Sunday Notes: Undaunted By Adversity, Padres Prospect Robert Hassell III Has a Bright Future

Robert Hassell III hasn’t experienced much adversity in his young career. Since being drafted eighth overall by the San Diego Padres in 2020 out of a Tennessee high school, the 20-year-old outfielder has climbed to No. 42 on our Top 100 Prospects list while logging 134 wRC+. Last night he was in the starting lineup for the National League in the All-Star Futures Game.

He’s shown that he’s well-equipped to handle adversity when it does occur. The sweet-swinging Nashville-area native went through a cold stretch in May, and just as he was emerging from it, he contracted COVID. That learning experience is what Hassell chose to share when I sat down with him in late June to ask about his season to date.

“I had a 3-for-30 stretch — something like that — which I hadn’t had in pro ball, or really anywhere,” said Hassell, who has spent the season with the High-A Fort Wayne TinCaps. “Playing every day you’ve got to be able to make immediate adjustments, and it took me awhile to get going again. Basically, I had to begin simplifying things, which is something I continue to do.”

Mature beyond his years, the third-ranked prospect in the Padres system agreed when I suggested that a slump doesn’t necessarily mean that changes are in order.

“That can be an adjustment itself, realizing that you don’t need to change anything,” said Hassell, who was featured in our Talks Hitting series in April. “At least not mechanically. It’s about knowing who you are, and like I said, keeping things simple. Looking back at video, it might be, ‘There is is no real difference between that guy and what I’m doing now.’ That’s why I’m big on the mental part of the game.

“Someone could pull up videos of two ABs and they wouldn’t be able to see a difference,” continued Hassell. “But I’d know that I felt terrible in one of them, and then felt good in the next AB. That’s something people watching a game can’t tell.”

Box scores are much the same. While Hassell occasionally got out of his approach during the downturn — something he readily admits to — he also squared up balls, only to have them find gloves. “You’re not always going to get the results you want,” said Hassell. “I got unlucky at times, but every hitter gets unlucky. That’s baseball.”

Then came the COVID diagnosis. Hassell tested positive at the beginning of June, and while he was only symptomatic for a short time, protocols kept him on the shelf for 10 days. The hiatus didn’t prove to be detrimental. Fully vaccinated and boosted, Hassell emerged from the time-off not only unscathed , but also ready to rake. Since returning to action, Hassell has gone a healthy 31-for-97 (.320). He’s slashing .311/.387/.485 with nine home runs and a 140 wRC+ on the season.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Joe Siddall went 3 for 5 against Mike Sirotka.

Pat Tabler went 7 for 12 against John Candelaria.

Rex Hudler went 11 for 19 against Wilson Alvarez.

Chili Davis went 1 for 22 against Jeff Montgomery.

Bob Uecker went 2 for 3 against Don Drysdale.

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Nate Eaton had a memorable major league debut on Thursday night. One of several players called up from the minors due to 10 non-vaccinated Kansas City Royals being unable to travel to Canada, the 25-year-old infielder/outfielder went deep in a 3-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

A 21st-round pick in 2018 out of Virginia Military Academy, Eaton isn’t a highly-touted prospect. A modest No. 34 in our updated Royals rankings, he’d be better described as a scrappy utility type. He knows who he is. Versatile and hard-nosed, Eaton told me during the Arizona Fall League season that he’s “always been a hustle guy.” Moreover, he doesn’t care where he’s positioned on the field.

“Growing up, I was always told that it doesn’t matter where you play,” explained Eaton, who slashed 301/.360/.498 between Double-A and Triple-A prior to his opportunistic call-up. “With my dad, it was pretty much, ‘If you’re on the field, you need to be happy that you’re out there.’ That’s exactly how I am. Here [in the AFL], I’ve played short, third, left field, and center field. I’m just happy to be between the lines.”

Circumstances currently have Eaton playing between the lines in a big-league ballpark, although a return to Triple-A looms likely. That hardly seems fair. Given his team-first attitude — something not every player shares — he arguably deserves to remain on the Royals roster.

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A quiz:

Who hit the first home run in All-Star Game history?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Minnesota Twins officially retired Jim Kaat’s number 36 yesterday. Kaat was credited with 190 wins, made two All-Star teams, and won 12 Gold Gloves while pitching for the organization from 1959-1973.

This year’s SABR national convention, which will be held in Baltimore from August 17-21, will include a one-on-one with Orioles legend Boog Powell. The full schedule can be found here.

George Elder, who had been the oldest living former big-leaguer, died earlier this month at age 101. An outfielder during his playing days, Elder appeared in 41 games for the St. Louis Browns in 1949.

Dick “Ducky” Schofield died earlier this month at age 87. An infielder for seven different teams from 1953-1971, the Springfield, Illinois native was the father of 1980s-1990s infielder Dick Schofield, and the grandfather of outfielder Jayson Werth. Primarily a utility player, “Ducky” won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, and was on the losing end with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968.

