Jayden and Brandon Hylton, separated in age by four years, never played baseball on the same team growing up. That was always good news for their opponents.
But starting in September of 2022, the two brothers and longtime Diamond Jacks will pull on the green and white of Stetson University and trot out on the field together for the Hatters.
Jayden, a junior at Ridge High School, committed to Stetson on August 22 to join his older brother on the college diamond. Because Brandon lost his freshman season to injury and last season to the COVID 19 pandemic, he’s still a redshirt freshman and will be a junior when his younger brother arrives on campus.
“Jayden’s commitment was more of a confidence booster for me than it was for him,” says Brandon, clearly tickled with the prospect of playing college ball with his brother. “Not only do we play the same when we’re on the field, but we want to create a legacy wherever we’ve played.” Mission accomplished with the Diamond Jacks and at Ridge.
Now they’ll actually get to do that together at Stetson.
That is surely music to Stetson coach Steve Trimper’s ears. Brandon, a 6-7, 230-pound specimen, had earned the starting nod and was to bat in the middle of the Hatters’ lineup as a freshman in 2019 before he suffered a season ending knee injury. Jayden, at 6-6 and a still-developing 205 pounds, does indeed mirror his older brother’s moves on the field and at the plate.
“I would love nothing more than for us to play here at Stetson together,” said Brandon. “Just thinking about us doing what most people aren’t able to do warms my heart. If there’s anyone in the world I’d want to share the diamond with, it would definitely be my mini me.”
Jayden not only looks like his brother, he exudes the same calm and collected approach that transforms into athletic grace on the field. Brandon is a lefty-hitting first baseman. Jayden, a righty hitting outfielder.
“Jayden’s so fun to watch play,” says Diamond Jacks coach Travis Anderson. “He does a lot of things well, but one thing that is fun to see is him running the bases. He really makes the field look small.”
Jayden’s athleticism led his Diamond Jacks coaches to move him a year ago from first base to the outfield.
“My development from last year to this year has changed dramatically,” says Jayden. “Since I moved to the outfield I’ve had to work on so many things to make me successful, such as being able to read the ball off the bat and learning how to throw the ball hard and accurate to be able to hit a spot and throw a runner out.”
Jayden’s development as a player has, indeed, accelerated the past 12 months and Stetson isn’t the only one to notice. Hylton was playing at a showcase in early July when the much-respected Prep Baseball Report filed its second report on the player in 21 months. The report on Oct. 7, 2018 started, “Hylton’s lanky-athletic frame at 6-5, 185 pounds made him stand out to scouts at the event.” Then it’s report on July 5, 2020 opened with, “(Has) 6-5, 200-pound projectable frame. Showed off his speed at the event, running a swift 6.82 60-yard dash. Begins in a balanced stance with a smooth load, then uses a short stride to start his swing. Bat speed is electric.”
The word “electric” is not one you often see used in reference to 16 year-olds by talent evaluators. PBR’s Hylton evaluation continued, “…has flat swing plane and good extension on his finish. He found lots of barrels with tons of loud contact. Gap-to-gap approach. The right-handed hitter showed power in the box with an exit velocity of 100 mph. In the outfield, he showed the ability to make throws to the bases at 82 mph. One of the top overall talents to come out of the event.”
Wow, that’s some powerful words about a young player who also considered Kentucky, Alabama and University of Central Florida among his college choices.
“What made Stetson special and the best fit for me was their interest and respect,” says Hylton. “From the beginning, Stetson has been there interested in me, but not only in what I can do on the field but what I do off the field. Whenever I talk to Brandon he always talks about the school and how much he really loves it. And he always talks about the Stetson coaches and how much respect they have for our family as well as every player on the team.”
The pandemic prevented us and Jayden’s high school coach, Tom Blackwell, from seeing perhaps a breakout scholastic sophomore season last spring but all signs point toward an even better breakout junior campaign. As a freshman, Hylton had started every game for a 2019 Ridge squad that reached the Somerset County Tournament championship game.
