The Tigers see Derek Hill as a center fielder because of his athletic abilities. He has committed to Oregon but is likely to forego college. (Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee)
Editor’s note: Second in a series profiling the top-10-round Tigers picks.
Detroit — Derek Hill couldn’t help himself.
During a private workout at Comerica Park this month, the California high-schooler looked toward the outfield and pictured himself playing there.
“Oh, that’s what you’ve gotta do,” Hill said during a telephone interview. “You’ve gotta imagine yourself in that position. Obviously, you’re going to be in awe. But I imagined myself there.”
Just days after his workout, during which he met with the Tigers brass as well as his idol, Torii Hunter, the Tigers made Hill their top pick, 23rd overall, marking the first time they’ve selected a high-school outfielder in the first round since Cameron Maybin in 2005.
It’s worth noting, 2005 also was the last time the Tigers drafted a non-pitcher in the first 30 picks.
That’s how much they liked Hill, 18, who has drawn comparisons to Hunter when Hunter came out of high school.
Not bad considering Hunter’s credentials, including nine Gold Gloves he racked up before joining the Tigers. Hill, who said he modeled his game after Hunter, might as well have taken after Hunter’s personality, too, considering he’s polite and quick with a quip.
Defense just happens to be the part of Hill’s game that stands out.
His coach at Elk Grove High, near Sacramento, Calif., calls him “one of the fastest athletes in America.” He has great instincts, great reads and gets great jumps, a reason Hill projects long-term a center fielder when many drafted high-school center fielders tend to forecast more toward the corners.
That part of game has really developed since Hill moved from Iowa to live with his father, Orsino, a Dodgers area scout, during his sophomore year. Hill moved so he could play more year-round, and face better competition.
“He really developed good instincts as far as reading the ball off the bat,” said Jeff Carlson, Hill’s high-school coach. “He relied early on his sped. He put that together and really developed that part of his game. He’s an outstanding center fielder.”
Hill’s arm is said to be average or slightly above.
Offensively, Hill hit .500 as a senior with 30 RBIs and 21 stolen bases — but no home runs.
Carlson, however, quickly dismissed that, chalking it up to playing in a league with big parks. Carlson expects the power to come with age and more muscle for Hill, who is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds.
“(Dustin) Pedroia played in my league,” Carlson said. “I’ve never seen an athlete like Derek.”
Aside from the athleticism — Hill also played basketball and football and ran track back in Iowa — the makeup is another quality that attracted several teams to Hill. The Giants, Dodgers and A’s kept an eye on him.
That Hill grew up around the game certainly helps, particularly in the way he carries himself.
Orsino Hill played 12 seasons in the minors after being selected 24th overall in the January phase of the 1982 draft. While Derek was growing up, Orsino went to work for the Dodgers, for whom he now is an area scout in California.
“All the players, seeing how they act, it’s just been a good experience to have,” Derek Hill said. “It shows how you should act, the way you should play the game.”
While he hasn’t signed yet, there’s little doubt the Oregon commitment will pass up college.
“I would definitely have to say that,” said Hill, who stands to earn nearly a $2 million bonus.
After the paperwork and physical are out of the way, he’s likely to start his career with the Gulf Coast Tigers rookie league team in Lakeland, Fla.
Until then, Hill said, the kid who loves to swim will continue to dive into Netflix. He has a lot of catching up to do, particularly with “Scandal,” “Burn Notice” and “White Collar.”
“Time to relax,” Hill said. “I’m just trying to get my bearings again. I’ve been running for three months straight.”
Getting to know … Derek Hill
Position: Center field
Age: 18 (Dec. 30, 1995)
High school: Elk Grove (Calif.)
Notable: Moved from Iowa to California as a sophomore so he could play baseball most of the year and against better competition. ... As a senior, he hit .500 with 30 RBIs, 26 runs and 21 stolen bases.