Derek Hill stood out in Whitecaps 5-4 loss to Lake County


Prospects are so much fun. They're even more fun when your team actually has a few, and with Tigers' General Manager Al Avila taking an apparent and visible interest in starting to build up the farm system, Tigers fans actually have something to watch at the minor league levels.

Yes, the Whitecaps fell to the Lake County Captains (Single A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians) on Wednesday afternoon, but as always, when looking for new talent in the system, it's not the end result that matters so much as the process.

Derek Hill, CF

The Tigers' first round pick in 2014, Hill was seen by some to be the Center Fielder of the Future. Unfortunately, he spent a good chunk of 2015 dealing with injuries, and only played in 53 games. His approach at the plate left a lot to be desired, by which I mean, hack-hack-hack-hack-hack is probably not a good way to get base hits. 

In Wednesday's game, Hill looked measurably better. He went 3-for-4 with a single, double, and a bases-clearing triple that netted him a couple RBI, and that doesn't happen by accident. He's chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, which is very good news, because when this kid gets on base, he'll kill you with his speed. He stole his fifth base in five games on Wednesday.

(I clocked him going home to third on his triple at just under 11 seconds. This is not slow.)

Defensively, he looked as good as originally promised. Speed doesn't always equal good defense, but Hill not only covers a lot of ground out there, he takes efficient routes. He stole at least one in-the-gap double on Wednesday with a combination of super speed and a very good read off the bat.

Cam Gibson, DH

Do you think Gibson is tired of being compared to his dad, former major leaguer and 1984 World Championship Hero Kirk Gibson? Actually, I kind of doubt it. I assume he wears number 23 for a reason, and his little quirks and mannerisms at the plate (the way he holds the bat, his stance, the way he waves the bat out front before each pitch) are a 100% match for the Elder Gibson.

As one Whitecaps staff member commented to me, "you'd think they created Cam in a lab."

Gibson was the DH in Wednesday's game so we'll have to wait and see what his defense looks like, but his plate appearances were average-to-slightly-above. He took a four-pitch walk in one at-bat, and worked a full count in another at-bat before ripping a hard grounder for a single to right field. Like his dad, Cam looks he'll profile as a pull hitter -- his leg-kick that drives slightly to the first base side and opens his stance nearly guarantees it.

Unfortunately, in his final at-bat, which came in the ninth inning with two outs and the tying run standing on third base, he looked a bit over-eager and swung at some bad pitches, ultimately striking out to end the game.

Jose Azocar, RF

He's young (just shy of his 20th birthday), and there's some real potential there. However, where Rob Rogacki wrote that Azocar seemed more promising defensively than offensively, he looked very much the opposite in Wednesday's game.

Defensively, he took a few odd routes in right field, one of which probably turned a single into a double when he tried to catch a ball over his head instead of cutting it off. His arm is what is technically known as "yucky," and one of his two very errant throws to the infield cost the Whitecaps a run.

At the plate, he was very aggressive and did a fair bit of first-pitch swinging. He put up an 11-pitch at-bat his first time to the plate, fouling off eight pitches before finally squaring one up for a ground ball single to the pull side. He was almost immediately doubled off on a line drive to the short stop, partly because he got too aggressive with his lead and initial jump.

In two other at-bats, he made solid contact but, as we know too well, "at 'em" balls don't get rewarded.

Still, a 2-for-4 day is something you'll take every day of the week.

Sandy Baez, RHP

I wasn't expecting to profile Baez at this game, but he forced my hand with a very nice outing -- at least, if you're watching the process and not the results. He got tagged for seven hits and did give up some pretty hard contact, only pitching 3 ⅔ innings, but he picked up four strikeouts (three of them swinging) and didn't walk a single batter.

His fastball lived in the 91-94 MPH range, occasionally touching 95 and 96, and he exhibited some very good command. Even with the higher velocity, he painted the black on both sides of the plate and got several called strikes that had batters shaking their heads.

He's also added a cutter (according to James Chipman) that came in around 86-88 MPH and got several swings and misses.

He threw a curveball in the 77-79 MPH range a handful of times, with mixed results. He got a whiff on the pitch in one at-bat, and a called strike in another, but mostly he missed with this pitch, so there's still some work to be done.

The Whitecaps' defense behind him was bad-to-ugly, and I'd love to see what he's capable of with better defenders behind him, but that pin-point command on his very good fastball was an eye-opener, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in future outings.
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