CHARLOTTE | There are baseball players who have achieved greatness without spending considerable time around the game.
Then there are players like Mallard Creek (N.C.) shortstop Mikal Hill, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior who has signed to play at South Carolina. There is a significant difference between the two backgrounds, Mallard Creek coach Shawn McGeorge said.
“He just does things that are uncoachable,” he said. “He reads the situation before it happens and puts himself in that position. He’s just so smooth and fluid.”
That’s not a surprise considering the years that Hill has been around the game. His father, Chris, a Laurens native, spent several seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system, and his brother, Alex, plays at UNC-Wilmington. Baseball in the Hill family is a way of life.
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Mikal, who committed to USC before his sophomore season, has been playing the sport in some fashion since he was a toddler, developing the innate abilities he shows as a slick-fielding shortstop and a dynamic switch-hitter.
Hill hit .566 with 39 RBIs, seven home runs and 18 steals in 26 games last season. He batted second in a potent lineup, making it difficult for teams to pitch around him. Hill, who will also serve as Mallard Creek’s closer this season, was 2-0 on the mound in three pitching appearances last season.
When asked about his natural batting stance, McGeorge couldn’t say whether it was lefty or righty. He’s equally good from both sides as a power hitter and hitter for average from both sides, the coach said.
Hill believes he has more power from the left side and is a line-drive hitter from the right, but he doesn’t believe his average is any better from either side. He has a mark to reach this season. His brother batted a state-high .667 as a senior at Vance (N.C.).
“If would have told me what he did last year, I would have been shocked,” McGeorge said. “If he can get anywhere close to last year, I’ll be pleased. I don’t even want to guess what he can do, because the kid surprises me every time he comes out here.”
Sometimes, Hill admits he even surprises himself. But his background and his athleticism – he has 4.4 speed – have allowed him to become a major college recruit and also a prospect in this summer’s MLB Draft.
“I think the first time I picked up a ball was 3 or 4,” Hill said. “But I don’t think [my success] was that I started early as much as having a brother that played. Even when I was four, he was eight and we were throwing together. I was always the batboy for my brother. I was always around the game.”
His instincts were obvious the first time that USC assistant Chad Holbrook saw him play. One of Hill’s teammates was also Holbrook’s nephew. That eventually led to a phone call, an unofficial visit, an offer and an early commitment in December 2009.
Other schools tried to pry Hill away from the Gamecocks, but he was sold on the environment. Playing in a sparkling new stadium that was always full appealed to him.
McGeorge and Hill both believe he projects as a shortstop moving forward. The coach said he has the arm strength to even play third base but could slide over to second in the mold of New York Yankees’ standout Robinson Cano if needed.
It remains to be seen which team will have that decision to make. He would like the opportunity to play at USC, but some have projected that he could be drafted high enough in June to warrant skipping school.
“He’s told me he really does want to play in college,” McGeorge said. “I really don’t talk about it with him much. He’s had a couple meetings with teams. I ask him how they go and I support him, but I just want him to have fun in his senior year. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Hill hasn’t worried about the draft much either, figuring it will all work itself out down the road.
“Honestly I don’t look at that stuff,” said Hill, who is motivated daily by the death of his mother a decade ago to cancer. “I feel like I’ve got enough to worry about. I’ll leave that alone for now.”