PAWTUCKET â Through all the early-season struggles he endured, Alex Hassan never once thought about reinventing the wheel, i.e. tweaking his batting stance or adjusting his hands on the bat, the kind of wholesale changes that no doubt creep into a playerâs mind whenever things arenât going well.
For that, the Pawtucket Red Sox outfielder is thankful for staying true to what has gotten him to this point in his development. Patience and showing acute awareness at the plate have been two of the 24-year-oldâs finer points. Clearly the folks at Baseball America concur, as they named Hassan the organizationâs top talent in the âbest strike-zone disciplineâ category prior to the season.
What the recognition doesnât tell you is that when Hassan was hitting .179 on April 16, his approach at the plate was as sound as it is presently. As PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler explained, tangible stats that appear on the backs of baseball cards donât even begin to describe what was going on with the Duke University product in his bid to make a seamless transition to a new level of pro ball.
âHe was having some tough luck,â Beyeler stated, emphasizing that Hassan was a victim in the sense that he was hitting the ball on the screws â it was just right at defenders. âNow the ball is starting to fall.â
Hassanâs average stood at .259 following Tuesdayâs 3-1 loss to Rochester. The game featured a lengthy 12-pitch tussle involving him and Red Wings starter Liam Hendriks in the fifth inning, one that ended with Hassan striking out swinging. It was the kind of at-bat Sox officials have come to expect from Hassan, someone who in each of his previous minor-league stops managed to post roughly an equal amount of walks and strikeouts.
âEven when I wasnât doing well, I didnât feel like I was looking for it,â Hassan explained. âThere are times where you donât do well and feel like youâre out of whack mechanically. I honestly didnât feel like that at the beginning of the year.
âMentally I felt fine and the same with my mechanics,â he added. âThis is a manâs game and I wasnât going to let a couple of weeks ruin my season. Thatâs why I didnât change anything, which has definitely paid off.â
The 12-pitch at-bat Hassan had Tuesday emphasized a point Beyeler made, which is that the Triple-A newcomer is âa guy who grinds out at-bats. He gets into counts.â Such a description sounds vaguely similar to the climb Kevin Youkilis made up the minor-league ladder.
In order for Youkilis to transition away from the âthe Greek God of Walksâ moniker that first appeared in Michael Lewisâ 2003 book âMoneyball,â the current Red Sox third baseman had to demonstrate that he was more than just a ballplayer whoâs best attribute was making pitchers work.
Never considered a classic power hitter while in the minors, Youkilis appeared in 135 games in 2002 followed by a 126-game campaign in 2003. He totaled eight home runs in each season, yet stroked a combined 57 doubles over that span, which allowed him to post strong figures in the on-base percentage department (.436 in 2002 and .441 in 2003).
Conversely, Hassanâs career high in OBP is .404, attained last year with Double-A Portland. Truth is that Hassan has already demonstrated more extra base-prowess than Youkilis ever did in his stint in the minors, the 207 total bases he achieved in his lone season as a Sea Dog largely due to the 34 doubles and 13 homers he amassed.
Through 25 games this season, Hassan has seven doubles and one home run. His .394 on-base mark ranks second among PawSox regulars and is 14 points higher than that of Will Middlebrooks despite falling way short of matching the much-ballyhooed third baseman in the home run department. Middlebrooks had nine round trippers prior to getting called up by Boston last week.
For any young hitter, the task of understanding the strike zone can prove the biggest hurdle to overcome. Itâs why you see some players take longer to develop a power stroke, which for Youkilis didnât happen until he became an everyday major-league player. Hassan can take comfort in knowing that by sticking with his swing mechanics, heâs placed himself in a good spot moving forward.
âAlex does have some power, but his swing doesnât kind of play that way. Every once in a while heâll get into one and youâre like âwow,ââ Beyeler stated. âHeâll learn that when heâs ahead in the count, thatâs the time to turn loose on some balls.
âHeâs a young kid who knows the zone. Thatâs why itâs impressive that he didnât change his swing,â Beyeler continued. âAs a young guy, you donât know how theyâre going to react and they can just as easily bury themselves. Heâs been a great process guy and knows what it takes.â