Cameron Hill: Learning the Craft of Pitching

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.”

Cameron Hill El Reno Tribune CC
Hill with Clippers – El Reno Tribune

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

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

Related Posts

As Expected, Tribe Quiet in Rule 5 Draft

The Cleveland Indians went into the Rule 5 draft with a loaded 40-man roster, meaning the club was going to be sitting out the Major League portion…

Lynchburg’s Tyler Freeman – A Prospect on the Rise

At the season’s dawn, Tyler Freeman was a 19-year-old beginning his third season as a professional ballplayer. Most 19 year olds would be found in college, but…

Wilbis Santiago – Developing his Game at High-A Lynchburg

Playing baseball has been a part of the life of Wilbis Santiago since he was six years old. “My uncle gave me a glove and a bat,…

The Balanced Approach of High-A Lynchburg’s Mitch Reeves

It is challenging to maintain a balanced perspective when you win the Carolina League Player of the Week Award your first week at the High-A level. Mitch…

The Continuing Development of Lynchburg’s Juan Hillman

Baseball has not always been the focus of High-A Lynchburg’s left-handed starting pitcher Juan Hillman. The 6’2”, 200 lb. second round pick of the Indians in 2015…

The Rising Fortunes of Adam Scott

For left-handed pitcher Adam Scott, baseball has always been a part of his life. “There is a picture of me with a baseball in my left-hand, and…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.