Former Diamond Jack Jayden Hylton has had one terrific baseball experience after another since his family moved from Basking Ridge to Florida last summer.
Hylton, who had played with the Diamond Jacks program at Diamond Nation since he was 8 years old, had an outstanding spring for Palm Beach Gardens, spearheading his team’s run to a District championship. The 6-6, 210 first baseman carried that momentum into the summer where he played for the Scorpions/Giants Scout Team 2022.
But nothing turned heads his way more than working his way through the lengthy and challenging tryout process that led to a successful selection to Team USA. USA Baseball announced its 26-man 18U National Team on Tuesday and Hylton got the call he dreamed about.
“Yes sir, it was great getting the news,” said Hylton, checking in from Sarasota, Florida on Thursday, where he and his teammates are preparing for a seven-game friendship series that begins tonight (Friday) against Team Canada.
“We’ve been practicing the past two days,” said Hylton, who is settling in with his new teammates. He does have one very familiar face with him on the 18U National Team. “My Scorpions teammate, Jackson Holliday, made the team, too, so that’s cool.” Holliday is a middle infielder from Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Hylton has shined at every stop and has a penchant for doing so at big events. He hit four home runs at Perfect Game events this summer and has drawn equal raves for his abilities at first base. Add to that the fact that he is quite the physical specimen on a baseball field and, an excellent base runner, has been clocked at 6.58 in the 60-yard dash.
“It’s a lot of hard work, getting after it every day,” said Hylton about his defensive prowess. “It’s all about making plays, backing up your teammates and turning the page when you fail.”
Hylton’s journey to being selected one of the 26 players on the 18U National Team began with the Prospect Development Program in Cary, North Carolina. The invitation-based development and assessment opportunity for high school players was conducted July 24-31.
“There are 96 kids and you are placed on one of four teams and you play games for a week,” said Hylton. That already talented field is whittled down to 40 players who are invited to the 2021 18U National Team Trials in Sarasota.
“I wasn’t seeing the ball well in the first couple games in North Carolina,” said Hylton, “then the next few games I felt good and started rolling.” The 40 players at the National Team Trials were broken into two teams that played each other five times. “I knew I did well at the trials. I felt pretty good about my chances to make the team. I felt good in the field, too.”
As well as Hylton has played the past few years and all the heads he’s turned, he feels he is at a different level right now.
“If you saw me at the beginning of the summer and now, you wouldn’t believe the difference,” he said. “I’m just seeing the ball so well. I’m confident. Everything is clicking.”
Hylton played his first two high school seasons at Ridge High School for coach Tom Blackwell, then the Hyltons moved in early January to Florida and Jayden quickly became a very nice addition to a very talented Palm Beach Gardens High School squad.
“It was a little tough at the beginning,” said Hylton of the adjustment to a new school and a new state. “But my teammates welcomed me and made me feel at home. I felt like I belonged right away.” Palm Beach Gardens would fall just one win short of reaching the Florida State Tournament.
For now, Hylton is focused on his game and his teammates with the 18U National Team, which intends to continue its maturation process as a unit against Team Canada over the next seven days.
Jayden has committed to Stetson University, where older brother Brandon plays.
“Brandon is happy for me and may be coming down to Sarasota to see me play,” said Jayden. Brandon Hylton, also a longtime Diamond Jack and a college junior, is a 6-6, 230-pound power-hitter who is a candidate for the 2022 MLB Draft. Brandon kept sharp this summer in a collegiate league in Vermont.
Jayden Hylton is about to find out what he’s made of against international competition.