Robert Hassell III Talks Hitting

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Hassell III is a confident hitter, and for good reason. No. 50 on our 2022 Top 100 Prospects list, the 20-year-old outfielder — in the words of Eric Longenhagen — “arguably wielded the most advanced bat of the 2020 draft’s high school hitters.” Drafted eighth overall that summer by the San Diego Padres, he’s lived up to that billing. Playing last year at Low-A Lake Elsinore and High-A Fort Wayne, Hassell slashed .303/.393/.470, with his left-handed stroke responsible for 33 doubles, four triples, and 11 home runs. Moreover, he swiped 34 bases in 40 attempts.

Hassell — back at Fort Wayne to begin the current campaign — talked hitting prior to taking the field for the TinCaps opener last Friday.

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David Laurila: In your own words, who are you as a hitter?

Robert Hassell III: “Last season was the first time I played more than 50 games in a season — I played 110 — and after that, I definitely had a good idea — if I hadn’t already — of what I do consistently. It didn’t take me long. Even through last spring training, just getting in the daily reps, I knew that I was going to be a barrel guy [and] an on-base guy. That’s kind of what I’ve been my whole life, so it’s what I would self-identify as, for sure.”

Laurila: Define “barrel guy.”

Hassell: “I would say that a barrel guy isn’t a dude that can only hit fastballs, or only hit curveballs, or that he excels at one thing way more than the other. I wouldn’t consider that guy a ‘barrel guy.’ I see myself being able to hit every pitch, in any count. That’s what I mean by that.”

Laurila: Is hitting easier or harder when you’re playing every day?

Hassell: “It depends on how you look at it, but I think it’s going to be easier. You get a chance to get into a rhythm. Like you were asking about, it’s knowing yourself — being able to know yourself — and doing it every day, you get to know what you do well. Over the course of the season, I was able to make some pretty good adjustments just by playing every day.”

Laurila: Are some in-season adjustments based on how your body is feeling? You mentioned not having played 100-plus games in a season.

Hassell: “They can be, but the main thing for me is who’s pitching. I don’t try to make it too complicated, but there are some little things, like if there’s a lefty out there — maybe it’s a power lefty, or it could be a slower-fastball guy who throws a lot of offspeed. Or I might have a couple of different mindsets and adjustments for a hard-throwing righty. Something like that.

“I might base some other parts of my game off of how my body feels. For example, stealing bases. Sometimes there might be a week where you’ve got to take it a little easier on your body. But with hitting, for the most part it’s going to stay the same.”

Laurila: Baseball America rated you as having the best strike zone discipline in the Padres organization, and they’ve also lauded your ability to cover the entire plate. One could argue that if you’re hitting pitches over the entire plate, your discipline isn’t what it could be. Does that make sense?

Hassell: “Yes, one could argue that. I think the thing about me, though, is that I’m best at hitting pitches on the outer part of the plate — the outer third of the plate, whether it’s at the upmost part of the strike zone, or the lowest part of the strike zone. I think I’m really good at doing that. If you’re talking about hitting in general, the harder part is to hit that outside pitch, while the middle to middle-in stuff is easier.

“I do think I’m able to see pitches and work deeper counts. I have the confidence and discipline to pick and choose, if I want to. If you’re the same hitter over and over and over again… these pitchers work really hard, just like us. They’re always trying to find things. If you’re a guy that never swings first pitch, they’ll know that; it becomes consistent 0-1 counts. You don’t want that as a hitter. You’ve got to consistently make adjustments, even if you’re doing well.”

Laurila: Basically, you want a game plan for every pitcher, and every at-bat…

Hassell: “Right. I’m getting the most information I can. Sometimes it’s limited, especially on relievers, but for the starters, whatever information is possible, I’m looking at it for sure.”

Laurila: In terms of covering the entire plate, I’ve had hitters tell me that having great bat-to-ball skills hurts them at times. They’re putting balls in play on pitches they can’t drive, whereas they should have waited for a better pitch.

Hassell: “I mean, that just happens. It’s baseball. But I take that in a good way, especially if I’m ‘on.’ It might be a first pitch, offspeed, over the plate, and I roll it over to the second baseman. Maybe it was a good pitch to bang? I’m a confident hitter, so I’m going to be mad about those. I think I can get a hit every at-bat.”

