After much uncertainly when he broke camp in the spring, Jamar Hill has finally made it to his highest level yet, taking advantage of his time in Binghamton. He has been a sturdy presence in the B-Mets outfield after his midseason call up. Inside Pitch spoke with Hill about the road he took to get to this point.
The scouts were not attending Jamar Hill’s high school baseball game to see him. They came out to Juneau, Alaska to see someone on the opposing team. But, when you are playing baseball in a state known better for hockey and a proximity to Russia, you will take whatever exposure you can get.
After the game, a scout approached Hill. The Mets were going to make him a professional baseball player.
“I didn’t meet a professional baseball player until I was 17,” Hill said. “But I was a big kid and I was fast. The scout came down and talked to me said ‘We’re going to draft you in the 50th round.’”
The Mets followed through, though Hill decided to play at Santa Ana Junior College instead, at the urging of a student there and now the Texas Rangers’ closer, C.J. Wilson. The Mets drafted him again, this time in the 48th round as a draft and follow. After Hill’s second year at Santa Ana,
Five seasons later, including two full years at High-A St. Lucie and more time there this season, Hill is finally in Double-A, with the Binghamton Mets, batting .352 entering Wednesday.
The 6-foot-4 right-handed hitting outfielder doubted he could make it this far this spring.
“It was weird because I came into the spring training and I knew I’d be on the bubble with getting released,” Hill said.” “And with that everything that was on my mind, I end up having the best spring training that I’ve had yet.”
Then towards the end of spring training, Hill, 24, sprained his knee. To extended spring training he went, and he continued to hit. Then Hill returned to St. Lucie, where he had hit .252 in 2005 and .232 in 2006, both full season stints.
Hill was batting .258 for St. Lucie in late July of this year when B-Mets outfielder Fernando Martinez went to the disabled list (and was later shut down for the season) with a hand injury. Hill was called up to the B-Mets, and he hit .348 in July and is hitting .371 so far in August.
“When I got called up here when Fernando was hurt, regardless of whether I would play, it was a huge relief because it felt like it’s where I needed to be in my career,” Hill said.
A lack of playing time has been one of the harder things for Hill to overcome. The most at-bats he has ever had in a season are 459, in 2004 for Low-A Capital City. He hit 26 home runs and had 89 RBI.
“I think I just had the assurance that every time I come to the ballpark I’d be in the lineup,” Hill said of his success that season. “Playing this game hitting-wise, it’s like playing poker. The more chips you have, the more things you can experiment with and the more times you can gamble on certain pitches.”
In 456 at-bats the next year in St. Lucie Hill hit 15 home runs.
“In different leagues the ball flies better,” Hill said. “My year in ’05 if I feel if I was put in that same league (South Atlantic) I might have had 20-plus.”
He has not had more than six home runs, and until this year, more than 250 at-bats since. Now with the B-Mets, Hill said he has begun to cope with not being an everyday player.
“I think here in Binghamton is the first time that I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s not in the cards for me to play everyday for me to make it to the big leagues,” Hill said. “Even if my opportunity is to pinch hit or do whatever, I’ll do my best instead of getting caught up with what people think of me, or why I’m not playing or why I think I should be playing.”
However, his recent play has earned him a slot in the lineup, playing in ten straight games including one pinch-hit effort.
Hill has also improved technically as a ballplayer. B-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio has worked with Hill three consecutive seasons.
“We tried to make an adjustment this whole time with him shortening his wing down,” Silverio said. “He’s been working hard for that. He used to have a long and uppercut swing, now he’s staying down on the ball.”
Hill said he was unsure what next season would bring, that he feels he could easily be back on that same bubble that propelled him to a strong 2007. But as he closes this season with revitalized numbers, Hill did say he takes away a positive: “I’m just able to enjoy playing baseball again.”