South Alabama signed Kevin Hill out of Seminole (Okla.) State JC sight unseen. Well, sort of.
Jaguars pitching coach Bob Keller was planning on seeing Hill pitch in person, but bad weather grounded his flight. So Seminole pitching coach Brady Huston sent him some video of Hill on YouTube. Keller and South Alabama head coach Mark Calvi watched it, and saw enough to invite Hill for a visit and get him committed. It was a savvy leap of faith.
“So he came on the visit and fell in love with it. He’s really become the face of the program the last couple years,” Keller said. “Mark’s had so many guys, I’ve had a lot of guys — anywhere from Michael Roth, Zach Putnam, Clayton Richards. We’ve got had a lot of guys, and this guy ranks right up there. He’s pretty special.”
Hill hit the ground running as a sophomore in 2014, throwing eight strong innings to beat Arkansas in his first start for South Alabama. But he finished that season 4-5, 4.70 — and no one could have expected he would blossom into one of college baseball’s best pitchers in 2015, but that’s just what he did. Hill went 10-0, 1.73 with four complete games and a 107-38 strikeout-walk mark in 93 innings to win Sun Belt pitcher of the year honors.
And as good as he was last year, he’s managed to get even better as a fifth-year senior this spring. Through two starts, Hill is 2-0, 0.60 with 22 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings. He hasn’t lost a game since April of 2014. He was utterly dominant Friday in a win against Georgia and ace Robert Tyler, striking out 12 in a three-hit, complete-game masterpiece. He faced 30 batters, and went to a three-ball count just twice, showcasing the expert command that is his calling card.
“Kevin’s the type of guy, you just tell him a concept he needs to work on, and he can do it. His pitchability’s just off the charts,” Keller said. “It’s a four-pitch guy in any count. His focus is just on another level. He gets so locked in, you almost don’t want to talk to him, you just want to let him do his thing. But we go over our report on how we’re going to read guys, how we’re going to attack that day. If his curveball’s not working as much, you can go to his slider, and if his slider’s not working as much, you can go to his curveball. And then he can throw a changeup to both righties and lefties, so you really can’t sit on an offspeed pitch.”
Despite his success in 2015, Hill was passed over by scouts and went undrafted, presumably because he doesn’t have premium velocity and lacks projection in his 6-foot, 210-pound frame. Still, his fastball is firm enough, and he knows how to use it. Keller said he’ll conserve his strength by pitching at his “reserve velocity” for much of games, sitting around 88-91. But there’s more in the tank when he needs it.
“He ranges anywhere from 88-92 and up to 93,” Keller said. “So it’s not like it’s a super-power fastball, but he can run it or he can elevate it when he needs to. He just has pinpoint command, he can put it in a Dixie cup. It makes it really fun to call his game.”
Hill is also an exceptional athlete who was an all-state basketball player in at Oklahoma City’s Tecumseh High School.
“We’ve got to watch that he’s not over at the rec center playing too much pickup basketball, because he’ll get over there and dunk on guys, and shoot threes,” Keller said. “He’s good at everything he does. Staff bowling night — he wins. Darts, you name it. He’s just one of those guys. But even more than that, he’s just an awesome, awesome human being. Our guys really love him. His preparation is excellent, he puts in a lot of time in the week to be ready.
“So he’s working on his master’s, and we’re just glad that he’s back. And he’s making some of the other guys around him better.”
Hill also sets the on on the weekends for a 6-1 South Alabama squad that has high hopes this spring. His competitiveness is as contagious as his work ethic.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder when he gets out there,” Keller said. “And I’ll tell you what, I’d want him in my foxhole.”