The Nationals announced that they have signed outfielder Derek Hill and right-hander Hobie Harris to minor league deals with invites to Spring Training. Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post reported on the Hill deal before the official announcement.
Hill, 27 next month, is a former first round draft pick, having been selected by the Tigers 23rd overall in 2014. At that time, he was considered to be an exciting talent due to his speed and defense, with his ultimate ceiling to be determined by the development of his bat.
Unfortunately, the offensive part of his game never really caught up with the other parts. He cracked the majors in 2020 and got into 95 games over the past three seasons. His batting line in that time is .240/.291/.339, production that’s 24% below league average by measure of wRC+. He’s struck out in 29.9% of his plate appearances, well above the league average rate, with this year’s being 22.4%.
His time in the minors this year wasn’t great either, as he hit .220/.294/.386 for a wRC+ of 73. That included time in the Tigers’ system as well as that of the Mariners, who claimed him off waivers in August. Seattle designated him for assignment and outrighted him in October.
For the Nationals, they are deep in the rebuilding process and not expected to be competitive in 2023, meaning they are one of the teams best-suited to take a shot on a former prospect like Hill. His baserunning and glovework give him a decent floor, meaning even a slight improvement at the plate could turn him into a decent piece for the club. He’s out of options and can’t be sent back down if he cracks the roster, but he has less than two years of service time and can be retained cheaply for years to come if he has a breakout. The Nats have Victor Robles penciled into center field for now, though he’s struggled at the plate for years and is in line for a $2.5MM salary via arbitration, per the projections of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.
As for Harris, 30 in June, he was a 31st round draft pick of the Yankees in 2015. He stayed in their system until December of 2019, when the Blue Jays grabbed him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. He spent the next couple of years in the Jays’ system before reaching minor league free agency and signing a minor league deal with the Brewers for 2022.
In each of the two past two seasons, he’s been in Triple-A, getting decent amounts of strikeouts and grounders but struggling with the free passes. In 2021, he registered a 3.92 ERA over 43 2/3 innings with a 27.9% strikeout rate, 11.5% walk rate and 48.1% ground ball rate. This year, his peripherals trended in the wrong direction yet his ERA dropped, likely due to a .203 batting average on balls in play. In 53 frames, he had a 2.04 ERA while striking out 27.1% of batters faced, walking 13.5% of them and getting grounders on 40.5% of balls in play. As mentioned with Hill, the Nats are likely going to be cycling through various players on their roster throughout 2023, looking for hidden gems as part of their rebuild. That means Harris has a chance to make his MLB debut if he keeps putting up decent Triple-A results next year.
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