The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes have had a ton of talent come through their team the last few years, courtesy of the Dodgers. Even after sending seven players to the Cal League All-Star Game and having standouts like Jeren Kendall, Marcus Chiu, Gerardo Carrillo and many others they’ve gotten a boost from two players from the Great Lakes Loons; Josiah Gray and Niko Hulsizer.
Gray has been with the team for almost two months and Hulsizer just about a little over a week. I was finally able to get my eyes on both of them and came away highly impressed.
The main reason I went to cover the game on Thursday, July 27 was to watch Gray pitch, live, for the first time. I’d seen him on some live-streams but I wanted to see him up close. As you may have heard, the 21 year old Gray was acquired from the Reds in the Kyle Farmer trade after being the 72nd pick in the 2018 draft. He played three years at Le Moyne College in upstate New York where he not only excelled in baseball, but received many academic accolades. While starting his career as an infielder he started to pitch his freshman year with some tough results in his eight innings. During his sophomore year he played a lot of infield and pitched out of the bullpen in relief getting 22 strikeouts in only 14.1 innings. His Junior year he became a fulltime starting pitcher and excelled.
Some people I’ve spoken with had many great things to say about Gray. First and foremost, everyone says he’s a great guy. The Dodgers do look at character a lot and good character will help a player navigate the tough rise through the system.
Gray On The Mound
According to 2080 Baseball he throws a fastball (91-96 MPH), a slider (79-82 MPH) and a change up (87-89). While watching him dominate on the mound last Thursday, I did see some mid-80s pitches that are probably a curveball he’s working on.
His first professional season (2018) with the Reds organization was spent at the Rookie League Greenville team. In 14 games started he threw 70 innings while giving up 54 hits, walked 16 and struck out 86. His final ERA was 2.57. With the trade to the Dodgers he started off the 2019 with Great Lakes. He only lasted 5 games as he dominated with 23.2 innings, 13 hits, only 5 runs, 7 walks and 26 strikeouts. He was then promoted to the Quakes on May 11.
Gray With The Quakes
Gray’s first start with the Quakes was a stinker but after that he’s lowered his ERA in almost every start. With the Quakes he has had 9 starts with 46.2 innings while giving up 41 hits, only 9 walks and 60 strikeouts. His ERA, that was at 40.50 after his first start is down to 2.89. The game I saw was also his best game of the year as he threw 7 innings, gave up 4 hits, 1 run, NO walks and 8 Ks. When I spoke with him after the game he spoke about working hard to get first pitch strikes. He said all his pitches work off of his fastball. Some have wondered if Gray might end up a reliever but I don’t see that. With a 4-pitch repertoire that he throws for strikes he should stay a starter for the foreseeable future.
My original intent for covering the game on June 27 was to watch Gray but Nike Hulsizer quickly caught my attention but in not the way you’d think. I introduced myself to him during batting practice and he was one of the friendliest players I’ve ever dealt with. I knew he was recently promoted and I’d seen a lot of his highlights on the Great Lakes Instagram account.
Niko Hulsizer was born and raised on Mohnton, Pennsylvania and is 22 years old. He went to college at Morehead State for three years and during that time established himself as one of the premiere power hitters in the county. In 2017 he even won the College Home Run Derby. For the 2017 season he had 27 home runs, 82 RBI with a .349 batting average as a sophomore. His junior season was interrupted with a broken hand which impacted his production. During the pre-draft notes Baseball America had this to say about him:
“Hamate injuries normally sap hitters’ power for months after they return to action. Hulsizer, the 2017 Division I home run champ with 27 home runs, has enough power that he could drive the ball out even with less than his full hand strength. Scouts throw 70 grades on his exceptional raw power and the 6-foot-2, 225 pound junior has shown a consistent ability to get that power to play in games.
He was hitting .302/.440/.595 with nine home runs in 32 games heading into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Hulsizer is an above-average runner who can play fringe-average defense in a corner outfield spot with an average arm….”
First Professional Season
The Dodgers ended up drafting him in the 18th round and he sent to Ogden for Rookie Ball. He ended up spending the whole season there and ended up with a slash line of .281/.426/.531 (AVG/OBP/SLG). His 30 walks in 48 games also indicates patience at the plate. As expected he began the 2019 season with Great Lakes in Low-A and displayed massive power from the outset. In just 58 games he hit 15 home runs in 209 at bats and slashed .268/.395/.969 to earn his promotion to the Quakes.
Hulsizer With The Quakes
On June 19, Hulsizer was called up to the Quakes which is at the High-A level. His first few games were on the road and he got off to a bit of a slow start. On the positive side he did hit a home run. His first home game was the game I attended.
What I first noticed was the sound the ball made coming off the bat. He had two loud doubles and a couple of loud foul balls. He ended up with three hits and two runs scored. The following night he hit his first home run at home. After speaking with him he thinks he’ll rotate between playing a lot of left field and some DH. The Quakes have a bunch of talented outfielders so there will be some games he ends up sitting. Soon one of Donovan Casey or Jeren Kendall will be promoted to Tulsa which will open spots for more playing time for everybody.
After the game on June 27, Hulsizer stuck around and signed autographs and took pictures with fans until they were all gone. He then took the time to speak with me. We spoke about what he wants to work on in the second half of the season.
Just continuing my game. Trying to hit more pitches and put more balls in play with hard contact.
As I’ve stated before, Quakes baseball is an incredible value and well worth your time. This is the place where Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and Alex Verdugo just played in 2014 and 2015. Josiah Gray and Niko Hulsizer are two candidates to have excellent careers and I highly recommend getting out to see them along with many other excellent players. The opportunity to see these guys up close is like seeing a great band before they make it big.
I want to thank both Niko and Josiah for taking some time to speak with me after the game. Please go and watch them play.