At the Park: Derek Hill and Spencer Turnbull

The MLB draft provides a great opportunity for prospect analysts with scouting chops. You talk to amateur scouts and hear the good and bad they have to say about young soon to be professionals, and then you get to lay eyes on them for your own evaluation. This exercise is a fascinating experience, and one I have gone through this summer with first looks at the Tigers top two picks from June.

Entering the draft I had not seen first round pick Derek Hill live, and I had not seen Spencer Turnbull since his freshman year on campus. This fact left me relying heavily on the eyes of amateur scouts that I have talked to for years. I trust those other eyes, but not as much as my own. Amateur scouts see baseball through a different lens than scouts at the professional level. It is a different landscape and what the two camps project can be dramatically different.

Derek Hill

Hill came to the table billed as an impact athlete that should not have fallen to the Tigers slot in the draft. In my first look – a look that now totals eight games with short-season Connecticut – Hill looks the part of a potential impact player.

He is a tall, thin athlete with quick twitch ability. The muscle is still coming to the frame, but there’s plenty of room to add strength and I can see him becoming a much more thoroughly filled out athlete. Hill is an impressive runner that has flashed plus-plus times down the line in my viewings Hill has settled more in the plus range for speed, but he uses his wheels well; showing an aptitude for getting jumps and taking bases.

At the plate, Hill is unrefined but full of potential. The raw ingredients for a legitimate hit tool are there, including loose hands, lightning quick bat speed, and at least a rudimentary understanding of the strike zone. He has a tendency to try and do too much at this early stage of his career, but I believe the patience and feel for waiting and driving the ball will come. The hit tool should play to at least average, and with added strength, I can see the power playing in the form of loads of doubles and 12-15 home runs.

Hill will standout most for his defense for the first couple of seasons, as he already exhibits an advanced feel with the glove. He moves elegantly in the outfield, breaks quickly on the ball off the bat, and has the closing speed to track balls down in any part of the park. He still needs to learn to command the outfield and lead his corner outfielders, but that will come with experience.

The development of Hill’s game will take time and patience, but the potential for an impact player in every facet of the game is very real. Hill stands out as an obvious first round talent and is without a doubt the top prospect in the Tigers system.

Spencer Turnbull

Entering draft season, amateur scouts painted Turnbull as an obvious reliever with a power arm. I can see that projection but based on the 14 innings I have seen this summer – following a lengthy college season – I am not inclined to agree.

In every outing, Turnbull has relied heavily on his two-seam fastball, pumping heat in the 91-93 mph range with heavy sink and riding life. He typically works low in the zone with his lively fastball, but will elevate unintentionally at times. The four-seam fastball has been pushed to 94-95 mph and he can overpower hitters late in at-bats.

Behind the fastball, Turnbull relies heavily on a filthy slider in the 84-86 range with tight rotation and harsh tilt. The changeup is the definitive third pitch but shows some fringy promise in the low-80s. The changeup is firm but has good arm speed and some feed. On occasion, Turnbull has shown a lower-80s breaking ball with more of a curveball shape, but there are no indications this is a deliberate alteration.

The fastball and slider are enough to work through a lineup at least a couple of times, and with progress, the changeup can help get through a third or fourth time. He has the thick lower half and overall durable frame to suggest he can eat innings, giving me a pretty firm belief in his future as a starter.

I still need to see the command come along with a delivery that lacks consistency, and I would like to see some progress with the consistency of Turnbull’s changeup, but I feel comfortable with a fourth starter projection at this point.

It’s still early in the developmental process for both players, but both players have clearly displayed the type of talent that warrants the high-round draft selection, and both players are top ten prospects heading into the offseason.

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