In case this is your first time stopping by this series: welcome to our way-early preview of the 2020 MLB draft. Each week we have been profiling one player who might be chosen as the Mariners’ first-round pick, with the caveat that it’s very early in the draft cycle, and players will emerge and rise and fall and get injured and get healthy and all the vicissitudes of a young baseball player’s life. But the hope is to at least lay some groundwork during the quiet and baseball-less months so when draft time approaches—in the midst of the MLB and MiLB seasons—we have a solid base of information to pull from. Catch up with everyone we’ve covered so far here:
The Mariners currently sit in 6th position, but the Rockies could conceivably not win another game for the rest of the season at this rate, so things are getting a little dicey.
After looking at a college outfielder last week in UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell, this week we turn to the prep ranks, and Tennessee’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year Robert Hassell III. The Under-18 Baseball World Cup is going on right now, giving us a chance to see some of 2020’s prominent names in action; for Hassell, who was barred from playing in the Perfect Game All-American Classic because of a ridiculous Tennessee athletics rule (athletes cannot participate in showcases or All-Star Games after school starts), it’s been a bit of a coming-out party.
Speaking of Robert Hassell III, he just hit Team USA's first HR of the tournament. pic.twitter.com/Z4VqIcFr2A— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 4, 2019
Since joining up with Team USA in August, RH3 has been stuffing the box scores of seemingly every game he’s played in. He’s shown an ability to hit for both average and power, lining balls to all areas of the field, and is disciplined in the box, working counts and taking his walks. What’s most impressed me in watching Hassell’s at-bats is his ability to make adjustments mid-at-bat; he picks up what a pitcher is trying to do against him quickly and adjusts his plan at the plate accordingly. Hassell knows what pitches he is looking for and can dominate an at-bat, fouling off borderline pitches and spitting on ones out of the zone until he gets a pitch he can do something with. He doesn’t sell out for power alone, though; here he is making a slight timing adjustment while down in the count, meeting the pitch where it is, and lining it into center for a base hit.
At the plate, Hassell, a lefty hitter, sets up with his hands up by his ears and the bat on his back shoulder, knees slightly bent and balanced, and is fairly quiet pre-pitch. He begins his load with a moderate leg kick, rotating his hips back slightly before firing while driving his hands down and whipping his bat through the zone with plus speed. His swing is clean and he repeats his swing mechanics well; this doesn’t look like a swing that will need major tweaks at the next level. His bat-to-ball skills are some of the best in the class, but there’s a promise of more power in the bat as well. At 6’2” and shy of 200 pounds, there’s plenty of room left for Hassell to get bigger and stronger, especially in his lower half, which should turn some of his doubles into homers.
As for the negatives, there aren’t many. Since Hassell has been teammates with defensively gifted Pete Crow-Armstrong, there haven’t been opportunities to see him in center in the U18 WBC so far, but he has plus speed, and as a two-way player who pitches some, Hassell has plenty of arm strength, which he was able to show off at the Under Armour All-Star Game, where he played center field:
Check out this @javy23baez-like slide at Wrigley Field by the National League's Kevin Sim! #UAALLAMERICA— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) July 22, 2019
Tune in now to catch the rest of today's @UnderArmour All-American game. pic.twitter.com/mmHAqkInv3
Even if he winds up in a corner spot in MLB, Hassell’s bat is good enough to play there. The only potential stumbling block is that Hassell is committed to Vanderbilt, so that might present a signability problem. Baseball America has RH3 right on the cusp of the Top 10 HS draft prospects in their latest re-rank and FanGraphs has him 16th overall, neither of which would be slam dunks for opting for a signing bonus rather than college, although MLB’s Jonathan Mayo is significantly higher on Hassell, calling him one of his favorite hitters in the draft. However, if Hassell continues to show well leading up to the draft, including dominating on an international stage, that could make his choice much easier.