If there is one word to describe Akron RubberDucks right-handed reliever Cam Hill, it is intense. You can see it in his eyes. His intensity helps serve as motivation for what he wants to do on the baseball field. The Redland Community College pitcher will be the first to admit that he an extremely competitive individual.
“We could be playing checkers and I’m gonna want to beat you. There’s nothing that brings it out it’s just always with me,” he smiles
It’s probably that quality that helped catch the eye of the Cleveland Indians during the 2014 MLB Draft. During the process, the right-handed reliever was not extremely optimistic that his name would be called. He thought he had a shot at getting selected on the third day of the 2014 draft but if his name wasn’t called, he was more than prepared to fulfill his commitment to go to pitch at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I think it was around the 14th round when a scout in my area called me and asked, ‘Hey would you be willing to for this much amount of money?’ I was like, ‘Yeah I’m in!’” Hill recalls.
The Indians ended up submitting Hill’s name on their draft card in the 17th round of the MLB Amateur Draft and the rest was history. Both sides agreed to terms and he was officially a member of the Cleveland Indians organization. It wasn’t a surprise to the righty that the Indians had taken a flier on him as they were the team that had probably shown the most interest during the pre-draft process. Despite pitching at a small junior college and putting up average numbers, the Indians saw something in Hill that made them willing to make him a part of their organization.
“I’m happy it was the Indians. We got a good organization here for the four years I’ve been a part of it and I have no complaints. They’ve been nothing but good to me and I’ve been nothing but good to them and it’s been a good experience,” notes the Akron reliever.
One of the biggest changes to pitching in the minor leagues compared to pitching in college for Hill has been the change in competition. His competition is not only standing 60 feet away from him in the batter’s box, it surrounds him everywhere he looks across the diamond.
“In college there’s good players don’t get me wrong but there’s a lot of prospects, a lot of phenoms running around in minor league baseball,” said Hill. “ Showing up every day and you’re playing the best of the best.”
It’s not something that intimidates Hill in any way. The right-hander thrives on the competition. Any game, he wants to win no matter who his competition is. That fire in his belly has allowed him to develop as a relief prospect within the Indians organization.
Hill first started his career as a starting pitcher. He played there in college at Redland Community College, so the Indians thought it was best if they keep him as a starter to begin. He showed promise, picking up a 1.76 ERA in 12 starts with Class-A Short Season Mahoning Valley Scrappers. It was decided after his first full season that he would make the transition to reliever. It meant a different way of preparing to pitch for Hill.
“There’s obviously a different preparation as a reliever vs. being a starter. You know when you’re gonna pitch when you’re a starter; It’s every fifth day,” he said. “ You can kind of have a set routine and a plan and as a reliever you kind of have a set routine as well but you’ve got to be very flexible.”
Despite the change in his routine, the shift to the bullpen did slow him down at all. In fact, he looked even sharper when he opened the 2015 season with the Class-A Lake County Captains, throwing 59.0 innings of 1.53 ERA ball with a sizzling 10.7 SO/9 ratio.
His ascent as a reliever has continued over the past few seasons, leading to Akron. The Indians rewrote the book last season on how to utilize their best relievers as demonstrated by their use of left-handed ace reliever Andrew Miller in the 2016 postseason. The way they used their prized southpaw has trickled down their minor league system and has affected Hill in a big way.
Now, he’s no longer a one-inning guy. He’s been used as a multi-inning reliever throughout the course of the 2017 season with the Akron RubberDucks. He’s looked incredibly efficient in his new role out of the bullpen, putting up a 2.48 ERA in 29.0 innings of work out of the Akron bullpen.
If anything has changed, it is his pitch selection. In years past, the right-hander utilized a circle change-up in his pitch arsenal to go with his fastball and his 12-6 curveball. There was a slight problem with the pitch though. Whenever he would decide to throw it, he would change his arm angle thus tipping the pitch to opposing batters.
Now he has decided to use a new pitch to attack hitters. His go-to pitch is a split-finger changeup which has been incredibly effective in his arsenal. He doesn’t change his arm angle when he throws his split-finger, so he now can utilize even more deception and keep opposing batters off balance with his three-pitch mix.
“It’s just a different look. It’s an easier pitch for me to throw vs. trying to manipulate a change-up and it’s more of a reliever pitch in my mind,” Hill describes.
Despite having a new pitch, the right-hander is still looking sharp. The Indians may not have blue-chip relief pitching prospects but they most certainly have developed guys capable of throwing multiple innings, allowing the bullpen to stay fresh. Hill has had the right attitude since day one and his competitive fire continues to shine brightly as he continues to pitch his way throughout the Indians’ minor league system.