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The answer to the quiz is Babe Ruth, in 1933. The Bambino went deep against Chicago Cubs southpaw Wild Bill Hallahan to help lift the American League to a 4-2 win over the National League in the inaugural Midsummer Classic. The game was played at Comiskey Park.

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Prior to the All-Star-balloting results being announced, Cleveland Guardians manager Terry Francona was asked about the close race between José Ramírez and Boston’s Rafael Devers at the third base position.

“In my opinion, it’s 1 and 1-A,” said Francona, who suggested that he was obligated to go with his own guy. “But I think Devers is some kind of hitter. It’s pretty good company both of them are in.”

Devers, who has a 173 wRC+ and 4.7 WAR, ended up finishing in front of Ramírez — 162 wRC+ and 4.3 WAR — in the balloting. Good company indeed.

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A few days ago I ran a Twitter asking about people’s level of interest in the Home Run Derby. The options were, 1. Can’t miss event. 2. Interesting enough. 3. Pass.

Based on the results, a good majority of respondents will be watching, albeit not with a great level of excitement. Only 13.5% voted for “Can’t miss event,” while 60.9% opted for “Interesting enough,” and 25.6% went with “Pass.”

As for myself, I’ve rarely bothered watching. The appeal the Home Run Derby has to many baseball fans is understandable, but it’s simply not my cup of tea. Personally, I’ll be passing.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Fernando Rodney is 5-1 with 17 saves and a 3.00 ERA for the Mexican League’s Toros de Tijuana. The 45-year-old right-hander is in his 23rd professional season, 17 of which were spent in MLB.

Takeya Nakamura struck out for the 1,955th time on Tuesday, breaking the NPB record that been held by Kazuhiro Kiyohara. A 38-year-old third baseman who has spent his 20-year career with the Seibu Lions, Nakamura has 1,674 career hits, including 446 home runs.

The Seibu Lions have had 14 players and staff test positive for COVID this past week. The Saitama prefecture-based club went into the weekend second in NPB’s Pacific League with a record of 45-39-1.

Hai Young Jung has 22 saves to go with a 2.41 ERA and a 2.65 FIP over 33-and-two-thirds innings for the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 20-year-old right-hander had 34 saves and a 2.20 ERA a year ago.

Ui San Jeon is slashing .341/.417/.681 with a KBO-best 203 wRC+ for SSG Landers. The 21-year-old rookie first baseman has seven home runs in 103 plate appearances.

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The Detroit Tigers have had a number of high-profile prospects debut in recent seasons, most notably Riley Greene, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Spencer Torkelson. For a variety of reasons — injuries among them — the early-career performances have been a mixed bag.

A.J. Hinch expressed strong thoughts on the subject when he was asked about his club’s young up-and-comers prior to a recent game.

“I don’t think a player comes to the big leagues nowadays without expectations,” Detroit’s manager told a small group of reporters, including yours truly. “I think our industry is so hard on guys making this transition to the big leagues. They expect them to be incredibly impactful… It’s totally unfair to the players that they have to be perfect.”

Hinch went on to cite the notoriety that comes with social media, and the status that comes with rankings.

“Everybody can put out a prospect ranking right now, and they’re considered experts,” opined Hinch. “The players all kind of feel that, because the fans feel it, and the fans expect it. I just want the players to have a learning curve, like anybody would in any job.”

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FARM NOTES

Christian Encarnacion-Strand was slashing .296/.370/.599 with 20 home runs and a 160 wRC+ for High-A Cedar Rapids prior to being promoted to Double-A Wichita on Wednesday. Drafted in the fourth round last year by the Minnesota Twins out of Oklahoma State University, the 22-year-old third baseman has come to the plate 340 times this season has yet to ground into a double play.

Gordon Graceffo is 8-3 with a 2.18 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 99 innings between High-A Peoria and Double-A Springfield. The 22-year-old right-hander — No. 5 on our updated St. Louis Cardinals prospect rankings — went into the weekend leading the minors in innings pitched.

Owen White is 9-2 with a 3.59 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 80-and-a-third innings between High-A Hickory and Double-A Frisco. The 22-year-old right-hander — No. 5 on our Texas Rangers Top Prospects list — was featured here at FanGraphs last month.

Samuel Munoz is slashing .368/.458/.483 with a 154 wRC+ in 107 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Dominican Summer League affiliate. The 17-year-old outfielder from Santo Domingo was signed to a professional contract in January.

Nick Avila had 13 saves to go with a 0.95 ERA and a 2.58 FIP in 27 relief appearances for High-A Eugene before being promoted to Double-A Richmond on Thursday. A 26th-round pick in 2019 out of Cal State Long Beach, the 24-year-old right-hander in the San Francisco Giants system had fanned 31 batters in 28-and-a-third innings.

