(Photo via the @WildcatNews Twitter, a screengrab from Hulsizer’s HR Derby interview, seen here)
When Morehead State outfielder Niko Hulsizer walks onto a baseball field, his dyed, bleach blonde hair along with his wide, imposing frame distinguish him from most players in the Ohio Valley Conference. When he steps into the batter’s box, his sheer talent separates him from just about anyone in the country. He swings with a unique combination of violence and gracefulness that can catch the attention of anyone at the park. As a sophomore, the right-hander from Mohnton, Pennsylvania finished second in home runs for the 2017 season, clubbing 27 longballs after hitting just five as a freshman. This power surge wasn’t exactly unforeseeable if you had ever watched Hulsizer swing a bat. There’s a particular suddenness and power to his swing which complements his 6-foot-1, 210-pound physique, resulting in a stroke simply built for launching baseballs.
(2017 College Home Run Derby, Niko Hulsizer)
This side view of a home run swing from the 2017 College Home Run Derby exemplifies how Hulsizer reaches a heavy “stretch” by pulling his upper body and back elbow against the directional load of his lower body. This essentially turns his body into a coil, snapping with enough torque to help him easily pepper the batter’s eye at TD Ameritrade Park. If Hulsizer can maintain this vicious turn to the ball into his junior year, he could be selected as one of the top collegiate bats in next year’s draft.
While Hulsizer was lighting up Ohio Valley pitching, Arizona Diamondbacks’ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt continued his assault on MLB pitching. The former Texas State University Bobcat slashed .297/.404./.563 with 36 homers, a type of offensive production that has now become the norm for the five-time All-Star. Like Hulsizer, Goldschmidt carries a large frame at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, but both hitters create bat speed using a similar coil and whip process in their respective swings, not just muscle.
A key element of each swing we see is the aforementioned “stretch” to generate rotational force and drive the baseball. With Goldy, this is less pronounced but it’s evident once we see his initial turn to the baseball, as his lower half begins to rotate and brings along his barrel to get “on plane” with the pitch.
Another feature to note with Goldschmidt is how long he maintains his coiled position relative to Hulsizer. Whereas Hulsizer’s leg kick hovers, his foot above the ground before his sudden snap at the baseball, Goldschmidt has a more gentle foot strike while his hips glide towards the pitcher then snap back to whip his barrel to the ball. This allows Goldschmidt to commit to a swing with the ball deeper in the zone, playing a large role in him walking almost 100 times a year, on average. Hulsizer may naturally develop this trait once he faces more challenging pitching at the next level, but right now I would let him swing the way he swings until pitchers catch up to him.
Although Hulsizer shares similar swing characteristics with one of the best players in the game, he still has some work to do before we can safely project him as a future superstar. Statistically, he hasn’t put up the type of consistency scouts look for in a high draft pick. While he’s shown a very high ceiling with his most recent campaign at Morehead State, his summer seasons haven’t been up to the same standards, hitting eight home runs in 254 at-bats while walking 38 times against 72 strikeouts, giving him just a .53 K/BB ratio over two summer seasons.
Teams are not likely to accept much risk with their first few draft picks, so a player from a smaller program without steady, high-level production across multiple seasons doesn’t fit the profile of a high draftee. However, Hulsizer still has a full year left at Morehead State before he may declare for the draft, so another monster-type season may very well push his draft stock higher than it stands today.