Scouting Yankees Prospect #24:Mitch Hilligoss

Hilligoss has all the intangibles

The Yankees drafted Mitch Hilligoss in the 6th round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of Purdue University. A combined .395 hitter in his last two years of college, he has quickly proven to be one of the elite hitters in the entire organization after setting a South Atlantic League record 38-game hit streak and finishing in the top ten in hitting in 2007.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Mitch Hilligoss
Position: Third Base
DOB: June 17, 1985
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 195
Bats: Left
Throws: Right

Despite his uncanny hitting ability and proving to people around baseball that he has the chance to swing one of the more potent bats, his critics have lined up to question his current lack of home run power and his apparent unwillingness to draw walks.

Hilligoss however doesn't need their help pointing out the areas he needs to improve.

"I was pleased for the most part with my year," said the left-handed hitter. "Obviously there's two areas you would emphasize that I need to improve on. First and foremost would have to be on-base percentage and walks. Those two coincide with each other.

"That would be my biggest spot and number two would be my home runs. I think that could be deceiving though because of the park we played in. I felt there were some balls that in other parks would have gone out. Those are the two areas that would jump out at you probably the most."

While those seemingly low statistical categories are used as some sort of evidence as a slight towards his game, scouts and team officials alike point out that Hilligoss is such a good hitter that he simply chooses to hit his way on in the early stages of his career.

"You know 'Hilli' is such a good hitter right now that at certain times, if you throw a pitch that's hittable, he's going to hit it," said Yankees hitting coordinator James Rowson. "He's just learning right now that at certain points in the count, during different points in his at-bats, to get pitches he can drive. That's what he's working on right now."

Able to expand his hitting zone to the point where he can nearly make contact on any pitch, Hilligoss understands the next step his development is improving his pitch selection and strike zone discipline, areas Rowson believes will allow his power to take off.

"I definitely see it," he revealed. "Mitch is a prime example of what we're talking about. Here's a guy who is a really good hitter, an above average hitter. With 'Hilli', as he learns and his strike zone discipline continues to get better, that's when we'll start to see more of the power everybody knows he has.

"As an overall hitter I'm not concerned at all when you talk about power numbers with these young hitters. If you look at Hilli's ability to put the barrel on the ball, you know he's a quality hitter. Experience and time are just going to create the animal that we know he's going to become. Hilli's a big boy."

Rowson's faith in Hilligoss' current abilities and future potential are echoed throughout the organization. Chalk up former Yankees hitting coordinator Gary Denbo as another strong believer.

"Mitch can already do some things with the bat that we try to teach a lot of other people," said the current Blue Jays hitting coach. "He does a great job of hitting the ball to the opposite field, using the opposite field gap, and he's a good two-strike hitter.

"I think once he understands how to use his lower-half better for balance and timing, then you're going to see some power start to develop over the next couple of years. I can't put a number on what he's going to do but I feel really good about his chances to help [the Yankees] offensively.

"I would say Mitch's limitation right now is he doesn't get the pitches to hit that he can drive. He's kind of his own worst enemy when it comes to swinging at pitches outside the zone. I didn't see very many pitchers get Mitch Hilligoss out this [past] year. Most of the time Mitch expanded his hitting zone to the point where he would get himself out.

"He has great hitting ability. It's fun to watch this guy hit but what he's going to have to learn is to become more disciplined inside of the strike zone before you're going to see those power numbers take off.

"I would say he's got an excellent chance at hitting for a lot more power because he's going to have to be a corner infielder so he's going to have to hit for some power, and I think he's got an excellent chance to develop that power."

Possessing all the other tools in his game - speed, defense, hitting ability, and leadership skills - Hilligoss has become one of the safer bets to reach the big leagues in the Yankees farm system and his manager in Charleston believes he has a bright future ahead of him in pinstripes.

"He has the Derek Jeter quality," said Riverdogs manager Torre Tyson. "He'll let things fester up inside of him but you'd never know he was in an 0-18 slump. He was right there doing all of the things he should do, he's just one of those guys that does all of the little things.

"He might be 0-3 with two punch outs but the one time he walked he's got a filthy uniform from them throwing over six times and him stealing a couple of bases, going from first to third, stuff like that. So there's no doubt in my mind he's going to make it, it's just a matter of time now and a matter of adjustments."

Like Rowson and Denbo, Tyson also has no doubts that Hilligoss will develop the necessary power to be a difference maker someday.

"I'm positive of it," Tyson said emphatically. "At the beginning of the year I had a lot of question marks about him. He's kind of unorthodox with everything he does, he was shifting to a new position, and I had some questions.

"Now after spending the whole year with him and really getting to know him, without a doubt he's going to play in the big leagues barring some unforeseen injury, because he has stuff that other guys don't have."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2007

Charleston

.310

520

35

4

53

83

35

33

65

.352

.415

2006

Staten Island

.292

267

8

2

36

40

12

24

47

.357

.342



Batting and Power. Hilligoss is an elite contact hitter, one who uses the gaps with regularity and goes to the opposite field like a seasoned veteran. His innate ability to make contact however does make him a bit too impatient in the batter's box as he will regularly swing at pitches that are better served taking. His strike zone judgment is well above average however and he has the ability to draw walks, he just needs to make a concentrated effort improving his patience and pitch selection, and make taking walks a priority in his game. He also has a lot more power than his six career home runs indicate and improving his pitch selection will go a long way towards improving his power production. Hilligoss is also so gifted taking pitches to the opposite field that he could stand to work for more inside pitches and pull the ball down the right field line to improve his home run totals.

Base Running and Speed. Hilligoss is a great base runner who steals bases at an 84 percent success rate. While he doesn't possess great speed, he is surprisingly quick and very athletic. He is also very aggressive in all phases of his game and that allows him to take the extra base on opposing defenses - he simply out-hustles them.

Defense. The former college shortstop has developed into an above average defensive player at third base. Aggressive by nature, he committed quite a few errors at the beginning of the season. Realizing he was playing too far in on the grass, he began to make more plays when he moved back. He has a strong arm and he's agile enough to play a multitude of positions, including second base and even the outfield.

Projection. Hilligoss is part David Wright of the Mets and part Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox with his aggressive style of play, contact hitting ability, propensity to hit to the opposite field, and all-out hustle in the field. Possessing great makeup too, he is a true leader on the field and has one of the better work ethics around. Where he has a leg up on those players however is with his agility and versatility. Hilligoss projects to be an everyday player at the big league level eventually, one who could hit in the top-half of a major league lineup. With Alex Rodriguez blocking him at third base for the next decade however, the Yankees will have to find room for him at another position, but with his versatility in the field, he should break in at the big league level as a utility player initially.

ETA. 2010. Hilligoss should open up the 2008 season as the starting third baseman for the Tampa Yankees. Defensively and offensively he's ready to play at an even higher level so there's a good chance he could reach Double-A by the end of the season. He probably needs just two minor league seasons before he's ready to help out the Yankees initially as a utility player.

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