Brandon Hylton, above, is healthy and ready for a strong season at Stetson University.
Brandon Hylton’s college career at Stetson University has absorbed a series of starts and stops, including a season-ending knee injury in the 2019 preseason, his freshman year, and the COVID pandemic stoppage in 2020.
Hylton also lost a chunk of games last spring due to an injured quad and hip flexor that he tried to play through. Now in his fifth year of college, Hylton is still a redshirt-junior athletically looking to find his way to the next level. The good news for Hylton and Stetson coach Steve Trimper, 2023 is all systems go for the now healthy former Diamond Jack out of Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J.
“Brandon had a tremendous fall for us and he’s in great shape physically,” said Stetson coach Steve Trimper, himself a New Jersey native who grew up in Sussex County. “He’s had a little bit of hard luck, but he looks like he did before the knee injury freshman year. He’s hot. He hit a home run in a scrimmage last weekend. We are very excited to get Brandon back in our lineup.”
Of all the positives surrounding the 6-6, 255-pound Hylton, a very personal bonus enters the Hatters’ picture this season in the form of Brandon’s younger brother, Jayden Hylton. Jayden, an equally imposing freshman, rightly had his attention on the Major League Draft last summer after a terrific high school career that started in New Jersey and concluded at Palm Beach Gardens High School in Florida. But the draft came and went and Jayden’s name wasn’t called, so off to Stetson he went.
Trimper, however, felt Jayden was pressing in the fall and was not separating himself from the other freshman, talent-wise, as much as his coach expected.
“Jayden did not have a great fall and he’d admit that,” said Trimper, ‘but he came back after the break and he’s been a monster. He’s been our hottest hitter. He hit an opposite field home run the other day. He’s got really special tools.”
The Hylton brothers, separated by four years in age, have always been extremely competitive with each other, but have never played on the same team. That all changes on Friday, Feb. 17 when Manhattan College visits Stetson University for the season opener for both schools.
While Jayden’s physical dimensions – 6-5, 225 – mirror Brandon’s at the same age, Brandon has since filled out to what is surely for opposing pitchers an unsettling sight in the batter’s box. Brandon certainly wins the eyeball test with scouts and, equally tantalizing, he does his damage from the left side of the plate where he has produced some of the more majestic home runs in Stetson memory.
“Brandon absolutely crushes righty pitching,” said Trimper.
The home runs are nice and should certainly come with more frequency with Brandon at full health after a summer spent rehabbing his hip.
“I feel great, 100 percent,” said Brandon in a recent chat with Diamond Nation.com. “I returned to normal baseball activities in August and felt like myself right away.” Trimper confirms that self evaluation.
Brandon did manage six home runs and 19 RBI in his limited time last season but his average slipped, perhaps a result of trying to play through the injury. He sees plenty of light on his baseball horizon.
“My goal right now is to make more hard contact,” he said. “I have power, that’s not a problem. I need to put the bat on the ball more frequently. I’ve had a lot of reps since we started playing games in the fall and I feel really good.”
As good as Brandon Hylton feels and as well as “little” brother Jayden has looked of late, could both be in the Stetson lineup come opening day?
“You could see one Hylton in right field and one in left field at times and, perhaps, one in right field and one at DH,” said Trimper, who has feasted on New Jersey talent during his summer recruiting trips.
Brandon started his high school career at Watchung Hills in Warren, N.J. and transferred to Ridge High School when his family moved to Basking Ridge heading into his senior year. That terrific 2018 senior season ended right before the MLB Draft when Brandon was selected in the 33rd round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Brandon chose Stetson and that choice was a good one for both his athletic and academic development. He is on the precipice of a degree in business administration.
“I have two more classes this spring and I’m done,” said Hylton, who boasted a 3.97 GPA when he made the Dean’s List in the fall semester. Jayden trailed his older brother ever so slightly at 3.7.
By the time his academic career concludes in May, Brandon Hylton should have a better grip on his baseball future and that future will look very bright if he simply puts together a full and healthy season with what he calls “a lot of hard contact.”
Primarily a first baseman in high school, Brandon has settled into the outfield with the Hatters, as has, coincidentally, Jayden.
“I’m playing hard each day,” says Jayden, a righty hitter. “When my playing time comes I’ll be ready to do what needs to be done. We are coming together as a team. We have a great group of guys.”
