Hilligoss gets clean slate

SURPRISE, Ariz. - After struggling in two seasons at High-A Tampa, 24-year-old prospect Mitch Hilligoss is looking for a fresh start. He got that when the Rangers acquired him in exchange for Greg Golson over the offseason. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the prospect after a recent Spring Training game.

After a season and a half of professional baseball, third baseman Mitch Hilligoss looked like one of the better pure hitting prospects in the New York Yankees' system.

The club's third-round pick in the 2006 MLB Draft, Hilligoss batted .292 in his professional debut with short-season Staten Island. The next year–at Low-A Charleston–he cruised to a .310 average with 35 doubles in 128 games.

However, High-A has been a different story for Hilligoss. The former Purdue Boilermaker has spent the last two seasons with the Tampa Yankees, hitting .241 and .233, respectively. Hilligoss was limited to 51 games last season after suffering a hamate bone injury.

While Hilligoss hasn't developed the power the Yankees hoped their corner infield prospect would, he has always been successful on the base paths. The prospect stole a career-high 35 bases in 42 attempts with Charleston three years ago.

Hilligoss also brings versatility to the Rangers' system. As he explains below–although he is primarily a third baseman–he can also play some shortstop, second base, first base and left field. In Spring Training, Hilligoss has spent most of his time between third and left.

The 24-year-old worked out and played with Triple-A Oklahoma City all camp until Sunday morning, when he moved to High-A Bakersfield. Hilligoss has been an impressive hitter in camp, and if he starts back at High-A, he may get an opportunity to move up quickly.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the Illinois native after a recent game.

Jason Cole: Let's start with the trade. You were traded for Greg Golson in–what–late February?

Mitch Hilligoss: Yeah. I got the call–it was late February. I'm not going to lie–it was a little bit of a shock after the last couple years I've had. I had a little bit of injury problems and wasn't playing–as I would say–up to par. I got the phone call. I had been hitting and they said, ‘You've just been traded to the Texas Rangers.' Then the ball started rolling a little bit.

Cole: What were your thoughts both initially right after you found out and after you had some time for it to settle in?

Hilligoss: Your initial thought is, ‘This is awesome.' You're starting over with new coaches, new coordinators–everybody that will look at you and see you play. Then a week into it, I got to thinking, ‘Gosh, I don't know anybody, and this is going to be rough from a living standpoint. It'll take some time to meet new guys.'

Cole: Both in the sense that you didn't know anybody and in the sense that you were getting a clean slate with the Rangers, did it feel like you were getting a fresh start?

Hilligoss: Yeah, it was a fresh start. I talked to Servais, and that's what he said–that it's a clean slate and they haven't seen me play much. So that's the way I have come in. I'm trying to be relaxed and hopefully I can make a team.

Cole: Talk about some of the differences between the Rangers and Yankees organizations both in general and in Spring Training.

Hilligoss: Actually, there are a lot of similarities, believe it or not. The days are very similar and the workouts. The travel–actually, just going to Peoria to play the Padres and the Mariners and of course here with Kansas City–it's a lot different. You travel a lot with the Yankees in Spring Training. That's the nice part. But for the most part, everything is very similar and very structured just like it was with the Yankees.

Cole: Pretty much all the players out here have only done Arizona Spring Training. Having done both, do you have a preference?

Hilligoss: Well, the weather out here has been pretty perfect. It has rained a couple times, but that doesn't happen very often. I lived in Florida for awhile, and it rains all the time, so it has been nice out here.

Cole: You were with the Yankees for three and a half years. If you can, just kind of sum up your career with their organization.

Hilligoss: I was drafted in '06, just coming off a hamate bone injury. To be honest, I didn't know what to expect going into Spring Training. I don't know where they were going to put me, and I'm not sure they knew that. So this opportunity came, they jumped for it, and I jumped for it too, I guess.

Cole: Your first year, with Staten Island, you played both shortstop and third base, no?

Hilligoss: Yeah, actually I played probably 10 or 15 games at shortstop last year. I think flexibility is good. We'll see.

