Hill. “I started playing at three or four years old, in T-ball. That’s where it all began.”
Growing up in a western suburb of Oklahoma City, he had opportunities to attend games at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a AAA level ballpark operated then while an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It was exciting, but he did not appreciate the work that goes into professional baseball until he crossed over into that world.
“I was young, didn’t really know what they were about,” said Hill about his visits to Bricktown. “I just thought they were like us, they showed up and played. All the stuff behind the scenes was unknown. Now I’m getting a taste of that.”
Following high school, he pitched in eight games while attending Seminole State College. Up to that point he had been primarily a shortstop before he moved over to pitching, a fairly common progression for players.
“I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school,” said Hill. “I thought I could play shortstop at the next level like everyone else. Junior college let me get on the mound. I think experience is a big teacher.”
In those eight games, two of which were starts, he tallied a 4.02 ERA, had a 1-0 record, and struck out 29 batters in 15 2/3 innings pitched, a solid pitching record. This was followed by his selection by Cleveland in the 17th round of the 2014 First Year Player draft, taking him away from a commitment to the University of Pittsburgh.
He had pitched effectively for two years before moving up to the High-A Hillcats team this year, and has effectively made the adjustment to the level of competition in the Carolina League.
“He’s done a great job,” said Hillcats pitching coach Rigo Beltran about Hill. “He’s given us a lot of innings out of the bullpen, been able to pitch multiple innings, and pitch late in the game. He’s made great adjustments, a little on his mechanics, but more so on his approach and being competitive in where his pitch location is.”
In the 28 games out the Hillcats ‘pen Hill has a 5-1 record with a 2.36 ERA. He has put up 50 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings and has walked only 13 batters for a WHIP of 1.07. Supporting this, he has limited batters to a .222 average against him.
Hill uses a combination of fastball, curveball, and changeup to keep hitters off balance. His fastball sits in the 90-94 miles an hour range, but it is his shift in the mental aspect of the game that has really improved his effectiveness.
“Early in the season, he was not realistic as far as where his misses were,” said Beltran. “Now he’s starting to understand where he has to pitch to be successful. He’s made great mental adjustments and he’s starting to have more success.”
Success for a pitcher means getting outs, and Hill has been doing that very well of late, giving him the opportunity for the short promotion to Columbus for a few days.
“I like to attack guys, go right at guys,” says Hill. “I’m working on finding the zone and getting outs in the zone. When you start moving up levels, guys don’t swing at off-the-plate stuff, so you have to continue to make better pitches. I’m continuing to work on my craft and throw strikes.”
In his one appearance for AAA Columbus, he got two and two-thirds innings of work against the Toledo Mudhens and showed how effective his pitching mindset has made his stuff. He did not allow any runs, giving up just two hits and striking out two batters.
The experience clearly energized him and gave Hill better insight into how to go about his business to get further opportunities to move up the system and pitch at a higher level.
“Just watching those guys go about their business, a lot of them have been in the Big Leagues,” said Hill about observing his teammates on Columbus. “Kyle Crockett, Shawn Armstrong, Cody Anderson. It’s a different feel up there. It’s a lot more efficient game.”
One of the elements of playing at AAA that he had to quickly adapt to was the limited time frame for both warming up on the mound when coming out of the bullpen and the short time allowed between pitches.
“I came on in the middle of an inning and got my warm-up pitches,” said Hill. “I threw about three or four and I look over and saw 59 seconds and thought, ‘What the heck is that?’ I realized I only had two minutes to get warmed up on the mound. Then I threw two pitches and look over and the clock says 20 seconds. Now I was like, ‘okay, here we go, this is the real deal. I’ve got to get the ball and get my signs and go after it’. It was a little different but it wasn’t a hard adjustment.”
When not on the field he likes to relax, since most minor league teams have a very limited number of off days. “Maybe go watch a movie, or go sit by the pool, or throw the football around with some of my roommates,” shared Hill about his extracurricular activities of preference.
When he is on the field he is all business. He wears his headphones before the game to help get him focused before the games.
“I’m kind of all over the place,” Hill said about his musical preferences. “I like a little bit of hip-hop, rock, and country. It’s part of my pregame routine to get locked in.”
He has been locked in on the mound for most of the season and looks to continue to master the craft of pitching. As he demonstrates his effectiveness, he will continue to get opportunities and should eventually get the chance to move up to AA Akron or AAA Columbus on a more permanent basis.
Photo: El Reno Tribune