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LSU Pitcher Jaden Hill: A Draft Day Hit For The Rangers?

Hill was being talked about as a top 5-10 pick heading into the college season, but struggled badly in 2021.

The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and the Rangers’ top three picks are at No. 2, No. 38, and No. 73.

Jaden Hill is a 6’4”, 235 lb. right-handed pitcher and a junior at LSU. He was ranked 86th on the Baseball America draft board in 2018 as a three-sport athlete who also played quarterback and point guard at Ashdown High School in Arkansas. Coming out of high school he threw in the low-90s with a quality changeup. Hill ended up dropping due to signability issues and was taken in the 38th round by the Cardinals, who did not sign him.

Hill did not pitch much as a freshman at LSU, only just 10 innings in two starts due to a strained UCL. But he became dominant out of the bullpen in 2020 before the COVID-19 shut down, striking out 17 of 41 batters allowing no runs, five walks, and just one hit in 11 2/3 innings.

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Hill was being talked about as a top 5-10 pick heading into the season, but struggled in 2021, with a 6.67 ERA in 29 2/3 innings over seven starts before his season was cut short due to a torn UCL that required surgery in early April.

When Hill has been healthy, he has performed well with top of the rotation stuff. With a mid-90s fastball that has topped out at 98 mph, a changeup that's described as “plus-plus,” an above-average slider, and a cutter. In 2021, however, the slider wasn’t good and hitters were having no problem with his fastball.

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When looking at Hill as a possible draft target for the Rangers, the problem is that he doesn't have a lot of college innings to evaluate. Half of those innings available were in 2021 when he didn’t pitch well. He also has an injury history. Along with the 2019 UCL strain and the Tommy John surgery in 2021, he suffered a broken collarbone playing football as a high school senior, an injury that appeared to affect his pitching performance that spring.

Hill is about as much of a high-risk, high-reward a player as there is in this draft. At best, he has three pitches that are at least above average. He has good control over his pitches and his athleticism and delivery suggests that he could have the type of command that when combined with his stuff, make him a legitimate No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

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There’s no guarantee Hill comes all the way back from Tommy John surgery. And there’s the rest of the injury history, with a major concern that he’s not going to be able to stay healthy going forward.

The Rangers decided to pass on a pitcher in a similar situation in 2015 when they had an interest in Walker Buehler at No. 4 and passed due to medical concerns. Buehler had elbow issues and ended up needing Tommy John surgery after the draft. The Dodgers, who took him late in the first round, have been more than happy with their decision.

If you believe that the decline in his stuff in 2021 was due to injury and that the real Jaden Hill is the guy who dominated a handful of appearances in 2020, then you’d probably take him well before he got to #38. But he may drop to Texas, just because there are so many unknowns surrounding him.

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