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Unheralded Haase continues to 'widen eyes'

Catcher prospect shining bright in Mejia's shadow
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- Eric Haase tore around the bases and saw Indians third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh pumping his arm in circles, signaling for the catcher to sprint home. Haase tried to hit another gear, felt his legs trembling and slid across home plate before rising to his feet to enjoy the moment. An inside-the-park home run.

That mad dash took place at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday against the Reds in a Cactus League game that was not televised. In a way, the fact that there is no highlight to watch of Haase's first career inside-the-park shot is fitting. Haase has flown under the radar in terms of the public eye, especially given the presence of highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in Cleveland's system.

LAS VEGAS -- Eric Haase tore around the bases and saw Indians third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh pumping his arm in circles, signaling for the catcher to sprint home. Haase tried to hit another gear, felt his legs trembling and slid across home plate before rising to his feet to enjoy the moment. An inside-the-park home run.

That mad dash took place at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday against the Reds in a Cactus League game that was not televised. In a way, the fact that there is no highlight to watch of Haase's first career inside-the-park shot is fitting. Haase has flown under the radar in terms of the public eye, especially given the presence of highly touted catching prospect Francisco Mejia in Cleveland's system.

Haase is hardly unnoticed by the Indians, however, having made a very strong impression on the team's Major League staff this spring.

"He does a lot of things really well," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And he's getting better. That's the exciting thing."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Francona spoke from the cramped confines of the visitors' dugout at Cashman Field, where the Indians took on the Cubs on Saturday in the opener of the annual Big League Weekend series in Las Vegas. With both of Cleveland's big league catchers, Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, staying in Arizona this weekend, and Mejia back with Triple-A Columbus on the Minor League side, this series presented an opportunity for more playing time for Haase.

That was music to Haase's ears, as he continues to try to make the most of his stint in Major League camp. He has worked closely with first-base coach and catching instructor Sandy Alomar Jr., picked the brains of Gomes and Perez, and spent time in the cage with the team's big league hitting coaches.

Haase said he is trying to be a "sponge" for as long as he can.

"However much time left I have up here," he said, "I'm going to take advantage of it."

The hype around Mejia is understandable. According to MLB Pipeline, he is not only the Indians' top prospect, but the best catching prospect in baseball right now. With Gomes and Perez entrenched in the Majors, the Indians actually plan on getting Mejia some outfield work in the Minors to potentially expedite his path to the Majors. There is a strong chance that Mejia is up with Cleveland at some point this summer.

Haase, 25, currently ranks 20th on the Tribe's Top 30 prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline, but he could also be knocking on the Majors' door in the near future. In the offseason, the Indians added Haase to the 40-man roster, making him and Mejia possibly the next men up if something were to happen to either Gomes or Perez. Given Haase's showing last season, putting him on the roster was a no-brainer.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: The strength of the #Indians' farm system is hitters, including top prospect Francisco Mejia, but he's not the only promising catching prospect at camp as Eric Haase is turning heads. Here's Jim Callis' dispatch from @Indians camp: https://t.co/8U1Jnp632P pic.twitter.com/LRZym6e8VH

Francona said Haase has backed up that decision with his play this spring.

"When a young kid comes in, and I don't want to say opens your eyes, but widens your eyes, we welcome that," Francona said. "He's a catcher who kind of played himself onto the roster last year. And instead of being content with that, he wants to take it and run with it, and it gets exciting."

Last year, Haase spent the bulk of the season with Double-A Akron, where he hit .258 with 26 home runs and a .923 OPS in 95 games. His slugging percentage at Double-A in 2017 jumped to .574 -- up from .438 at the same level in '16. Haase more than doubled his home run output (12 in '16) as well.

Haase said the improvement stemmed from a change in approach and plenty of hard work on his swing to accommodate his shift in mindset. He used HitTrax to get different metrics on his swing, which he wanted to be flatter through the zone in an effort to get more balls in the air. The results followed. Haase had a 52.2-percent fly-ball rate in '17 (up from 43.3 percent in '16) and saw his home run per fly ball rate climb to 23.9 percent (up from 18.5 in '16).

"Putting up bigger launch angles, that was really helping me," Haase said. "I was taught my whole life, 'Swing down on the ball.' And I slowly started to realize that's not the way to go about it, especially when these [pitchers] are getting so good."

Francona said he is excited to see where all of Haase's work takes him.

"Confidence plays such a huge role," Francona said. "I know it's hard to put a number on that, because you can't. But a guy starts to do something and then all of a sudden he realizes he can, and you take off from there. That's part of the fun of watching young players."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Eric Haase