Taking a closer look at Robert Hassell, the San Diego Padres number one pick in this year’s MLB Draft.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) First-Year Player Draft can and often is regarded as the lifeblood of an organization’s system.
How well a team does in selecting players and allocating money determines how promising that team’s future looks. Thus, it is pertinent for each of the thirty clubs to make wise decisions in the process. In the last few years, general manager A.J. Preller and his scouting gurus have done a remarkable job.
In 2017, the evaluators took MacKenzie Gore, a pitcher with Clayton Kershaw comparisons, with the third overall pick. In 2019, they chose CJ Abrams with the sixth overall pick believing that he can resemble Trea Turner once he reaches the highest level. So far, both players have met and exceeded the wildest anticipations. As a result, the Padres’ possess an individual with Kershaw-like upside and another with Turner’s capabilities for the future.
With expectations of continuing the prosperity, Preller and company went into the 2020 MLB Draft with high hopes. How they performed should, therefore, be analyzed so that fans can believe in a better future for a team that has had trouble having and maintaining success.
As such, the beginning of this assessment ought to correlate with the start of Preller’s selections. At pick number eight in the 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Friars took Robert Hassell III, a lefty swinger who played centerfield for Independence High School in Tennessee.
Being the first high school player taken off the board, the selection of Hassell was and remains controversial, especially since outfielder Zac Veen, a more projectable batter with comparisons to Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, was still available. However, there are a few good reasons why Hassell was the smarter choice.
First, Zac Veen does not have the same ceiling of Bellinger or Yelich, lacking the speed necessary to play like them. Instead, he is more like Juan Soto, an athlete who thrives on his plus hitting ability and outstanding power. In contrast, Hassell is more like the Dodgers’ and Brewers’ outfield superstars. After all, what type of players are Bellinger and Yelich? Simply put, they are five-tool competitors who are giants in the batter’s box. Hassell has these same abilities, including a spectacular hit tool and patient approach.
A valid argument can be made that Hassell is too deficient in the power column to reach the same MVP status. Yet, Yelich came out of his draft with the same question marks. He was selected 23rd overall in the 2010 draft with average, yet projectable power at best. Now, he consistently hits thirty or more balls over the fence every year. It is improbable that Hassell measures up to this lofty standard; however, his power should not be quickly dismissed. He retains a 6-foot-2 inch, 190-pound frame which should fill out, allowing him to generate more over-the-fence pop.
Also, his elite bat control, patience, and presence- tools which may have been tops in the high school ranks- should help him access all his raw strength. Perfect Game has a lot to contribute about Hassell’s pure hitting ability, stating how the Independence High School player possesses “lots of physical projection and room to get stronger… Left-handed hitter, wide slightly open stance, has fast hands he uncoils well to start his swing, uphill swing plane with good extension out front, projects power, ball jumps when squared, loose and easy swing.” In other words, the new Padre has the hands, swing plane, and projection to exceed expectations in the power department.
Lastly, many pundits have gone on record saying how Hassell easily hits to all fields. This bat control will give him a better chance of surpassing the 15- homer limit most evaluators have placed on Hassell. If there are any further questions about his round-tripper pop, ask the player himself. He has been lauding his ability to pass every base with just one swing. He is stubborn in the best way when it comes to his strength, consistently arguing how the tool will be above-average as with all the other skills he applies in the game. When the power question is resolved, Hassell will have become a five-tool player since he can already hit, run, field, and throw at a superior level.
The most likely outcome for the new Friar then is a .280/.360/~.850 slash line with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases- a stat line akin to Andrew Benintendi, Boston’s left fielder who was the fifth-best prospect in 2016. However, he can be more talented than Benintendi, reaching heights near Bellinger’s and Yelich’s level. In short, Hassell is more like Bellinger and Yelich than Veen is; thereby, making him a more intriguing prospect to follow.
