Q&A: Hassell on offensive adjustments, 2022 goals

March 31st, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres knew what they were getting when they selected Robert Hassell III eighth overall out of a Tennessee high school in 2020 -- a hitter through and through. Now in his second Spring Training, MLB Pipeline’s No. 37 overall prospect has justified that pick and designation in the early days of his budding pro career.

Hassell hit .323/.415/.482 with seven homers and 31 stolen bases over 92 games at Low-A Lake Elsinore last season, prompting a late promotion to High-A Fort Wayne. The outfielder was the only Low-A qualifier to post an average above .300 and an OBP above .400 while stealing at least 30 bags. The High-A experience was a bit more humbling (.205/.287/.410 in 87 plate appearances), but Hassell’s ability to hit his way to another level in his age-19 season provided a noteworthy start to his career.

Before he begins that second full season, the left-handed slugger spoke to MLB Pipeline about his early offensive adjustments in the pro game, his international success in his teens and his statistical hopes for 2022.

Dykstra: This is your second Spring Training. How does this compare now knowing what you have to go through?

Hassell: For me, I think it's a bit smoother for sure. I know what to expect, for the most part. I know what to expect for myself, and I’m obviously continuing to get better. But with the knowledge that I've learned from last Spring Training -- being at the big league camp and Minor League camp -- and bringing it into this one, the transition’s been smooth this year, and it's helped me out a lot. Just playing calm.

Dykstra: How are you a different player now compared to this same point last year?

Hassell: Just more advanced. I think I've gotten better at the little things like baserunning, little tiny stuff on the bases, little tiny stuff in the outfield, first reads, first steps, reads off the bat, stuff like that. Obviously on the offensive side, I feel like I've developed a lot over the past year.

What sticks out to me are the little things. I feel mentally a lot more confident in the game of baseball, being a professional for a couple years now.

Dykstra: You touched on adjusting offensively. I’ve read that you’ve fiddled with back elbow placement in your stance. Take me through that.

Hassell: I wouldn't say messing around with it, as much as making adjustments with a lot of intent. I'm not trying to do anything that I don't necessarily have to do. But we have great analytics guys and great guys with knowledge of hitting, and they were talking to me about some stuff that I could clean up with my back elbow and make the swing a little bit shorter. That allows me to hit the ball like I do to the opposite field but to the pull side too. I've obviously done that as a hitter before, and I’m just trying to get back to that.

Dykstra: Thinking about hitting analytically like that, is that something new for you coming out of high school? Is that something you were ever introduced to in school?

Hassell: Not really, and I didn't -- I don't know if trust is the word -- but maybe I didn't trust it as much in high school. But now that it's right here in front of you, and we’ve got the good technology and the amazing coaches and analytics guys. You're kind of dumb not to listen to him and take some information. Everything might not be good for you, but I've tried to take bits and pieces and it's helped me.

Dykstra: Going back to last year, you got to experience two different levels in Low-A and High-A. What was your takeaway from your first full season?

Hassell: I went up to High-A. I was only there for a couple of weeks, and I had some good power numbers and stuff like that. But in terms of average and on-base, I didn't think I got on base enough for those few weeks. I still liked my mindset. I treated it like it was the same. The call-up didn't really mean a whole lot to me. I was happy, obviously, but I didn't let that take away from my mentality or change it in any sort of way. Having that level of professionalism wherever you go, I think that's been a big key thing.

Dykstra: What do you feel was the biggest challenge you met against those pitchers in the Midwest League?

Hassell: They were good. There were a lot of good pitchers out in California too. When they hit their spots, they were good. When I went up there those last couple of weeks, I think I was taking too many fastballs early in the count. I think that was the biggest thing for me. When I'm on time with those, I'm not usually missing them. So letting them get ahead in the count -- those 0-1 counts -- opens it up for the next pitch. If it goes down 0-2, then boom, they're in a great spot, and I'm in a bad spot as a hitter. So just little simple things like that. Just being aggressive, but being ready for my pitch.

Dykstra: Is power something you’re trying to tap into? Is that something you’re even worried about?

Hassell: It’s going to come, for sure. In my Draft year, there were some speculations about my power, and I told some interviewers that I have buckets of baseballs at home -- buckets of baseballs that were my home run balls when I was little. I've hit home runs my whole life. When I got to pro ball, I was more worried about hitting. I didn't want to be that home run-strikeout guy, that double strikeout guy. I'm not super interested in being that guy. I want to be able to put the bat on the ball. I feel like that's where I give the team a great chance, to be at the top of the lineup and put the bat on the ball and see what happens.

Dykstra: And to go back to another big performance of yours from even before the Draft, you hit .514 at the under-18 World Cup in South Korea in 2019. What was it like performing to that level on such a big stage?

Hassell: It was fun. I was around this great team, great organization. I had a lot of fun. It taught me how to be amongst the best, and it taught me what kind of player I was amongst the best. I feel like I was rising above all that and being one of the leaders of the team over there. It really gave me great confidence going into pro ball, going into my last year of high school ball, going into the Draft. I was like, hey, look, these are the best guys in the country, and I'm right there with them. To be able to perform like that was just icing on the cake. It was hard work all summer.

Dykstra: Now with this year coming up, you’re possibly heading back to Fort Wayne, potentially going to the upper Minors by season’s end. What do you hope to accomplish?

Hassell: Just keep on doing what I'm doing. I'd like to hit .300. I'd like to have a high on-base percentage. But that's every hitter, I think. Setting those goals might get repetitive amongst hitters, but that's the reality of it. I want to hit .300. I want to have a high OBP, whatever that means to me, on the year. I want to have more assists in the outfield than I did last year. But other than that, I expect the most. I expect to go 3-for-3 every game. I’m my own worst critic.

Dykstra: As you fight your way to San Diego, you’re in an organization that values the Major League side as much as ever. What is it like seeing what’s happening there and realizing you’ll have to fight for a place?

Hassell: Understandably so. The whole point is trying to win. That’s what I like to do too. I like to win, just like everybody. I’m just figuring out what I can do to help the team win, day in and day out, and developing my game so maybe one day soon I can help the big league team win.

Dykstra: Even at this stage, when you’re this far out, are you someone who tries to look at the depth chart and see how the outfield is shaking out?

Hassell: I compare myself, for sure. I think it's definitely healthy to a certain extent. Obviously if you're overthinking about other people, that might not be good, but I think it's helped me. [It makes me think], "Let's be realistic. OK, this guy's better than me right now. This guy's better than me. But this guy I think I got him.' He might be above me though. Well, that gives me great confidence. I'm watching. I’m always watching.

Dykstra: Finally, comps from other people aren’t always fair. But when you look at yourself or who you want to be as a Major Leaguer, who would that be?

Hassell: Let me see. There are a couple. [Nick] Markakis is a good one. I heard someone say Markakis one time, and that's one that you might not hear much about. I'd love to be him. I grew up watching a lot of Braves games. Freddie Freeman, too. I’d love to be like him. I'm not a 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, 230-pounder like he is, but his swing is something I'd like to definitely have in my bag too. It’s so, so quick. I watched a lot of guys. I don't know if I could compare, I don’t know if I’d want to compare myself to some of those guys. But I grew up watching them and they're like the best players, so they come to mind.