Detroit Tigers call up Derek Hill for doubleheader -- why not let him stay in favor of Nomar Mazara?

Hill’s defense, speed should give him roster edge over Mazara

Derek Hill #54 of the Detroit Tigers scores against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park on September 19, 2020, in Detroit, Michigan. (Duane Burleson, 2020 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are calling up outfielder Derek Hill for Wednesday’s doubleheader, but there’s no reason he should be sent back down afterward in favor of Nomar Mazara.

The team announced Wednesday morning that Hill will be added to the roster as the 27th man for the doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. But once Wednesday’s games are over, Hill deserves to stay with the big league club.

It seems like a fairly obvious decision.

Hill, 25, is not a very good hitter. In 26 career appearances at the MLB level, he’s hit four singles, drawn three walks and struck out nine times. His minor-league OPS across 506 games is .676 -- that’s bad.

Derek Hill #29 of the Detroit Tigers runs the bases during the Detroit Tigers Summer Workouts at Comerica Park on July 11, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (MLB Photos via Getty Images)

But it’s not worse than a .604 OPS, which is currently what Mazara is sporting through 43 games.

Mazara, 26, was a worthy gamble for the Tigers this season. He’s still young and was a top prospect before making his MLB debut in 2016. But it’s clear at this point that the match isn’t working out.

On top of his struggles, Mazara will be a free agent at the end of the season. He’s not part of the team’s long-term plans.

Hill, on the other hand, is under team control until 2027. Even if he does hit as poorly as Mazara, he’s going to give the Tigers two elements they desperately need: outfield defense and speed on the base paths.

Hill is probably the best defensive player in the entire Tigers organization. He’s flashed elite speed, glove work and instincts every step of the way, from the minors to intra-squad games last season to spring training to a brief stint with the Tigers this month.

Then, he suffered an injury June 9 against the Seattle Mariners. In eight rehab games since, Hill hit .355 with nine singles, a double and a triple in 31 at-bats.

The most likely outcome for Hill at the MLB level is that he’s a bad hitter who plays elite defense. But he hasn’t gotten a fair chance to prove himself either way.

Mazara is a below-average defender. He doesn’t steal bases and ranks in the 34th percentile in MLB sprint speed. If he isn’t hitting, he’s not providing any value.

Nomar Mazara #15 of the Detroit Tigers bats in the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on May 16, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. (2021 Getty Images)

Yet even when he’s in a hitting slump, Hill will always be an elite center fielder, which is extremely valuable for a young pitching staff and guys such as Jose Urena who pitch to contact. Why, then, are the Tigers letting Mazara block Hill from regular playing time?

Akil Baddoo and Daz Cameron are playing fairly well, and Robbie Grossman is entrenched in the lineup. But the other outfielder on the roster should be Hill.

Maybe he’ll do something Wednesday that forces the Tigers to keep him around, like Zack Short did when he was named the 27th man in a doubleheader against the Houston Astros over the weekend.

But he might not get that chance, because guess who’s starting the first game Wednesday afternoon? That’s right: Mazara.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.