An occasional series in which we remember those Royals who slipped away unnoticed...
The Royals drafted pitcher Jeremy Hill in the 5th round of the 1996 draft. Hill is completely forgotten today, but he had a fascinating and unique career. Hill's baseball life was set to end in 2000, but he found unlikely success at a new position and played another ten seasons.
Quite a few guys from that 5th round in '96 ended up making the Majors, including Joe Crede and Brad Penny. Hill did too, though it took him six years to do so. His baseball life was something like what the attic Greeks thought about man's life and afterlife, a long shadowy existence in the minors, leading to a very brief flourishing in the Major Leagues, with the nice per diems and chartered flights, followed by death and another long eternity in the shadows of the minors. Sort of there, but not really.
Hill was drafted as a catcher, where he remained for five seasons. In 2001, with Hill a lifetime .230/.310/.322 hitter, the Royals converted him to a relief pitcher. He was effectively done as a professional baseball player unless this time-worn last resort worked out. Somehow, it did. Hill must have had an incredible arm, because his strikeout numbers from his first season as a pitcher in the minors are shockingly good. He pitched well enough in 2002 to earn a late season promotion.
Hill was a September callup for the 2002 Royals, a team that ended up going 62-100. Hill pitched in 10 games that September, posting a decent ERA somehow. I say somehow because Hill walked batters (7.7 B/9) and gave up hits (7.7) like crazy, yet he somehow survived thanks to luck and a passable K rate. Walks would be a problem throughout Hill's career and, essentially, they are the reason that he is a forgotten Royal.
Although, in 2002, things looked reasonably good. In his first tour through AA he was even limiting the walks, and that success, along with his ticking minor league clock, had earned him his promotion to the Royals. When he survived his September debut, there was reason to believe he was on his way to becoming an established Major Leaguer.
He was not.
Hill did not make the Royals out of Spring Training 2003, which I'd like to think we would have been upset about had Royals Review existed back then. He has a live arm! What do they have to lose! Though later that April, Hill was brought back up to the Majors, where he would fateful appear in one final game. On April 29, 2003, Hill pitched the bottom of the 8th amidst a 7-2 Royals loss at Fenway.In that frame, Hill allowed an inherited run to score at the hands of a Johnny Damon RBI single. He retired Todd Walker to end the inning. It would be his last Major League inning.
The Royals were famously red hot to begin that season and Hill must have been excited to be part of a winning team. Hill was returned to the minors before ever appearing for the Royals again however. In July, with the Royals still in the pennant race, he was traded to the Mets in exchange for Graeme Lloyd. A truly bizarre deal in retrospect, as Lloyd was a journeyman reliever who would be absolutely terrible for the Royals. This, Lloyd would take as evidence that he needed to retire.
Hill struggled as well. The Mets sent him to AA Binghamton, where he was awful. Looking back, that was a hinge moment in Hill's career. In his three seasons in the Met system, he appears to have battled injuries and generally did not pitch well. He barely spent any time at AAA.
Still, he went on. In 2006, he was in the Independent League. In 2007, either out of baseball or in Japan (I can't tell). In 2008, he was pitching in Mexico. Still working as a reliever. In 2009, the Angels signed him to a minor league deal, and Hill would pitch two more seasons at AAA. His numbers weren't great, yet they were some of the best he'd managed his whole career. The strikeouts were down, but by 2010, his walk numbers were reasonable, even good.
But the final trip to the Majors never came. Hill is still around the game, as far as I can tell, working as a volunteer assistant coach for Hofstra. Today, we remember the handful of games he pitched in a Royal uniform.