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PAWTUCKET â€“ Itâ€™s often viewed as the last frontier for young hitters to conquer, that of strike-zone recognition. In Alex Hassanâ€™s case, the promising Red Sox outfield prospect is well ahead of the curve, so much so that some of his peers could stand to benefit from his calculated attack.
Philosophically, the Sox are an organization that preaches plate discipline. Wait for your pitch and donâ€™t help out the pitcher by chasing something in the dirt. Hassan embodies the best of those qualities. Last season with Double-A Portland, the 26-year-old Milton, Mass. native posted a .404 on-base percentage, good for third best in the Eastern League and tops among all Red Sox minor leaguers.
As Hassan explained during Fridayâ€™s media portion of the PawSoxâ€™s annual Hot Stove gathering, the keen-eye method he subscribes to is something he has to do in order to best maximize his ability.
â€śFor me being selective is a necessity,â€ť explained Hassan, joined at McCoy Stadium by pitchers Brandon Duckworth and Alex Wilson along with catcher Luis Exposito and Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. â€śCertain people can swing at a pitch anywhere in the zone and hit it hard and I canâ€™t do that. If I were to have that approach, I wouldnâ€™t be successful.
â€śWith the skills that I have, itâ€™s a necessity that I be selective for something that I can hit hard,â€ť Hassan continued. â€śIf I had unbelievable hand-eye coordination and bat speed, I wouldnâ€™t be as selective. I have to wait for something that I think I can hit hard.â€ť
Drafted by Boston in the 20th round in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft following a career at Duke University that saw him perform double duty as both a pitcher and hitter, Hassan is coming off a strong 2011 campaign that saw him hit .291 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI in 126 games, all with the Sea Dogs. With him, though, the conversation begins and ends as it relates to grinding out at-bats. Hassan ended up drawing 76 walks and was recently lauded as the organizationâ€™s top performer in the strike-zone discipline category by Baseball America.
â€śWe want all of our hitters to be aggressive, but we want them to be aggressive with pitches they can drive,â€ť explained Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett. â€śWith Alex youâ€™re seeing someone who is good at attacking mistakes and attacking pitches he can handle which has allowed him to become a good hitter.â€ť
Hassanâ€™s 2011 season concluded with a stint in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, playing for a Scottsdale Scorpions squad that ironically had Beyeler serving as the manager. The idea of player and manager reconvening in Pawtucket for the start of the upcoming season is something Hassan was asked about, especially in the wake of recent developments regarding injured outfielder Ryan Kalish.
â€śThe fact Iâ€™m playing is a real cool thing so much so that I havenâ€™t given much thought to where Iâ€™ll be playing,â€ť Hassan said. â€śRyan is a good friend of mine and I want him to be healthy and ready to play.â€ť
Still strong at the top
The current issue of Baseball America features a rundown of the top 10 prospects of each A.L. East club. Ardent Red Sox followers should be able to recognize many of the names with third baseman Will Middlebrooks earning the distinction as the organizationâ€™s top-rated prospect.
Other than Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway, who checks in at No. 9, the list compiled by the unofficial bible of minor-league baseball features a host of promising farm hands that have yet to sniff Double A. From Crockettâ€™s vantage point, you canâ€™t always judge a book by its cover when referencing the talent base in the systemâ€™s upper reaches.
Some intriguing pieces that didnâ€™t register high enough to make the top-10 cut are Hassan, Wilson and shortstop wiz Jose Iglesias, three players that Crockett cited as proof that the well is not completely dry in Portland and Pawtucket.
â€śI think weâ€™re in a very good spot with our upper level talent,â€ť Crockett said. â€śWe have young prospects who have earned time and will continue to get that time.â€ť
Perks that come with the job
Thursday saw Luis Expositoâ€™s travel plans altered somewhat, albeit with good reason. Originally the PawSox catcher was supposed to fly out of Fort Myers on the same flight as Hassan before meeting Alex Wilson in Charlotte for a connecting flight into T.F. Green Airport.
Two-thirds of the anticipated travel party, Hassan and Wilson, got on the scheduled Charlotte-to-Providence flight. What about Exposito? Letâ€™s just say he was presented with an opportunity that could work to his advantage come spring training.
A member of Bostonâ€™s training staff asked the soon-to-be 25-year-old if he would be willing yo stop by the Red Soxâ€™ old spring training complex in City of Palms Park to catch Andrew Miller. Naturally Exposito obliged. The session, which lasted two hours, yielded an additional benefit â€“ that of crossing paths and getting in some quality one-on-one time with new Red Sox skipper Bobby Valentine.
â€śItâ€™s always good to put a name with a face,â€ť said Exposito, whose birthday is next Friday. â€śAny advantage you can get is always good.â€ť
What makes an MVP?
Tommy Harper stopped by McCoy Stadium, his affable and gregarious nature adding to the festivities. Given Harperâ€™s personal affection for onetime prized pupil Jacoby Ellsbury, the former Red Sox single-season record-holder for stolen bases was asked point blank if he felt that a bit of injustice was done when Detroit ace Justin Verlander was named American League MVP with Ellsbury finishing runner-up.
More specifically, does Harper think itâ€™s fair that a position player gets beaten out for MVP by a starting pitcher who impacts the game once every five days, particularly when pitchers have their own award?
â€śA position player has the potential to impact the game every day. Not that he always does because he can go 0-for-4 and drop a fly ball on a particular day,â€ť was how Harper started out. â€śWould Detroit have won without Verlander? No. Would Boston have won without Jacoby? Probably because you still have [Adrian] Gonzalez and [Dustin] Pedroia. Itâ€™s a tough call.â€ť
To Harper, who continues to work for the Red Sox as a player development consultant, the idea of even debating the merits of this heated topic is what helps separate baseball from other sports.
â€śWhen you start out, donâ€™t even mention positions. Just talk about the impact each player has on his team. Thatâ€™s a conversation you can have,â€ť says Harper. â€śWhen you introduce their positions, now thatâ€™s a whole other conversation.â€ť