Cole: But you have mostly been a third baseman through your pro career?

Hilligoss: Yeah, mostly at third base. Probably 75 percent of my games have been at third. But short, first and left–I've also got a few games there.

Cole: I saw you in left field the other day during the Triple-A game. Are you comfortable in left and do you know if you'll be spending much time out there once the regular season starts?

Hilligoss: We haven't really talked about it. Obviously the teams haven't been set. Probably early next week or the middle of next week, teams will be set. I don't know–this is all new to me, like I said. But I feel like a little bit of left, second and third are all options. Wherever you can get at-bats, that's where I want to play. If it's every day, that would be great.

Cole: Is there a place you are most comfortable at right now?

Hilligoss: I've been asked that a lot. I guess you've got to say third because I have played the most there. But it doesn't necessarily mean I'm more comfortable there. It's just familiarity.

Cole: You guys are about two weeks into Spring Training games. How do you feel you are performing in batting practice and games right now?

Hilligoss: Batting practice has been inconsistent. You have a good day and then you have a bad day. But we know that in Spring Training. As far as feeling the game, I actually feel pretty good. I slowed down–early on I was a little jumpy. But I feel pretty good. I made a few mistakes, like today–not getting over a runner. Early on I missed some signs and things, but it is Spring Training and forgive and forget I guess.

Cole: They've got an abbreviated minor league Spring Training schedule out here in Arizona this year. Is this also a little less than what you were used to in Florida?

Hilligoss: Yeah. It is actually probably about a week shorter–a week to 10 days shorter. But I don't think it bothers guys. In fact, we're probably a little fresher, and hopefully we will be fresher with some extra days off for us before the season starts.

Cole: How close do you feel you are to being able to go nine innings day-in and day-out?

Hilligoss: I feel really close. I need to get three or four more games in here and a few more workouts, but I feel really good. I think a lot of guys would say that. Obviously with a few off-days before opening day, your legs will be rejuvenated, your arms will come back. I think we're all ready to go.

Cole: Tell me about what you have been working on at the plate right now.

Hilligoss: The big thing in Spring Training here for all hitters is to stay square at the plate–to not fly open and try to stay on it. My big thing–whether it was the Yankees or here, and we've talked about it–is my head movement. Whether it is up and down or forwards, I have to limit my head movement because it lets the ball get on you quicker. Obviously you may pound the ball on the ground a little more. So that is my big thing.

Cole: What is the instruction you're getting out here like versus what you were getting with the Yankees? I know both teams are known for having excellent developmental staffs, but are you hearing some different things from the coaches out here?

Hilligoss: Everybody has been great. We talked a little about my head movement–Bo and Brownie [Mike Boulanger and Brant Brown]. They both agreed that I've got to keep my waist parallel to the ground. Those are all things that I have known about and they are big keys for me.

Cole: Have you spoken with the Rangers about where you'll be starting this season?

Hilligoss: Actually, we haven't talked much about it. Servais and I'm sure a lot of the coordinators and coaching staff are still trying to figure out the moves they want to make. You've just got to stay patient. We'd all love to know, but it's not that easy for them. Hopefully it's Frisco, but we'll see what happens.

Cole: You have been playing with the Triple-A team so far in camp. Even though it's minor league camp and guys are kind of spread all over, have you noticed the pitching being more advanced than you're used to?

Hilligoss: I don't know about advanced, but I noticed guys have better command, of course. And they're willing to throw–no matter what count–a changeup or a curveball in there, which is not unexpected. They should have command of three or four pitches. Being with the Triple-A guys is really cool. A few guys coming down from big league camp, and some of them have even been there. It has been a great experience and hopefully I can be in their situation next year.

Cole: After spending a couple years in High-A, how much are you looking forward to hopefully finally getting that Double-A opportunity?

Hilligoss: A lot. I'd love to be in Double-A. Obviously it's not the end of the world if I don't get there, but that is my goal going in right now. I want to go there and prove to the Rangers, prove to myself and even the Yankees that I can play in Double-A.

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