BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Transferring from one high school to another — even just a few miles away — is a major adjustment for someone entering his senior year.
But Brandon Hylton, who transferred to Ridge High School from Watchung Hills before this school year, made that transition and now, he is about to embark another seismic shift in life plans after he graduates later this month.
One of the most highly regarded first basemen in New Jersey, Hylton made a significant impact on the Ridge baseball program this spring, and now he awaits word on whether he will be selected in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft that begins Monday and runs through the first three days of the week.
If Hylton is not drafted, or if he is selected, but elects not to sign a contract, he will continue his baseball career at Division 1 Stetson University in Florida.
"I was pretty bummed about moving," Hylton said of his transfer from Watchung Hills to Ridge, "because of the fact that it was my final year of high school. But, when I met the team and the coaches, I knew I would fit right in."
The 6-foot-6 left-handed batter's presence was a positive influence on the Ridge baseball program, according to varsity coach Tom Blackwell.
"His work ethic really set the tone for us in practice this year," said Blackwell, whose team finished 15-7 and won the Skyland Conference's Raritan Division. "When your best player is your hardest worker in practice, it makes for a great season."
"I don't know if this makes sense, but i wasn't really disappointed in leaving Watchung Hills," Hylton said. "I was more bummed about going to a new school that I had no clue about. I didn't know anyone or what the team was capable of but they took me under their wing."
Hylton's size, power and athleticism have attracted scouts since before his sophomore season at Watchung Hills. Some scouts envision him being drafted by a major league organization this week.
"Brandon has been with us since he was 13," said Steve DiTrolio, the director of recruiting at Diamond Nation in Flemington, where Hylton played on the Diamond Jacks summer club team. "He just keeps making jumps. I wouldn't be surprised if we are watching him on TV some day."
This season, Hylton, who throws right-handed, batted .328 with three home runs, 18 runs scored and a team-high 16 stolen bases. He had hit seven home runs in his junior season at Watchung Hills. But, indicative of how fearful opposing teams were of giving him strikes to hit, Hylton also drew 20 walks this spring, meaning he was given a base on balls in more than 23 percent of his 88 plate appearances.
"I had been intentionally walked a number of times, but that never threw me off my game," Hylton said. "I love running bases. I worked hard to make an impact once I touched first base. I wanted to be a threat on the base path as much as in the box. Pitchers mostly threw off-speed pitches. That is another thing I will be working on in the future, to make sure my swing is fully polished."
"He is the most talented all-around baseball player I have had the privilege of working with," Blackwell said. "He is outstanding in all phases of the game. Competing against him the last few years, I knew he was really good, but getting to work with him every day was a special experience.
"His work ethic really set the tone for us in practice this year," Blackwell added.
Before this year's draft came into clearer focus — and even now, there are some scouts who believe Hylton needs more seasoning and may not be drafted yet — Hylton decided that if he was going to go to college instead, it would be at Stetson, the same university where New York Mets All-Star pitcher Jacob deGrom played — as a shortstop before being converted to the mound.
"A video was taken of me last year during a high school game, and shared with the Stetson staff," Hylton recalled. "They gave me a call and I visited their school in the summer. Before leaving the campus, I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and the coaches. I wanted to commit right then and there."
Although he has played first base his entire varsity career, Hylton is viewed by scouts as having sufficient athletic ability to play the outfield at the next level.
"Before I played first base, I was an outfielder," Hylton said. "But, with the sudden increase in height, coaches and I thought I should try out first. At the next level, I would love to play at first, but I can see myself in right field. I have the arm, and I have a good eye for tracking down balls."
Bob Behre, the public relations director, editor of Diamond Nation's website and magazine, spends the spring and summer touring the state covering its finest baseball players.
"I’ve been fortunate to watch Brandon compete on the travel circuit for the past five years and in high school," Behre said. "He has yet to be overwhelmed by a situation. He has the kind of physical attributes we all wish for. Brandon has an extremely quick bat and scary power. He loves the game. If he keeps working hard, the sky’s the limit.”
As limitless as Hylton's potential seems to be, even he recognizes that there's work to be done and improvements to be made.
"I feel I have improved both mentally and physically," Hylton said. "But, of course there is still much room for improvement. I plan to gain more weight and grow into my body. I've been playing the game for so long, I feel as if I know what it is going to come next. I have a strong sense of what is going on in the game and how to take on big situations."
And, while the prospect of attending college at Stetson and continuing his baseball career there is enticing, Hylton does not deny that he is attracted by the dream of getting a pro offer.
"Being drafted is more than a dream come true," Hylton said. "Just the emails and phone calls I've been receiving, I am beyond blessed. I am looking forward to it, and I hope I get drafted by any ballclub. It will definitely boost my confidence.
"I do feel as if I am draftable."