Channeling The Clipper

Back around 1990, I was rummaging through the discount bin in a video store when I spotted an unexpected gem. Hidden under several random cassettes was a tape encased in a glossy box titled, “Baseball Thrills!  The World Series of 1951!  Plus Special Bonus Footage!”

After sacrificing a dollar, I went home to view the tape.  The “Bonus Footage” featured Connie Mack giving a speech on sportsmanship. Mack was clearly uncomfortable with the new fangled invention called a moving picture camera, and his chat would today be fodder for SNL or “Mystery Science Theater 3000."

The next section of the film was priceless. It featured clips of the swings of Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Using film techniques that were highly advanced for its time (1941), the film broke down the swings of each hitter using slow motion and freeze frame footage.

I had completely forgotten about the old video until yesterday, when David Nick, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound shortstop from Cypress (Calif.) High brought back memories of DiMaggio in a game at El Dorado High of Placentia, Calif.  Nick ranks as Baseball America’s 47th-best high school prospect for the 2009 draft and is committed to UCLA.

The righthanded hitter ripped three hits in the contest, starting with a leadoff home run which cleared the fence in deep left center and promptly sheared several leaves off of a tree. 

With runners on second and third in his next plate appearance, Nick was walked intentionally, much to the dismay of the 20 scouts in attendance. “I saw that one coming,” sighed one disappointed scout.

Nick made the most of his next two trips to the plate, though, drilling a hard single to center and another loud single to left.

Positioned deep in the batter’s box, Nick is a near duplicate of the Yankee Clipper’s hitting style. His feet are spread wide apart, his legs show little knee bend, and the bat is held at a slight angle just above his back shoulder. Prior to swinging, Nick is motionless, with no load and almost no stride.

Showing the same ability to “hit the ball out of the catcher’s glove” that was DiMaggio’s trademark, Nick will suddenly whip the bat at the ball and snap his wrists, finishing his swing with a high, uppercut flourish.

No one would be brash enough to suggest that Nick will enjoy the same career results as DiMaggio, of course.  However, Nick’s old fashioned throwback swing is classic, a delight to observe and, among current prospects, decidedly unique.  It’s difficult to imagine any modern hitting guru teaching an approach even remotely similar—but one can hope nobody attempts any tinkering with Nick.

Nick possesses the added advantage of being an excellent all-around ballplayer. At showcases, his 60-yard dash times have consistently fallen in the 6.7 to 6.8 range. Defensively, Nick’s future home will probably be third or, more likely, second base.

Nick may not have enough arm strength for the left side of the infield, and his fielding actions, while serviceable, need to show more ease and fluidity. Nick has fine range, and he does an outstanding job of reading the ball off of the bat.

Cypress High is one of the premier high school programs in the nation, and has produced recent first round picks Scott Moore (eighth overall to Detroit in 2002) and Josh Vitters (third overall to the Cubs in 2007).

While Nick does not figure to be drafted quite that high, his early showing with the bat could conceivably move him up into the first four rounds.  Last year, Matt Cerda of Oceanside (Calif.) High was not held in overly high regard draft-wise prior to the beginning of the season; however, his sensational spring jumped him up to the fourth round.

Based on Tuesday’s showing, David Nick appears poised to make a similar move up the draft escalator.