Derek Hill was raised as a major-league baseball fan, and he especially dreamed of wearing Dodger blue.
The recent Elk Grove High School graduate also grew up admiring the myriad talents of Torii Hunter.
Drafted in the first round with the 23rd overall selection by Detroit on Thursday night, Hill was delighted to shed his gray suit jacket while attending ceremonies in Secaucus, N.J., and pull on a sparkling new Tigers uniform and cap. That moved him closer to possibly taking the field with Hunter, the Tigers’ 38-year-old All-Star outfielder.
Ironically, Hill is considered a next-generation standout in center field for the way he glides to the ball, makes contact at the plate and races around the bases. In other words, another Hunter.
“Hunter’s always been my favorite player,” Hill said by cellphone from New Jersey, where he was flanked by family. “I am just so happy to be with this organization. I can’t wait to get to it.”
Hill became the region’s first prep player taken in the first round since Tony Torcato of Woodland went to the Giants in 1998. The only other area player selected in the first round by Detroit was Jerry Manuel of Cordova in 1972. Manuel played parts of fivemajor-league seasons and later managed the White Sox and Mets.
And Hill comes from baseball bloodlines, adding layers of intrigue. His father, Orsino Hill, was a first-round pick by Cincinnati in 1982 out of Nebraska and played 12 minor-league seasons. Hill’s cousin is Darryl Strawberry, an All-Star outfielder in the 1980s and early ’90s. Hill received a text message from Strawberry before being drafted, wishing him good luck and adding, “You’re the next in line.”
Orsino Hill never reached the big leagues, but the longtime Dodgers scout said his son has the talent to do so. Derek said his father taught him that the most valuable lessons about baseball involve patience and humility.
“You have to be (patient and humble),” Hill said. “It’s helped that I’ve grown up around the game.”
MLB Network analysts said Hill has the frame at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds to fill out, adding power to his swing. Hill batted .500 and had 18 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs for Elk Grove, The Bee’s top-ranked team all season. The scouting report on Hill also included an above-average arm, a line-drive swing, a potential to switch hit, and a mature approach to the plate and the game. Added up, Hill was regarded as the top center fielder in the draft, with another Hunter hook.
“He’s an amazing athlete, no doubt about it,” MLB analyst Harold Reynolds said on the air. “He’s the best high school center fielder since Torii Hunter (in 1993). He’s grown into his body. You believe the power is going to come.”
Scores of major-league scouts and front-office executives observed Hill this spring, worked him out after games and visited his house to gauge interest and signability. Hill visited the Tigers earlier this week for workouts and was hoping they would get him. Now to be able to soon Hunter? Double bonus.
Hill’s selection didn’t just electrify his family, it excited Thundering Herd teammates and rivals, many of whom went to Twitter and Facebook to offer congratulations or to express the joy of playing against someone who could be in the big leagues by the time they’re done with college. Hill has a scholarship to Oregon, but he said he wants to sign with Detroit.
Even his coaches, including Elk Grove head coach Jeff Carlson, were thrilled. Carlson said Hill’s work ethic and professionalism set him apart.
“Very excited and very proud,” Carlson said. “This is why you coach. Put aside the wins and the championships, because we all want to win, but the ultimate goal is to see a kid grow and develop and to achieve something special – going to college or getting drafted. To see something like this to a great kid like Derek, it’s neat. Couldn’t happen to a better kid.”
Thursday’s draft consisted of the first two rounds. Rounds 3-10 are scheduled for Friday, starting at 10 a.m., with rounds 11-40 set for Saturday, starting at 10. The draft can be seen on the MLB Network and MLB.com.
Friday, first baseman-pitcher J.D. Davis of Cal State Fullerton by way of Elk Grove High and power pitchers Mitch Hart of Granite Bay High and Logan Webb of Rocklin High could receive draft calls.
Davis has more than 100 career RBIs in his three seasonsat Fullerton. Hart and Webb regularly touched the 90s on radar guns. The 6-4 Hart also has a scholarship from USC. The 6-2 Webb signed with Cal Poly last fall, then was released from that commitment, only to sign again recently with the Mustangs after they improved the scholarship offer.
Hart and Webb attended recent workout sessions with the Giants at AT&T Park. Hart also flew to Chicago for a Cubs workout, and Webb threw for Mariners executives in Seattle.