Laurila: The Baseball America report I saw also said that you’re “learning to backspin the ball.” Do you agree with that?

Hassell: “I don’t know if learning to backspin the ball would be the best way to put it. I would say that I know how to backspin the ball pretty good. But just doing it more consistently… I mean, I can go line-to-line, and if I can backspin a ball down the left field line, that’s a pretty big step. And I did it a few times last year. I liked what I saw when it happened — I got really good results from it — so, just doing that … I mean, I’m pretty critical of myself. I’m my own worst critic, man.”

Laurila: Eric Longenhagen wrote that you had a steep uphill swing in spring training last year. Is that accurate?

Hassell: “I think I just… especially in those big league games, I got up there and couldn’t stop thinking about hitting a home run. I started swinging too hard. And it took me too long — it probably took me 20 at-bats — to figure out that’s not me as a hitter. So, it was unintentional. But yeah, it was definitely a steeper swing than I would have liked. But then, going into the season, I figured, ‘OK, over 100-something games, that’s not going to play if I want to be consistent.’ I knew that I had to flatten out a little bit and stick to those low liners, and those doubles.”

Laurila: You were quoted in an MLB.com article saying that you want to hit .300.

Hassell: “.300 has always been that number. Well, actually, it hasn’t — in high school, the expectations were a little higher. In pro ball last year, I was like, ‘I want to hit .340.’ I was .around .325 when I got called up to High-A, and then I finished the year .303. I felt like I had way more in the tank.

“Some people have to shoot for .350 to hit .300, but that’s not necessarily me. I feel sure that I can hit well above .300, but I think it’s a good starter goal. If I end up below that, I’ll take it into account and make some adjustments. But I expect .300 from myself every year, for sure. That’s part of the confidence I was talking about. It’s also part of who I think I’m able to be.”

Laurila: As I’m sure you know, a lot of people don’t place much value on batting average.

Hassell: “If you’re getting a lot of at-bats and are hitting .300, you’re barreling balls consistently, so your on-base is going to be high, too. I just kind of make the game simple. All of the analytics that everybody cares about nowadays, I let them worry about it. I just take what information works best for me.

“I’m also not saying that it doesn’t work for some guys to have a lower average and a high on-base. It does. At the same time, you can always strive to have a higher [batting average]. And I am going to walk a decent amount. Guys are going to want to pitch me differently, and if I can be patiently aggressive, then I can be picking the pitch I want, and blasting it.”

Laurila: Circling back to “learning to backspin the ball,” your power potential been questioned more than once. Your thoughts on that?

Hassell: “I’m going on year two-ish with the Padres, and they’ve always told me, ‘Man, keep on hitting like you hit. Don’t worry about the power; the power is going to come.’ I’ve watched every single one of my at-bats from last year, and I think a lot more [home runs] are going to come. I had 10 or 11 last year, and I could have had about 20 with that extra man strength, and maybe an extra 10-15 pounds, that is in my future.”

Laurila: How much do you weigh now?

Hassell: “I’m about 185 [pounds]. Last year I was about 180 when the season started. I feel good. That’s what I care about. I feel I have the power to put the ball over the fence, and my speed is really good. I can steal a bag better than most.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts on hitting before I let you go?

Hassell: “The mental side of hitting — the mental side of the game — is big, and I’ve really taken pride in that. Being a professional now… I mean, I haven’t got above High-A yet, but I’ve been around a lot of guys, and confidence is huge. If you don’t have it, you’re not going to have a lot of success. My dad and I always used to talk about it. You’ve got to have necessary arrogance — that’s the best way I would put it: necessary arrogance. You’re not a cocky dude — nobody likes that guy — but when you’re in the box, you’ve got to have that swagger to you. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have a strong mind, it’s not going to take you very far.”

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Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Rhys Hoskins, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker,, Drew Saylor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Robert Van Scoyoc, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Luke Voit, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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jrodmember
5 months ago

Awesome interview, David! RHIII is exactly what the Padres need in a corner outfielder. Not too concerned about the power yet and I’m impressed with how plugged in he seems to be with his hitting approach. Figured more 20 year-olds would be talking about “see ball, hit ball.”

Last edited 5 months ago by jrod