Alex Anthopoulos’ latest diamond in the rough thriving with Braves

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General managers never bat 1.000, which applies to Alex Anthopoulos too. However, the Braves GM has certainly had more hits than misses; his most impressive work comes in the form of lesser-known players that the club turns into diamonds in the rough. Sam Hilliard is the 2023 edition.

He currently owns a 166 wRC+ with three home runs, 6 RBIs, and 4 stolen bags in 55 plate appearances. Two of his long balls came in Monday’s 11-0 rout of the Marlins, and it looks like Hilliard is finally realizing his potential.

“Right now, I feel like I’m just playing loose, playing free,” said Hilliard, via The Athletic. “I’m getting the opportunity to play a little bit more. I think that’s always helpful for any player. Just to get the reps, get in that rhythm.

“Baseball is such a rhythm, momentum-based sport. … When you’re hot just try to ride it out as long as you can, because you know it’s not going to last forever.”

Hilliard, a 15th-round pick out of Wichita State, has had a rollercoaster of a career so far. He made his MLB debut with the Rockies in 2019 when he hit .273 with seven home runs and an OPS north of 1.000 in 27 games. There was a decent amount of hype surrounding the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Texan, but he’s struggled since bursting on the scene.

The pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign didn’t go the way he or Colorado had hoped. Hilliard hit just .210 with six long balls and three stolen bags in 36 games. Then, he split the next two seasons between Triple-A and the majors, batting .201 with 16 homers and a .661 OPS in 151 games for the Rockies.

However, as they do often, the Braves coaching staff has seemingly unlocked something in Sam Hilliard. He’s impacting the game in all aspects, filling in valiantly for Michael Harris II in center while providing a ton of pop in the lineup and speed on the basepaths.

Regardless of how impressive he’s been, it’s not exactly sustainable. That 166 wRC+ is met with a 39% strikeout rate and a .545 batting average on balls in play — that is almost unfathomable. He has 21 strikeouts in 49 at-bats, but Chipper Jones believes there is a path to limit them.

“I think he’s one of those guys like when Riley came up, that we’ve got to get more contact out of him,” Jones said, via The Athletic. “And if we get more contact, you’re going to see a lot of nights like (Monday). And to have those kinds of tools coming off the — well, in spring training he would have been coming off the bench, but he’s played himself into some playing time, even when a Mikey Harris comes back. We’ve just got to stay on him because a lot of things that we’ve been doing with him are new, and on a daily basis just keep grinding it into him.”

His baseball savant page paints a very red picture, except for those areas you would expect to be blue.

Sam Hilliard won’t maintain this pace, but the Braves don’t need him to. The club doesn’t expect their 9 hole hitter to lead the team offensively; he’ll surely cool off, but as long as he provides pop, he’ll be in the lineup. The Braves have long valued power, regardless of strikeouts.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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