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The Orioles have the top pick in this year’s amateur draft, and that was one of the subjects I broached with Geoff Arnold in Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio. Who does the Baltimore broadcaster envision the Mike Elias-led organization selecting first overall?

“We know it’s going to be a position player… and I’m going to guess it’s going to be Druw Jones,” Arnold said of the 18-year-old son of former All-Star outfielder Andruw Jones. “Remember that the Orioles have, in the past, gone under-slot, but they do have the second-largest bonus pool ever. So you’re going have a lot of money left over, even if you don’t go under-slot — even if you sign Jones, or whoever — to the slot value for that pick.”

“I would not be surprised if maybe [21-year-old Cal Poly shortstop] Brooks Lee was a possibility, too,” added Arnold. “As we have seen in the last couple of drafts — in fact, as we’ve seen in all the Mike Elias drafts — they have gone with college bats, players like [Heston] Kjerstad, [Colton] Cowser, and [Adley] Rutschman… Elias has said that he does like taking high school hitters. Once upon a time, he picked a very, very good one when he was with the Astros [Carlos Correa, first-overall in 2012]… while there’s there’s no consensus like there was around Adley Rutschman. I do think that Druw Jones is the guy they’re going to go after.”

The first round of this year’s draft will begin tonight at 7:00pm ET and be aired on ESPN.

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On the subject of televised baseball events, last night’s Futures Game was aired on a streaming service, and in a time slot where it went head-to-head against high-profile MLB matchups like Red Sox/Yankees. What were the decision-makers thinking? These are the game’s most-promising young prospects. Why would you not want to showcase them to a larger audience?

The Commissioner’s Office likes to talk about growing the game. Making the Futures Game inconvenient to watch runs counter to that claim. Do better, MLB.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

MLB will pay $185 million to settle the federal class-action lawsuit filed by minor league players who sought pay for minimum-wage and overtime violations by teams. ESPN’s Jeff Passan has the story.

Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein wrote about the lack of commitment shown by a multitude of Kansas City Royals players who have refused to get vaccinated.

Whit Merrifield’s consecutive games-played streak ended at 553 earlier this week. Ann Rogers wrote about it for MLB.com.

Max Meyer grew up a big-time hockey fan in Minnesota. Christina De Nicola talked to the Miami Marlins pitching prospect about it for MLB.com.

Charlie Eshbach, the longtime president and general manager of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, died this week at age 70. Glenn Jordan chronicled Eshbach’s legacy for the Portland Press Herald.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Juan Soto went into yesterday with a career .292 batting average both at home and away. He had 69 doubles and 47 home runs at home, and 39 doubles and 70 home runs away.

Keston Hiura has a .412 BABIP and a .238 batting average. Tyler Stephenson has a .409 BABIP and a .319 batting average.

Carlos Tosca and Charlie Montoyo are the only managers in MLB history with an identical number of wins and losses. Montoyo, who was fired earlier this week, went 236-236 while at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays. Tosca went 191-191 while skippering the north-of-the-border club from 2002-2004.

Tommie Agee and Gene Alley are the only players in MLB history to finish their careers with exactly 999 hits. Agree played from 1962-1973 and had 4,324 plate appearances. Alley played from 1963-1973 and had 4,332 plate appearances.

Pete Rose had 10 seasons with 200 or more hits, and a career 375 OBP.
Ted Williams had no seasons with 200 or more hits, and a career .482 OBP.

On today’s date in 1992, Mike Mussina threw a one-hitter as the Baltimore Orioles beat the Texas Rangers 8-0. Kevin Reimer’s fifth-inning double was the home side’s lone safety.

Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak ended on today’s date in 1941 when he went 0-for-3 with a walk in a 4-3 New York Yankees win in Cleveland. Joltin’ Joe went 91-for-223 (.408) over his record-setting stretch.

Players born on today’s date include Roy McMillan, who in April 1960 became the first MLB shortstop with a five-hit, two-home run game. McMillan’s fifth hit came in a five-run 10th inning to help lift the Cincinnati Reds to a 10-5 win over the Milwaukee Braves.

Also born on today’s date was Bock Baker, whose big-league career comprised two games, one each with the Cleveland Blues and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901. Nicknamed “Smiling Bock,” the southpaw allowed 24 runs in 14 innings and was charged with a pair of losses.

Bruno Betzel logged 333 hits while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1914-1918. The Chattanooga, Ohio native’s given full name was Christian Frederick Albert John Henry David Betzel.





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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svyatogornyjmember
2 months ago

Cheers to The Streak ending today! Still the most untouchable milestone?

MikeSmember
2 months ago
Reply to  svyatogornyj

Whenever anybody asks about “records that will never be broken,” I always bring up Connie Mack’s 76 ties as a manager.