While Jayden’s college experience is in its infancy, Brandon’s has condensed, perhaps, down to one spring and, in one spring, a lot can happen as Brandon has learned during the past four seasons.
“I try not to look too far ahead,” said Brandon. “I’ll do what I can do on the field, continue to work hard and not look past the at-bat in front of me.”
So, if you say the words MLB Draft, Brandon Hylton may change the subject to something more urgent, such as Stetson’s season-opening weekend when Manhattan comes to Deland, Florida to help the Hatters christen newly refurbished Melching Field at Conrad Park. Stetson has invested more than $1 million in the first phase of its stadium refurbishing project and $7 million is slated for a second phase that will include a player development center.
Jayden Hylton, meanwhile, is already playing with the urgency of an upperclassman.
“Jayden went through a lot of distractions last year with the draft hype and playing for Team USA,” said Trimper. “He came into the fall as part of a class of five really good freshman offensive players. He’s always been a first baseman but a lot of scouts believed he could play the outfield. Well, Jayden has already turned himself into an elite outfielder. He has special tools and he runs like a deer. I’ve never seen someone transition to the outfield so well, whether it’s reading ball angles, topspin, backspin or the ball off the bat. It opens a huge market for him professionally. He can’t be pigeon-holed.”
Despite how impressive he’s been of late, Jayden admits it took “a little bit of an adjustment” going from high school ball to college. “The size of the field is a big difference. And little things matter. At the high school level you can mess up a little and get away with it. But, in college, every run matters.”
The speed bumps Jayden has absorbed have been buffered by playing with Brandon for the first time.
“It’s been amazing,” Jayden said. “It’s great to play with him every day and see the kind of player he is mentally and physically. He’s always been there for me, but by phone. Now he’s right there. He really slows the game down for me.”
And ramps up the competition.
“We’re both in the outfield group, so there is a battle every day,” said Jayden, “about who makes the most catches or whatever. We’ve always competed but now it’s on the field next to each other.”
Trimper, their Stetson teammates, their friends back in New Jersey and at Diamond Nation can’t wait to see the inevitable dividends of the Hyltons prodding each other.
While this story is about the talented Hylton brothers, another Diamond Jack on the Stetson roster is having a terrific start to his college experience. That is freshman shortstop Lorenzo Meola, a Watchung Hills grad, who has already made in-roads, as well, toward a major role with the Hatters.
“I would give Lorenzo the most improved player since the fall,” said Trimper. “We have two really good shortstops and he’s one of them. I’m not sure who will start on opening day, but I expect Lorenzo to be a contributor right away.”
Meola, like the rest of the Stetson freshmen, spent the fall adjusting to the speed of the college game.
“His arm strength is Division 1-ready,” said Trimper. “My question was could he catch up to the speed of the college game. He has and he’s done a tremendous job elevating his game every week. Lorenzo will be one heck of a player here. He’s a potential all-star player. He’s tough as nails and very level-headed.”
The other Stetson freshmen from the Garden State exciting Trimper are infielders Drew Wyers, a 6-0, 196-pound infielder from Northern Burlington, and 5-9, 205 infielder David Bermudez of East Brunswick. Another New Jersey player on the Stetson roster is 6-4, 195 sophomore righty pitcher Nick Guzzi of Point Pleasant Boro, who transferred from St. John’s. Guzzi led his high school team to the NJSIAA Group 2 championship game in 2019.
NOTES: Stetson coach Steve Trimper grew up in Sussex County and went to Kittatinny High School, just outside of Newton. The Manhattan opener is no coincidence. Trimper’s first college head coaching job was at Manhattan (1999-’05). The 1992 Eastern Connecticut State grad moved on to the University of Maine where he was the head coach for 11 years before taking the job at Stetson in December of 2016.
“It’s funny, when I coached at Maine it was hard to get New Jersey kids to go there,” says Trimper. “They wanted to go south. So, since I’ve come to Stetson, I’ve tried to reconnect with the New Jersey guys and have done that through Diamond Nation and coaches like (Gov. Livingston coach) Chris Roof, among others. New Jersey has kind of opened up for us.”
The Hylton brothers are longtime Diamond Jacks. Brandon began with the program as an 11 year-old and Jayden started taking his hacks in Flemington three years later at 10 years old.