A year ago, Aaron Hill was leading Louisiana State's drive towards the College World Series. Now, he's in AA after only 65 professional games last season. One of a handful of highly-touted college hitting prospects in last year's draft, Hill was chosen 13th overall by the Blue Jays. Many expected Toronto to take a pitcher with their first selection, particularly since the Jays took another college shortstop in the first round the year before - Russ Adams. Despite the expectations carried by a first round draft choice and the competition within the organisation, Hill seems unperturbed by it all.
Batter's Box caught up with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats' shortstop on a cold and rainy day.
Batter's Box (BB): What was it like in the big league camp this spring?
Aaron Hill (AH): I came in with no expectations, and everyone came up to me and introduced themselves. They're a bunch of great guys, and I felt like I really fit in. It was an unbelievable experience.
BB: How was it working with Brian Butterfield in Dunedin?
AH: [Beaming] Love him. Absolutely love him. He's one of the best guys I've ever met. I had a great time with him; he really works with you on a personal level. You can really understand him - he's easy to listen to. Some guys can tell you what you're doing wrong and it's kind of hard to listen, but he's a wonderful coach and a great guy. Hopefully I'll be able to work with him again soon.
BB: How do you feel about this fast rise through the system?
AH: Well, I can't wait for the sun to come out here in the Northeast, but we're doing well. The pitchers have been great, the hitters are starting to get going. I've been off to a bit of a slow start, but guys like Dom (Rich) and (Matt) Logan have been picking me up; they're swinging the bat real well. I'm looking forward to the season.
At our prompting, Hill touched on his college playing career ...
BB: When you were playing for Smoke [Laval, LSU Tigers baseball coach] was he as much of a character as people say?
AH: That depended on whether we were winning or losing (laughing). Smoke's a great guy; he was a real influence on the mental part of my game. He really tells you straight up, and I think that's a key point for a coach or a manager, to be honest and straight up. That's why players really loved playing for him.
BB: Did you also get to play for Skip [Bertman, former LSU Tigers baseball coach]? That would be two great coaches.
AH: Yeah, I did, my first year. Not bad, huh?
BB: How did you do in Omaha [the College World Series] last summer?
AH: We were 2-and-Q*, we lost to Cal-State Fullerton, then South Carolina put us out. But we went through so much stuff just to get there, it was amazing we were there. We really came together; it was a fun year.
* Louisiana State went 5 and 1 in the regionals to qualify for the final 8, before being knocked out.
BB: Did you face [Jays pitching prospect] Shaun Marcum at all in college?
AH: No, but we were teammates in Auburn for a while.
BB: What's the scouting report on him?
AH: Don't get behind in the count. He's got some nasty pitches, I know that.
BB: What are some of the differences you've noticed between the college game and pro ball?
AH: It's still baseball. You've still got to play the game, and you've still got to love the game. It's definitely more of a grind playing every day, and a longer season. Plus, we don't have the crowds - at LSU, there would be 8,000 people there, screaming, and that's just great support, but down here, although we do have a good crowd in New Hampshire, it's not the same. This is really my first full year, so I'm still learning.
BB: Any difficulty adjusting to wood bats?
AH: It's not an adjustment for me; I have the same swing with an aluminum bat as a wood bat. It's still in your hands, and the swing is the same.
Batter's Box reporters noticed that the AA Fisher Cats' coaches roster was a bit thin.
BB: Who is the infield coach [with New Hampshire]?
AH: [Fisher Cats manager] Mike Basso gives everyone advice; we work with him and he works with us - it goes both ways.
BB: Is [batting coach] Jim Bowie teaching you guys the same hitting approach as Mike Barnett does with the parent club?
AH: Yeah, we're doing the same think. You kind of look outside; you don't want to get beat on something out there, but at the same time, something inside becomes just a reaction. The whole organization has the same philosophy.
BB: How about using the whole field?
AH: If you can't use the whole field, you're going to have some problems. Some people are going to have to get used to that, because the higher up the ladder you climb, the harder it's going to get.
BB: What are you seeing different from the pitchers in AA ball?
AH: Being in the three-hole [Hill has since been moved down in the order], you don't see a lot of fastballs, especially on 3-1 or 2-0 - you kind of get pitched backwards, and you have to get used to it, make that adjustment.
BB: Have you ever played anywhere else on the diamond?
AH: Sure, every summer I've played at second or third; it's all the same to me.
BB: There are rumours that you might change positions. Does it matter to you?
AH: I never give it a thought. If it's going to get me to the big leagues, put me anywhere - [laughing] they can put me in the outfield. It doesn't matter, they have me and Russ; if it comes down to us, either one of us is very capable of doing the job at short.
BB: Do you expect to stay at this level the entire season?
AH: I don't know. It's an honour just to be here in my first full season, so we'll just have to see what happens.
BB: Great meeting you; we'll see you in the Show.
AH: Take care, guys. Stay warm!
A special thanks to Coach for transcribing the audio