WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. -- Red Sox fans may not know much of Tyler Hill, so let him get one thing straight. He, too, loves Boston's baseball team, and he's not just saying that because the organization took him in the 19th round of the 2014 Draft out of Delaware Military Academy.
"Before being Drafted, the Red Sox were my favorite team, honestly," he said. "That had a big chunk of why I signed with them. [Red Sox scout] Chris Calciano did a real good job of showing why this was the place to be, and I really wanted to be there. I got a couple of calls from other teams in earlier rounds and stuff, too. It's working out so far."
It was easy for the 20-year-old to say that last line Tuesday night from his seat in the autograph line at the New York-Penn League All-Star Game in Hudson Valley. But Hill has certainly earned the right to the line and the seat with the way he's played in his first season with the Spinners.
Hill is within striking distance of a slash-line Triple Crown as he leads the Class A Short Season circuit with a .341 average and ranks second with a .411 on-base percentage and .494 slugging percentage. His .906 OPS is tops among active NYPL hitters and trails only Tri-City's Stephen Wrenn (.908), who has been with Class A Quad Cities since July 27 and is likely to lose his league qualification soon. Add Hill's 16 extra-base hits and nine steals, and you can see why he's building himself quite the prospect profile in his third season in the Sox organization.
The right-handed slugger drove home that point at the get-go at Tuesday night's All-Star Game. Batting leadoff for the North, he homered to left on the very first pitch he saw from West Virginia right-hander Danny Beddes. (He finished 1-for-5.) It was just the latest big hit in what's felt like a blur this season for the Lowell left fielder.
"It's kinda hit me like a storm," he said. "I never really check my stats and stuff. They told me I lead the league in a bunch of categories, and I thought that was pretty cool. But I work really hard to get here, so overall I'm just happy and proud I could make it."
These types of numbers would be understandable if they came from some of the bigger names in the Boston system like Yoan Moncada or Rafael Devers, but the fact that they're from Hill has come as somewhat of a surprise.
The 20-year-old played four games in the Gulf Coast League in 2014 before being sidelined by a hamstring injury. He returned to the complex level last season and hit .250/.344/.280 with four extra-base hits (all doubles) and 11 steals in 39 games for Boston's GCL affiliate. It wasn't until this spring and into the summer that the work started to pay off.
"I just feel like my routine's been a lot better," he said. "Down in the Gulf Coast League, I established a pretty good routine. But actually getting my feet wet in affiliated ball in front of the fans, I've learned how to be a professional, carry myself the right way, play the right way.... Just keeping it simple. Trying to get my hands through the ball, get the barrel on the ball, go off it from there. Some days, the routine's different. Some days, I'll do more than usual. But there's a time if I take three swings [that end up as] line drives up the middle, I'm good for the day."
You have to jump back a few years to understand where Hill gets his discipline. When it was time to pick a prep school in his native state, Hill chose Delaware Military Academy, the first full-time Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) high school in the country. The son of a police officer and grandson of a military member, Hill was drawn to the discipline of having to wear a Navy uniform and the weekly inspections. He even considered a life in the Armed Forces before it was clear that his prowess in football, basketball or baseball could get him elsewhere professionally. That became even more clear when scouts started making it out to Seahawks games just to get a read on Hill, who was a catcher for most of his high school days before suggestions from a potential college coach moved him to the outfield.
What scouts saw in those high school performances is what he's hoping the Red Sox organization and its fans are seeing in him now.
"I'm never going to give up," Hill said. "I'm always hard-working. I have a lot of pride. I'm a loyal person. I'm just trying to work hard and be the best person I can be."
And what does that mean as a player?
"Bulldog," he said. "I'm fairly new to the outfield position. It's been a tough adjustment, but working pretty good. These past couple years, I think I've taken leaps in the outfield. I never consider myself to be the best. I always need to be better. I'm always working to be better."
That sentiment comes through in a tweet currently pinned to the top of Hill's Twitter page sent out just when the New York-Penn League season was getting under way: #RentsDue.
"I got it from J.J. Watt," he said. "Success isn't earned. It's leased. Every day, rent's due. It's just something that keeps me checked in. You don't get a day off every day. You've got to do something every day because rent's due. You've got to pay bills as far as that goes."
Hill is certainly paying his dues through the lower levels of the Red Sox system, enough so that he's putting himself on the map in an organization both he and its fans love so dearly.
"It was the 2004 World Series, honestly," he said of when he became a fan of his now parent club. "That's when I started loving David Ortiz and that culture. Coming back from that deficit [in the ALCS], that gets me fired up every time I think of it. I think that shows up in my game a little bit. My fiery mentality on the field.
"I was actually scared [of getting to meet Ortiz], though. Everybody says he's a great guy. You hear all the time that he's a great guy and stuff. But when he's the reason why you play baseball, I was a little scared, didn't want to look like an idiot."
If Hill keeps hitting like he has, that won't be a problem.