The Atlanta Braves are hot out of the gate with 13-4 record have an early two-game lead over the Mets in the NL East. A fast start has not been the norm for this team over the last few seasons, but is a welcome change and doesn’t come without adversity, as the team has seen several key players go down with injuries. Thus the most important word for the Braves so far is organizational depth. One of those players taking advantage of opportunity knocking is outfielder Sam Hilliard.
The Braves acquired Hilliard from the Colorado Rockies for young pitcher Dylan Spain last November. As Braves fans, we should know by now every move GM Alex Anthopoulos is calculated and evaluated with a fine-tooth comb to make sure it fits the organizational plan and process when building a roster. The Hilliard acquisition still fell under the radar, but he is quickly turning heads. He came into spring training vying for one of the outfield/bench roles with the most pressure because he was out of minor league options. It was make the team or look for work.
Hilliard turned heads during the spring hitting .417/.509/.563 with four doubles and a homer and made the Opening Day roster. I realize that spring training numbers are hard to judge, but Hilliard, a career .216 hitter as platoon player with Coors field as your home is a little concerning even with the career high 14 home runs last season. The Braves seem to have the magic touch for struggling hitters turning it around with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer and company. This is the main reason it felt like Hilliard’s strong spring had juice. Michel Harris’ injury has opened the door for Hilliard showing he has more in the tool box than just speed and defense.
Since Harris went down, Hilliard has pretty much played every day in center and is hitting .296/.406/.519 with three doubles and a home run. For the season, Hilliard has a 42.4% strikeout rate which is alarming but he is also walking at an 18.2% clip. His .583 BABIP is unsustainable, but he’s provided a spark in Harris’ absence while playing quality defense in center field.
Hilliard has earned a chance to play even when Harris returns. Even small moves can have major impact especially when Alex Anthopoulos is in charge of things.