For many years, Purdue baseball was an afterthought in the Big Ten. Prior to the Mark Wasikowski’s hiring in 2016, the Boilermakers made just one NCAA tournament appearance since the tournament’s inception. Now, Purdue is starting to turn heads in their conference fresh off the school’s second tournament appearance in just Wasikowski’s second season.
One player who has helped Wasikowski put Purdue on the map is junior outfielder Skyler Hunter. Hunter, who is draft eligible this season, has been the spark plug the Boilermaker offense drastically needed. After reaching base in 43 of his 47 career conference games a season ago, Hunter is priming the Boilermakers for yet another run at the postseason. The Purdue offense is off to a blistering fall start, scoring 44 runs in just three games so far. With the Old Gold & Black series coming up, Hunter and the Boilermakers are utilizing this competitive affair to fine-tune their skills in order to make some major noise in 2019.
“[Our] key to success was just buying into what coach Wasikowski and coach Goff were preaching to us all year long. We take away the fastball. We’re on the plate. We’re getting hit by pitches. We’re taking extra bags. We’re thinking two out of the box. Our one through nine hitters are pretty good. We have depth this year. It’s looking like carrying this into the season is going to be exciting to play and exciting to watch,” Hunter said.
While Purdue is fresh off a short-lived postseason run, Hunter has much bigger visions for the program. Making a deeper run into the NCAA tournament this year is essential according to Hunter, but also growing the program as a whole is what the team is working towards.
“National championships are in our sights… We want to [make] Purdue a Midwest powerhouse. We want Purdue to be the top program in the midwest where we’re bringing in the best recruits and where everyone wants to go because they know that if they go there, they’re going to get exposure. They know they’re going to battle for a national championship every year,” Hunter said.
As for Hunter himself, the switch-hitter had an eventful summer in the Cape Cod League. Hunter appeared in 35 games for the Wareham Gatemen after playing in the Southern California League last summer. While his stat line wasn’t quite what he expected, he still took the experience in stride and used it to get ready for his future in professional baseball.
“It was really eye-opening for me just to be out there with the best of the best and face the Friday night guys… It really made me realize what the next level is really about and it helped me mature a lot as a player, learning that I’m not going to go 4-for-4 or 3-for-4 every game and 0-for-4 happens and you got to bounce back,” Hunter said.
While Hunter has started all of his college games in centerfield, the switch-hitter was a speedy infielder coming out of high school. With more and more professional teams looking for versatility from their prospects, Hunter has a lot to offer to those looking for guys who can play all over the diamond.
“Versatility will help me because I can play any position on the field. I’m confident in the infield. I’m confident in the outfield. I think just me working hard and being ‘Johnny Hustle’ on the basepaths and always going 100% will help everyone else go 100% and work hard,” Hunter said.
Hunter is preparing to leap into professional baseball, but that doesn’t mean that his game is perfect. Over the course of the season, Hunter is focused on continuing to improve his game and sharpen his skill set in order to make the biggest impact possible once he reaches the next level.
“I’m really focusing this year on base running. If the power is there, I’ll try and hit some home runs. I’m never going to swing for them. Any part of the game I can improve on, I’m going to try and do exactly that. It’s been a grind and it’s what I love to do,” Hunter said.
It is easy to say that the Boilermakers are trending in the right direction as a program. They are seeking immediate success in 2019, and Skyler Hunter is going to be a big part of that equation.