Comstock Park, Mich. — Even since growing up in Australia, Ulrich Bojarski wielded a more powerful bat than his peers.
A fan of the hometown Perth Heat of the Australian Baseball League, a teenage Bojarski got a hold of a cracked wooden bat from a game.
His father, Johnny, glued and taped it up for him. And while peers used drop-3 metal bats, Ulrich labored with wooden lumber for training and even in games before it was required.
“I found out that helped me a lot, especially where I am now, swinging the same bats I was back then,” said Bojarski, now a West Michigan Whitecaps power-hitting corner outfield prospect for the Tigers.
Maybe that’s why Bojarski has one of the most powerful swings in the Tigers organization — one of the most powerful John Vander Wal has seen in decades of pro baseball, including as a 2001 San Francisco Giants teammate of Barry Bonds during his 73-homer season.
“He’s got more pop than most big leaguers,” said Vander Wal, a 14-year major leaguer for eight teams and now West Michigan's hitting coach. “I haven’t seen anybody hit the ball like he does. He reminds me of when Jose Canseco was young, how hard he hits the ball.”
It’s high praise and this season’s early numbers are starting to back it up for Bojarski —pronounced “Ul-Rick Boy-yar-ski” — in his third year with the Tigers organization.
Through Saturday, the 20-year-old Bojarski was hitting .277 with three home runs and 23 hits in 22 games. His .434 slugging percentage is hovering around the Midwest League’s top 25, though he drew just his second walk of the season Thursday and his on-base percentage is just .315.
“One step at a time,” West Michigan manager Lance Parrish said. “I’d love to see everybody walk a lot, but as far as hitting goes, I’m more concerned with his approach and how the ball comes off his bat. He’ll learn the strike zone a little bit more, he’ll start taking his walks, but that’ll come in time, hopefully.”
The crack off Bojarski’s bat is different than most minor leaguers, especially in the Low-A Midwest League.
Parrish said Bojarski cleared the center-field fences in South Bend by 30 feet with a home run, hitting an ice cream cart.
“And it was on a line,” Parrish said. “He’s got tremendous bat speed.”
In West Michigan, Parrish and Vander Wal teach staying through the ball and not uppercutting for power.
“I yell at him every time he gets in the cage and starts swinging up, starts hitting fly balls,” Parrish said. “My personal feeling on that is that if you create a good launch angle, you have proper mechanics. You don’t have to try to hit the ball in the air, it’ll just happen naturally. My big concern is for these guys to work on is just staying through the ball and driving it.”
Added Vander Wal: “He’s got a special skill. He can hit the ball harder than most people. His hands are so good and he hits the ball so hard, he just has to learn to stay through the middle and not pull off. He’s done a phenomenal job. He’s young too, they have to learn how to play the game right now.”
Bojarski, whose three home runs leads the Whitecaps, said his approach has been simple this season.
“Just going up there, not trying to do too much,” Bojarski said. “Putting a big swing on the ball, but not trying to hit the ball too hard. Just want to move runners over and just help the team up there.”
Bojarski was born in South Africa but moved to Australia when he was 2 or 3, he said. He took up baseball at 13 and was an international free agent signing by the Tigers in 2016 after playing for Perth, where Tigers scout Kevin Hooker spotted him.
Aussies are still relatively new to baseball, but not the Tigers organization. Bojarski had two Australian teammates last summer for the short-season Class A Connecticut Tigers.
In addition, reliever Warwick Saupold of Perth appeared in 82 games for the Tigers from 2016-18 and is playing professionally this season in Korea. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Saupold is one of 30 Australian-born players ever in the bigs. Oakland reliever Liam Hendriks is the only current MLB Aussie.
Bojarski is a long ways from getting to the bigs and hasn’t yet appeared on prospect lists, but his powerful bat gives him a chance to move up the ladder.
“The kid’s really strong and he can put a charge in it,” said Dave Owen, Tigers director of player personnel. “We’re really happy with the progress he’s making.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.