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Bowling Green Hot Rods center fielder Niko Hulsizer awaits the play against the Greensboro Grasshoppers on Wednesday at Bowling Green Ballpark. Hulsizer, a former Morehead State standout, earned the player of the month award in the High-A East for June.

Bowling Green Hot Rods outfielder Niko Hulsizer is locked in at the plate, which is bad news for opposing pitchers.

After a slow start Hulsizer has found his stride, hitting 10 homers and driving in 30 in the month of June with a .779 slugging percentage and a 1.220 OPS.

Those numbers earned Hulsizer the player of the month award in the High-A East and has seen him surge onto the leaderboard in several of the league’s offensive categories. Heading into Saturday’s game against Greensboro (N.C.) Hulsizer leads the league in OPS (1.010) and slugging (.620). He’s tied for fifth in home runs (11) and tied for fourth in RBIs (36).

“There were a lot of things that added up to the slow start,” Hulsizer said. “I just really stayed on top of it. I had a lot of good guys here around me that really helped me through the tough times and kept my head in it. I bounced back hard, just like everybody encouraged me that I would.”

Hulsizer has displayed his raw power all the way back to his college days at Morehead State, where he set the school record for home runs (27) as a sophomore and was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 18th round in 2018.

The Mohnton, Pa., native said Morehead showed interest after watching him play in 10th grade and it was an easy decision when he was offered a scholarship.

“It seemed like a good fit,” Hulsizer said. “I visited there twice, made the decision and just went with it. It has worked out well. I think everything happens for a reason. I just wanted to go somewhere where I could play. I definitely think it really helped me develop as a player.”

Hulsizer hit 15 homers with Great Lakes and was named Midwest League player of the month in May 2019, but was traded by the Dodgers to the Tampa Bay Rays at the MLB trade deadline on July 31, 2019, for Adam Kolarek.

He only played nine games for Port Charlotte (Fla.), Tampa Bay’s High-A team at the time, due to injury.

With minor league baseball canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus, Hulsizer said he used that down time as a chance to be with family.

“It was cool in a way being home for that long of a time, especially that time of year,” Hulsizer said. “I never get to be home in the summertime. I traveled a lot. Stayed on top of my baseball activity. Worked a little bit and I ended up having a baby in October. I really enjoyed my time at home, but I definitely missed playing baseball.”

When the 2021 season finally began, Hulsizer only played eight innings before he was pulled in the middle of the season opener due to contact tracing. He was quarantined for 10 days and took another week to get game ready, putting him about a month behind everyone else.

“It was tough,” Hulsizer said. “Things didn’t really seem to be rolling in my favor. I had that slow start when I got back, too. It was just tough all around, but I had a lot of people that helped me through it.”

That slow start is behind him and Hulsizer is looking to continue his success at the plate, but also continues to show his value in the field – playing all three outfield positions.

“I really try to take pride in my defense,” Hulsizer said. “I don’t want to be put in a box or category as just an offensive player. I want to be an all-around player, so I take a lot of pride in that. I like shocking people when they find out I can also play defense.”

Bowling Green manager Jeff Smith said he’s been impressed with Hulsizer’s play both at the plate and in the field.

“I think his athleticism gets overlooked,” Smith said. “He’s a tremendous athlete and probably one of the better athletes you are going to see out there on the field on any given night. It’s fun to put him out there and let him work.”

Hulsizer said now that he is back in the swing of things, he wants to keep building on his success in June.

“Keep on hitting balls hard, keep on winning,” Hulsizer said. “Just keep on improving every game, every month. Time goes by quickly and you’ve got to stay locked in every single day. That’s really what I am trying to do here. Hopefully the success keeps coming.”

– Follow Hot Rods reporter Micheal Compton on Twitter @mcompton428 or visit bgdailynews.com.

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