If he is not analogous to Bellinger or Yelich, then Hassell can be compared to 2018 draftee Jarred Kelenic. Before the Mets took him with the sixth overall pick, MLB.com gave the following tool grades: 60 hit, 50 power, 55 run, 60 arm, 50 field. Every one of these tool grades, apart from the one for arm strength, was the same for Hassell before he was selected. According to the same source, the Tennessee outfielder had a 60 hit, 50 power, 55 run, 55 arm, and 50 field tools before the 2020 draft began. In other words, Kelenic and Hassell were almost the same player coming out of high school. This is exciting news given the fact that Kelenic now stands as 11th best prospect throughout Minor League Baseball (MiLB). His tools have become even more pronounced since being drafted. MLB.com now assigns him a 60 hit, 55 power, 60 run, 60 arm, 55 field tool, and there is no reason why Hassell should not have the same in a couple of years. In other words, after a couple of years, Hassell could be ranked just outside the top ten prospects throughout the sport.
While tool grades are exciting to look at, how a player performs is more important. Thus, scouting the stat line of a player should be the primary focus. In 2019, Kelenic posted a triple-slash line of .291/.364/.904 with 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases and is on an upward trajectory, meaning he should have an even more successful campaign in the next full-season of MiLB. Many pundits believe that Kelenic can one day be a .280/.350/30 HR/15 SB athlete, or an All-Star centerfielder. Being a lefty with a similar build and equal tools, Hassell can be the same player. Whether that would be a better outcome than the Juan Soto type path Veen is going down will always be controversial until both 2020 draftees play in the majors, grabbing a talent such as Hassell was a terrific move by A.J. Preller and company.
Another reason why using the eighth overall pick on Hassell rather than Veen was wiser is the financial implication. Since Veen was destined to be the first high school pick, with some scouts even projecting him to be the second overall choice, the amount of money needed to sign him should be around the same range as a number two or number three selection. It would, therefore, cost a team around seven million dollars to sign him. On the other hand, Hassell was not expected to be off the board until the Padres turn was up, at the least. A lot of experts also concluded that the Angels would draft Hassell with the tenth overall pick. Some even thought he would be taken later, somewhere in the mid-teens. Thus, Hassell should receive any slot value from number eight to number fifteen. As the eighth selection in the 2020 draft, he should obtain about five million dollars; however, the Padres may be able to sign him for less. Either way, San Diego ought to save at least two million dollars by popping Hassell before Veen. While Veen, in the eyes of the majority, appears to be the better player due to his power potential, Hassell allowed the Friars to grab more significant talent in the later rounds while still getting a superb and well-balanced player.
For example, in the comp A round, SD was able to take a risk on Justin Lange, a pitcher who has the upper 90s fastball and above-average slide to become a front-line starter. Moreover, the savings also enabled Preller to pop Cole Wilcox, another potential ace with an upper 90s fastball and above-average slide, in the third round. To fully laud the Hassell pick, one must understand that Lange and Wilcox could have reasonably been recruited in the first round. In short, the Padres may have grabbed a 20-20 player and two first-round aces in a five-round draft. Thus, the savings represented an unbelievable turn of events. Additionally, Hassell could be better than Veen one day, making the cost-cutting sacrifice almost non-existent.
The Padres’ decision to select Robert Hassell III was a brilliant move for a few reasons.
One, he has a greater potential of becoming Cody Bellinger or Christian Yelich than the oft-compared Zac Veen, who is like Juan Soto due to his present hit and power tools. Although Hassell is more likely to become a Benintendi or Kelenic, these outcomes might be more favorable to a Juan Soto future that Veen possesses. Either way, the argument should be profound. Additionally, taking Hassell let Preller take two high-ceiling prospects in the comp A and third rounds. Meanwhile, there was not much of a drop off between the talent that Veen has and the skills that Hassell carries. Subjectively, there may not be much of a drop-off at all, thereby making the sacrifice lesser or non-existent. Two years from now, we could be talking about Hassell in the same way that scouts praise a top ten prospect. While bleacher report doubts the Tennessee athlete will become an All-Star, there is a good chance that he can become one nevertheless.