Hardman doubles down on power in the desert

November 5th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- is headed to the Arizona Fall Stars Game on Sunday as the hottest hitter in the prospect showcase circuit. Two days beforehand, he turned up the temperature a few clicks higher.

The Yankees third-base prospect homered twice and drove in three runs Friday in Mesa’s 14-7 loss to Peoria at Peoria Stadium.

The performance pushed Hardman’s hitting streak to 10 games, making it the longest active such run in the AFL and the second-longest in the league all season. He’s hit .357 during that stretch, which started on Oct. 17, and 11 of his 15 hits (four homers, one triple, six doubles) in the span have gone for extra bases. As a result, the right-handed slugger sits in second in the Fall League in homers (five), extra-base hits (12) and total bases (47) while ranking fifth in both slugging percentage (.653) and OPS (1.030) among qualifiers.

All of that coming from a 2021 fifth-rounder who saw 463 plate appearances during the summer and could have the right to be tired at the end of a first full season.

“Experience-wise, you're seeing more pitches and [establishing] a comfort level in the box over however many at-bats I'm at now,” Hardman said. “I step in the box, and I know what I'm looking for. I know what kind of hitter I am, even more so every single day. The comfortability in the box is just off the charts.”

Hardman proved that quickly Friday by homering on his first swing of the afternoon. Nationals left-hander Lucas Knowles, who had given up a homer to one batter beforehand, left a 2-0 pitch over the heart of the plate that the Yankees Minor Leaguer cleaned out to left-center. Trackman measured the distance at 444 feet and exit velocity at 105 mph on the dinger that extended Hardman’s hitting streak to double-digits.

“First at-bat of the day, you can’t get much more confidence than a homer,” he said. “We talk about it a lot in the dugout. A hard hit in your first at-bat gives you house money the rest of the day.”

Hardman upped the ante again four innings later when he drove another homer to left-center, this time on a 1-1 pitch from Padres right-hander Alek Jacob -- a reliever with a funky sidearm delivery that can sometimes be tough to pick up. The estimated distance wasn’t quite as long (398 feet), but the ball was hit harder than the first homer with an exit velocity of 108 mph.

The 2-for-5 showing out of the fifth spot in the Solar Sox lineup represented Hardman’s first multihomer performance of the fall and his first in any venue since June 15 with High-A Hudson Valley.

New York selected the Oklahoma star in the fifth round last year, when he was considered MLB Pipeline’s No. 194 Draft prospect, in part due to his power projection after he hit .397/.481/.661 with 12 homers in 55 games during his last season in Norman. He continued to show pop in the Minors this year with 22 blasts, the most by any Yankees farmhand in 2022. All of that coming while Hardman was completing a full-time move from first base across the diamond to third, where he made a nice barehanded throwing play for an out in the seventh inning Friday.

“It's always been there,” Hardman said of his power. “But I think Mervis would say the same thing -- just because we have it doesn't mean we need to try to use it. It just comes naturally. Simplifying the game, letting our athleticism take over and our power is in our game. So long as I'm not trying to do too much, it just shows up.”

The former Sooner’s slugging ability has certainly caught attention out in the desert over the last five weeks, earning him a spot on the American League side for Sunday’s Fall Stars Game in Mesa, where he could get even more attention if this hot streak continues.

“It’s another small accolade that shows that hard work is paying off,” Hardman said, “but obviously, we’re not going to stop there.”

Mervis’ blast in the second moved him into the top spot in the Fall League leaderboard with six homers.

Over on the winning Peoria side, Guardians prospects and Connor Kokx combined to go 5-for-9 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Mariners outfielder Spencer Packard scored four times and wasn’t retired in his five plate appearances (double, single, two walks, one hit-by-pitch).