ORLANDO — Not many high-school baseball players have the opportunity to be mentored by a former Major League Baseball star.
Olympia’s Juan Hillman, a UCF commit who is regarded as one of the top prep pitchers in the nation, lives with one.
Going into his sophomore year of high school, the left-handed senior moved in with his godfather and legal guardian Tom Gordon — former MLB pitcher Tom Gordon.
Gordon, whose own son, Nick Gordon, was formerly a teammate of Hillman’s at Olympia before being taken No. 5 overall in last summer’s MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, has been a major influence on the talented prospect and has helped Hillman center his focus on baseball.
“(Gordon has) been a major impact, keeping me on the right track and giving me a lot of tips on the game,” Hillman said.
The results of the mentorship have been tangible.
Olympia head coach Chuck Schall said Hillman has become a leader for the Titans — who are off to a 3-0 start this season and are ranked No. 7 in the nation by MaxPreps — and his teammates look up to him because of the skill and attitude he brings to the table.
“(Hillman) really brings a different element to our club in the fact that he’s very laid back,” Schall said. “In this game, a lot of times, you get too tight — he’s the opposite. He helps keep us loose.”
A designated hitter for the Titans on days between starts, Hillman is also hitting .545 so far this season.
As his career in high school has progressed, Hillman (1-0, .000 ERA) has always tried to model his game after Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The talented southpaw says he has continued to pick up on hitters’ tendencies to his benefit on the hill.
“I go after hitters, try to finish them as much as I can,” Hillman said. “I know that if you leave a ball down the middle, they will hit it — no matter how hard you throw it, they will swing and hit it. I just make sure I hit my spots and go after them and don’t let them hang in there.”
From a coaching perspective, Schall has noticed Hillman is becoming more aware that he has to do more than just strike batters out. One element of emphasis so far has been Hillman’s awareness of base runners.
“He’s been so effective in the past at just being able to blow the ball by everybody that he’s never cared too much about base runners,” Schall said. “He’s learning now about how important that is.”
Although he moved in with Gordon to better himself, as well as his game, Hillman said he still finds inspiration off the field from his mother.
“She’s a strong woman, always kept me on the right path and made sure I stayed in line, and she always likes to see me happy,” Hillman said.
With the end of his high-school career approaching, Hillman is trying to enjoy his final go-around with the Titans while also being mindful of his future.
He is committed to play college baseball for Terry Rooney at the University of Central Florida, but there is a good chance that — like his friend Nick Gordon — Hillman may hear his name early enough in this summer’s MLB Draft that the opportunity to play professional baseball is too good to pass up.
It is a possibility he is taking in stride.
“I try not to think about it as much, but I’m pretty excited for it,” Hillman said. “I’m just ready.”
The nationally ranked Olympia Titans (3-0) will play a trio of games against local competition over the next week.
• 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27: at Wekiva
• 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 4: vs. Ocoee
4 p.m. Friday, March 6: at Ocoee