“That is no small feat with the players we had,” says Blackwell. Ridge is, indeed, a perennial stronghold in the Skyland Conference and its county. “I can’t say enough about what a great person and player Jayden is. With someone who has his talent, which is as impressive as anyone I have seen in my 25-year career, it immediately puts the spotlight on him. He has handled that attention with the utmost grace and responsibility. His intensity is contagious.”
Blackwell just loves what Hylton brings to a game. In fact, in that 2019 Somerset County final, an epic 12-inning affair won, 6-5, by Immaculata, the freshman Hylton went 3-for-6 from the No. 5 spot in the Ridge order.
“Jayden can hit the home run, get on base and steal second and third,” said Blackwell. “And he can make your entire infield better at first base or be an outstanding defensive outfielder. If it can be done on the baseball field, Jayden can do it.”
Blackwell, as well as the Diamond Jacks coaching staff, can realistically anticipate a bigger, better and more polished Jayden Hilton come spring, if his big brother’s development is any indication at all. Brandon Hylton exploded onto the high school scene his junior season at Watchung Hills, forcing Skyland Conference pitchers to look for creative ways to get him out. Some are still looking. The Hyltons moved to Basking Ridge after Brandon’s junior year at Watchung Hills in Warren.
Jayden’s plan for the winter includes more hard work on improving his game.
“I do have some goals that I set for myself to accomplish by the end of winter,” he said. “The three main ones I really want to accomplish are being able to throw in the high 80s to low 90s from the outfield; consistently getting my exit velocity off a tee in the upper 90s; and I would love to get my 60 time down from 6.7 to 6.5 or 6.4. I really have to work on my upper body and legs and be able to drive through the baseball for that exit speed.”
The thought of a bigger, stronger, faster Jayden Hylton is either intriguing or frightening, depending in which dugout you reside.
“Jay is a player,” says Steve DiTrolio, Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator. “When we watch big leaguers on TV, we can imagine that they would have looked like Jay running around the field at 16 years old. His feel for the game is tremendous and matched with a level of athleticism that you don’t see too often at the high school level. It’s so much fun coaching him and, at times, you sit back and catch yourself watching him as if you are a fan watching ‘insert your favorite big leaguer.’”
Winter is always a busier time than most are aware at Diamond Nation, as players work in the cages on improving their skills and work with the coaching staff in improving specific areas of their game.
“Coach Travis (Anderson) and coach Delro (Brian Del Rosso) really helped me in making the switch from infield to outfield and learning the mechanics,” said Hylton. “When I’m in the cage I usually work on getting my hands through the ball instead of going around the ball. I also work on getting my timing down correctly with my leg kick to make sure I’m not late on pitches. Coach Steve (DiTrolio), coach Walter (Cleary) and coach (Kevin) Cust have all been helping me and making sure I’m doing the right thing. Without them, I don’t think my swing would be what it is.”
Del Rosso remembers getting an early insight into the type of player Jayden Hylton would become.
“In one of his first plate appearances in his first season as a DJack, at 14 years old, Jayden hit a sky high pop up to first base,” recalls Del Rosso. “Most players at that age would jog down the line. Not Jayden. He sprinted out of the box. When the first baseman dropped the ball Jayden was standing on second base. I thought, right there, this kid is something special. He possesses a rare combination of size, power and speed. I believe his best years are still ahead of him.”
Anderson plans to enjoy watching that swing create much more noise over the next two seasons.
“Jayden is one of those kids that has an impact on the game on both sides,” says Anderson. “He has a chance to have some big time power. It’s going to be neat to see him play the next couple years. It was an honor coaching him.”
With the fall season behind him and winter workouts underway, the next competitive swings and outfield play won’t happen until March when Jayden begins preparation for his high school season at Ridge.
“As a team I believe we are ready to compete with every team we face this spring,” says Hylton. “We are really looking forward to going all the way and winning the county and state championships.”
Stetson remains a ways off for Jayden but those thoughts easily slip into the consciousness.
“It’s always been my dream to be able to step on the same field as my brother,” said Jayden, “and be able to play multiple games with him. Hopefully one day in the future we will have that chance.”
Stetson is counting on it.