Makhail Hilliard caused quite a stir before he ever threw an official pitch this spring.
The Central right-hander committed to LSU in late February, a revelation that may have left some scratching their heads.
Hilliard is not a household name. He record was just over .500 a year ago as a sophomore. Central coach Mike Forbes said it’s not just about how you spin a player’s potential — it’s literally about the spin.
“LSU has a way to measure the rotation on off-speed pitches,” Forbes said. “They say his is impressive. The thing I like is the growth and maturity he’s shown over the last two years.”
That maturity has paid off in the form of a 2-0 record for Hilliard, who has helped the Wildcats of District 4-5A get off to a sizzling 8-2 start.
The 6-foot, 150-pound Hilliard deflects praise aimed toward him when asked about Central’s fast start.
“We’re working more as a team,” Hilliard said. “We started that at the end of last year, and it’s carrying over for us.”
The Wildcats weren’t one of the state’s top 5A teams a year ago. But when Hilliard pitched Central past traditional power Sam Houston in the playoffs last spring it was a sign of good things in the future.
You could argue Hilliard has picked up where he left off. But that’s not entirely true. Since last season he’s grown an inch and added two to three miles per hour of velocity to his fastball. Forbes said Hilliard now throws 86 to 88 mph consistently and has been clocked as high as 90 mph.
“Every year he’s gotten better,” Forbes said. “Last year he was 84 to 86 consistently, so you can see the progression with his velocity and his pitches. He has three pitches and can throw them for strikes in just about any situation.”
Hilliard has a fastball, curveball, slider and change-up in his repertoire. There are other areas he said he looks to fine tune. A slender frame and long arms also work to his advantage.
“I’m doing a better job of mixing my pitches,” Hilliard said. “But I need to be more efficient. You want to have three-batter innings and three-pitch at-bats.”
Forbes said he expects Hilliard to gain weight and muscle as a gets on the right training regimen.
“Makhail is going to fill out and get stronger,” Forbes said. “The potential is there, and he definitely hasn’t realized it all yet.”
When asked whether being an LSU commitment adds pressure, Hilliard was as evasive as one of his off-speed pitches.
“Maybe … I don’t really think about it,” Hilliard said. “I just play.”