By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
February 21, 2010
Virgil Hill waited out the draft through three cycles before he found an organization that thought his athletic ability outweighed what other clubs told him was a lack of baseball experience. Originally drafted by the Florida Marlins as a shortstop in the 28th round of the 2007 draft, Hill had been a starting free safety, a starting point guard, and a sprinter in track and field at Valencia (Calif.) HS.
Hill went to Los Angeles Mission College and saw his stock slip in the 2008 draft to the Oakland A’s in the 35th round. Finally, in 2009, he signed with the Cardinals as a sixth round pick and began his pro career and started in the Gulf Coast League. Baseball Beginnings caught up recently with Hill, who might one day find himself patrolling center field for the Cardinals and following in a long line of guys who could flat-out run.
Like Vince Coleman or Lou Brock before him, Hill is a young athlete who can run, and will set out to show in the minor leagues that he can hit well enough to play every day in the majors, and that what he gained in other sports before focusing on baseball gives him some tools that single-sport baseball players don’t acquire as amateurs.
Baseball Beginnings: What lessons and experience did you gain in your rookie ball season?
Hill: The biggest between college and pro ball is that this is your job now. In college somebody had to tell you to do it. Nobody made you do anything you didn’t want to do. I liked going in every day and knowing that this is your job to work on your game to get better. It wasn’t easy. Every day is a grind and being out there and dealing with the heat and humidity was new. The pitching is obviously better. But even with all those challenges, I loved it. I liked being on the field every day. I feel I have the ability to play in the big leagues, so it was good to get out and start playing every day.
Baseball Beginnings: What aspects of the game did you recognize needed to be priorities for improvement?
Hill: For the most part, I had to work on shortening my stroke and cutting down my strikeouts. I had way too many strikeouts. I worked on defense, things like taking the correct angle of approach to a ball.
Baseball Beginnings: What did you feel are the questions you will have to dispel as a pro in order to advance?
Hill: I always played four sports in high school and I never focused on one sport year round. The big question always seemed to be about if I wanted to play the game all the time. I always did, but it always seemed like scouts were drawn to the guys who only played baseball all the time. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but I was always a firm believer that playing different sports helped you in different ways, even on the baseball field.
Baseball Beginnings: What aspects of the other sports you played do you feel will help you develop as a professional baseball player?
Hill: I think every sport has something that can help you in baseball. Anyone who plays football, you miss playing free safety. You miss it a lot. There was nothing like being able to come up and pop the guy with the ball. I think football helped with conditioning and endurance and helped me in rookie ball. I definitely think having played in shoulder pads and a helmet in California heat helped my stamina in Florida. I also think that playing other sports helps you foster the team environment, which I don’t think you get as much if all you do is play baseball on travel teams when you’re growing up.
I think playing basketball, especially being a point guard, helps you as a center fielder. For one, you’re kind of the captain of the outfield and of the defense. You have to be vocal and be a leader. I also think that the range of motion and the athleticism from basketball will keep helping me defensively and on the bases, because you’re doing a lot of stopping and starting and a lot of sudden changes of movement. I mean, for me, the cross-training I had before I signed was off the charts. In football, when you got off the line, that was like that first step on the bases. In track, we trained for speed.
Baseball Beginnings: Did you always thing you would be a baseball player?
Hill: No, I thought, when I started high school, that I was going to be a college football player. It goes to show you that you never know. If you don’t try everything, you don’t get caught up in wondering ‘What If?’
Baseball Beginnings: Then let’s play ‘What If?’ What if you use your athletic ability to help you reach the big leagues? What kind of big leaguer do you see yourself as?
Hill: I’d like to be like a Torii Hunter. I’d really like to be known as a guy who is a very good defensive player who can make plays like that. I’d like to be a guy who hits well enough to be an all-star and not be a one-dimensional guy. Hopefully I can achieve that and reach an all-star level.