If all goes according to plan, Robert Hassell III will be in the batter’s box in a huge situation in the big leagues -- two outs in the ninth, team down a run with a runner on, that sort of thing -- and he’ll be cool as a cucumber. And he’ll have Mo’ne Davis to thank for helping him prepare.
Six years before becoming a likely first-round pick in the 2020 Draft, Hassell became one of the top high school bats in the Draft class of 2020, he competed in the 2014 Little League World Series. His South Nashville team was the Southeast representative in Williamsport that summer. His first game was against the Mid-Atlantic team from Philadelphia, led by a 13-year-old girl who was already capturing the attention of the nation with her work on the mound.
Things didn’t go so well for Nashville on that Friday in August, which also happened to be Hassell’s 13th birthday. Davis, now a softball player at Hampton University, tossed a two-hit shutout, giving her 12 straight scoreless innings to that point in Philly’s LLWS run. She allowed two infield hits and struck out eight.
“I’ve been in that situation where I’m facing Mo’ne Davis, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we’re in Williamsport, Pennsylvania,” Hassell said. “There are 40,000 people chanting Mo’ne Davis while you’re up to bat, wanting her to strike you out. I’ve been in those situations, and they’re tough, and being in those at 12 years old, everything else after that has been easy money.”
While the announced attendance in Williamsport that day was 15,648, it’s easy to imagine what that must have felt like for a young player who had never been in that kind of situation, but he knew it was exactly where he wanted to be. He and Little League teammate Blake Money, who is likely headed to LSU, have played in several showcases together since, all of which pale in comparison.
“Being fortunate enough to be on that team -- and Blake and I were on that team at 12 and 11 -- we played in front of 40,000 people and a couple million on ESPN,” Hassell said. “For me personally, and I can probably speak for the both of us, you go to East Coast Pro and see 500 scouts in the stands, it’s a piece of cake.
“Because I’ve had those nerves at 11-12, I don’t want to strike out, I don’t want to embarrass myself, I’ve been through those. Going through that made me more mature, not just from a baseball perspective, but from life in general. I figured out there are going to be people who want you to lose. There are going to be people who don’t want you to do well. But if you know yourself, and you have confidence in yourself, you can overcome any of that stuff. I learned that at an early age and that's definitely helped me.”
That maturity certainly was on display over the summer when Hassell was arguably the best pure hitter at various showcase events. The left-handed-hitting outfielder hit .385 in Major League Baseball’s PDP League, led the showcase league with four doubles and tied for the lead with eight RBIs. He then went 18-for-35 (.514) with eight extra-base hits and 14 RBIs for USA Baseball’s 18-and-Under national team in the WBSC U-18 Baseball World Cup in South Korea.
It was those performances that led to Hassell coming in at No. 16 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft prospects ranking, with his name coming up in conversations all over the first round, even in the Top 10. The Vanderbilt commit got into trouble at times over the summer trying to hit for power too much, but when he returned to his hit-first approach, he got back on track. The power is going to come, he runs well and he has an arm that delivered 93-mph fastballs from the mound over the summer as well. There are teams that see some Christian Yelich in him.
The fact Hassell bounced back from some struggles over the summer should surprise no one who watched him in that 2014 Little League World Series. After getting shut out by Davis and Philadelphia, Hassell was at the plate the next day against Rhode Island, his team down a run with a runner on second in the sixth inning. There were two outs and Hassell was behind 1-2 in the count. His blast over the fence to right-center gave Nashville a lead, though it was short-lived in an eventual 8-7 loss.
“I’ve watched it a million times,” Hassell said. “I couldn’t even remember hitting that ball after the game. I couldn’t even remember hitting it, rounding the bases, I couldn’t even remember doing any of that. It was awesome, though.
“I remember almost crying, ‘Just get me up, get me up!’ Then I was on deck and the guy got on base and I was almost crying because I was so happy to be up. I knew, if anybody on that team, I had confidence in everybody, but if it was going to be anybody, I really wanted that situation. I knew I was built for those moments.”
He knew it even when things didn’t go his way. The previous day, against Davis, he knew he had the fortitude to handle any situation. Even in failure, he learned he could handle the spotlight.
“She got a lot of hype and she handled herself well at that age,” Hassell said. “I give credit where credit is due. For me, it was just a pitcher, it doesn’t matter who it is, he, she, they’re good, so it’s, 'What am I going to do to be able to adjust?'
“I had to try to block the crowd out, as loud as it got, as loud as the Mo’ne chants were, you had to try to block it out. It wasn’t ‘stay within yourself’ at that age and that setting; it was try to stay within yourself, trying your hardest, because it was tough. It was tough for guys not to fall into it, the crowd or whatever, and the second you get into that, you’re done, you’re out.
"I handled myself as well as I can, but it definitely brought my game from a mental side to a different level after that. It really made me grow, and being around those players and coaches and different countries from all over the world, it definitely took my game to a different level on the mental side.”