Sam Hilliard could be Charlie Blackmon 2.0 for Rockies



Start with 6-foot-3, 221-pound Charlie Blackmon. Add two inches of height and about 15 pounds of muscle. Now, take away seven years of big-league experience, trim the mullet, shave off the gnarly beard and what have you got?

Answer: Rockies rookie outfielder Sam Hilliard, a 26-year-old left-handed power hitter with good speed who enters the shortened 2020 season with lofty expectations.

“I’m a big fan of Sam’s,” Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “He wants to be great. He doesn’t want to just be a big-leaguer, he wants to be a great big-leaguer.”

Adds manager Bud Black: “I’m going to echo ‘Mags.’ We are bullish on Sam. We really like his potential, long-term, and even here in the short term. He’s made some great strides over the last year and it’s good to see. … He’s got as much power as anybody on our team.”

The Blackmon comparison stems from Magadan, who sees striking similarities between Hilliard and Blackmon, the four-time all-star who won the 2017 National League batting title with a .331 average while mashing 37 home runs and driving in 104 runs. In Hilliard, Magadan sees flashes of Blackmon’s baseball I.Q. and hard work. Most of all, he sees a near-replica of Blackmon’s swing.

“Sam’s got that power, especially here at Coors Field, to where if he can barrel the ball up with the right trajectory, it’s going to be a home run,” Magadan said. “He doesn’t have to create a lot of bat speed and he doesn’t have to use a lot of his body. He’s got very good hands at the plate and he can manipulate the bat. He reminds me a lot of Charlie.”

Hilliard, naturally, is a bit bashful about the praise.

“To be compared to how Charlie plays on the field is something special to me,” said Hilliard, who could supplant Blackmon in right field, at least early in the season, because Blackmon has still not joined the team as he deals with the coronavirus. And if Blackmon is utilized as a designated hitter, Hilliard could see even more playing time.

Hilliard is coming off an impressive 2019 season in which he hit .262 with 35 home runs at Triple-A Albuquerque. His 71 extra-base hits were the most in Isotopes history. He jump-started his big-league career by hitting a home run in his major league debut on Aug. 27 vs. Boston at Coors, and kept on impressing, finishing with a .273 average, seven home runs, two triples and four doubles over 27 games.

Hilliard, like Blackmon, is a different kind of left-handed power hitter.

“Charlie is not typical left-handed hitter with a down-and-in hot zone,” Magadan said. “Charlie can look for pitches up in the zone if the pitcher has that spin-rate fastball. He can get on top of the baseball and get to those pitches up in the zone that a lot of left-handers can’t.

“Sam has that ability, too. Sam’s smart enough and he’s got that awareness of what his body is doing. That’s a lot like Charlie.”

The biggest flaw in Hilliard’s game right now is that he strikes out too much — 32% of his at-bats in his combined 2019 Triple-A and major league season. He’s well aware.

“This season, I’m really trying to improve my pitch selection and decision-making at the plate,” he said. “I’m trying to stay relaxed and take my best swing at good pitches to hit. I want to cut down my chase percentage as much as I can.”

Hilliard also whiffed a lot during the short spring training — 12 in 34 at-bats — but some of that could have been because he was not able to prepare for pitchers during Cactus League games. Magadan believes that Hilliard’s video work and good study habits will have him ready for the real season.

“Sam will make full use of the information we have up here in the majors,” Magadan said. “In the time he spent with us last year, if we told him (something), he would, right away, make the adjustment. So he has that ability to make that adjustment and that’s also where he reminds me a lot of Charlie.”