During batting practice at the prestigious Perfect Game National Showcase last summer, Dominic Hellman put on quite the show in the Tampa Bay Rays’ ballpark.
The Jackson High School baseball star uncorked a slew of thunderous blasts with his wood bat, pulling seven of the 10 pitches he saw into the left-field seats of Tropicana Field. Most traveled an estimated 400-plus feet, according to Perfect Game. And one reportedly bounced off the upper-deck facade.
“It was a sight to behold, one that left even longtime (major league) scouts shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads,” wrote Jeff Dahn of Perfect Game.
Hellman spent much of the past two high school seasons obliterating baseballs in a similar manner.
As a junior during last year’s abbreviated 13-game slate, the University of Oregon-bound slugger batted a scorching .585 with five home runs and 11 extra-base hits.
And this spring, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Hellman followed with an encore that was just as spectacular — if not more so.
The Jackson senior shortstop and potential upcoming MLB draft pick batted .562 with eight homers, two triples and 11 doubles in 25 games. His absurd stat line included a .670 on-base percentage and a 1.096 slugging percentage — combining for a whopping 1.766 on-base plus slugging percentage.
He homered in 11% of his at-bats. He had an extra-base hit in 28.8% of his at-bats. He reached base safely in every game. He stole 11 bases.
And he carried the Timberwolves to the Wesco 4A title and a 17-8 campaign that came within one game of the Class 4A state tournament.
For the second consecutive season, Hellman is The Herald’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
“It’s like numbers off of a video game,” said longtime Jackson coach Kirk Nicholson, who recently retired after his 28th season at the program’s helm. “They don’t make sense. Who has a 1.700 OPS, right? Who has that? Nobody does, for God’s sakes.”
At the time, Nicholson said Hellman’s junior season last year was the greatest high school season he’d ever witnessed.
It was quite the praise, considering he’d coached former Jackson standouts Travis Snider and Brent Lillibridge, who went on to play nearly 1,000 games combined in the major leagues.
But Nicholson said what Hellman did this season — with it coming in nearly twice as many games and against tougher competition — was even more impressive.
“He had the best high school year I’ve ever seen,” Nicholson said.
“He just had an amazing year.”
And remarkably, Nicholson said Hellman’s eye-popping numbers this season could’ve been even better.
“He was unlucky sometimes,” Nicholson said. “There’s a couple times when he hit some screaming line drives right at a shortstop or a third baseman, but they literally caught it just to save their lives. And he must’ve put (a handful of) balls against the wall that could’ve also been home runs.”
With Hellman, it’s not hard to see where his monstrous hitting power comes from.
“When you have the length that he has, along with the hand speed that he has, the lever that comes through is so much more powerful than the average guy,” Nicholson said. “(And) he gets after it and he takes real cuts. He doesn’t try to just make contact. He’s trying to hit the ball hard every time. And he just has exceptional hand-eye coordination.”
As for the overall impact Hellman had on Jackson’s success this spring? It was as massive as his imposing frame.
Hellman’s batting average was nearly 300 points higher than the rest of his team’s. He totaled 21 of the Timberwolves’ 49 extra-base hits — including all of their homers and triples. And he either drove in or scored 38% of his team’s runs.
Jackson’s lineup was hampered by injuries, according to Nicholson. But with Hellman leading the way, the Timberwolves still managed to win 17 games and a league title.
“We did not have a lot of success offensively this year, except for him,” Nicholson said. “The only reason we won our league was because, quite frankly, they pitched to him.
“Dom literally carried us as much as any guy I’ve ever had,” he added. “It was amazing.”
Dominic Hellman blasts a three-run homer to extend Jackson’s lead to 9-3 in the top of the seventh.
That’s Hellman’s sixth homer of the season. pic.twitter.com/yWE1oK0bHq— Cameron Van Til (@CameronVanTil) April 23, 2022
For the most part, Nicholson said opposing teams pitched to Hellman during the regular season. But that changed in the playoffs, when the stakes were higher.
After drawing walks in 19.3% of his regular-season plate appearances, Hellman walked five times and was hit by a pitch twice in his 15 postseason trips to the plate.
“In the playoffs, quite frankly, we lost because they just stopped pitching to him,” Nicholson said.
Hellman also excelled on the base paths, where he showcased a level of speed and athleticism that’s exceptionally rare for a player of his build. He finished as the team leader in stolen bases and scored a team-high 35 runs.
“Obviously, he hit the crap out of the ball,” Nicholson said. “But when he got on base, he scored. He’s such a good base runner.”
The only blemish for Hellman this spring was an unusual string of errors toward the end of the regular season. He finished the year with eight errors in 107 total chances, after committing no errors in 29 chances during last year’s shortened season.
But as Nicholson said, Hellman used his incredible range, fluid athleticism and laser arm to make numerous plays that other high schoolers wouldn’t have made. He finished the season with 56 assists, 43 putouts and eight double plays.
“In the field, he gets to so many more balls than anybody else I’ve ever had there,” Nicholson said. “And I’m not just talking about ground balls. Balls in the air — he goes and gets everything. It’s amazing how many outs he got that (another) shortstop wouldn’t have got.
“And the other thing is, he throws it 92 (mph) across the infield. So once he fields it, you’re out.”
Nicholson also raved about Hellman’s work ethic, which has been especially evident in his recent body transformation. Over the past two years, he added a considerable amount of muscle while bulking up from approximately 170 to 240 pounds.
“My dad emphasized lifting weights, and eating right too,” said Hellman, who has transitioned to a mostly plant-based diet. “And there wasn’t really a regimen to the so-called baseball lifting. It was more of a traditional body-building type of lifting — just like anything that a body builder would do.
“And then I used those muscles and explosiveness on the baseball field.”
Hellman also has incorporated wind sprints into his dedicated training schedule of hitting, fielding and throwing work.
“He has made himself a great athlete,” Nicholson said. “He’s a hard-workout guy. He lifts all the time. His offseason running program is second to none. … He’s all in.”
And through it all, Hellman still found time to mentor younger baseball players in the area. He helped coach and train a 13-year-old team, and has given lessons to local youth players for the past two years.
“It’s always nice to give back to the youth and kind of just prepare the younger generation for what’s to come,” Hellman said.
Hellman plans to spend at least the next few weeks playing for the Oregon-based Springfield Drifters, a summer collegiate wood-bat team in the West Coast League.
After that, he’ll likely have a big decision to make.
Heading into the MLB draft on July 17-19, Hellman is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 303 overall prospect and the No. 108 high school prospect.
If drafted, he’ll have the option to either sign with the team that drafts him or play college ball at the University of Oregon.
“Obviously it’s a tough decision, and it’s obviously a dream too,” Hellman said. “So I’m just kind of taking it day by day.”
Either way, Nicholson is confident in Hellman’s ability to succeed.
“He’d be an exceptional college player — I guarantee you,” Nicholson said. “And in the pros, I can’t imagine him not doing well. … I just think he’s going to be really good, because of how hard he works.”
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