Welcome to the latest edition of Road to the Show, with one of the top prospects thus far from the Red Sox 2009 draft, Alex Hassan.
Alex Hassan originally hails from the Boston area, and is now the everyday right fielder for your Lowell Spinners. He joined the team later than most, making his professional debut August 1 after signing a contract to forego his senior season at Duke. Scouted as both a position player and relief pitcher in college, he has seen action only in the outfield thus far in Lowell.
Hassan has waisted no time in establishing himself as one of the more potent bats in the Spinners’ lineup. Through twelve games, Alex has batted .383 to go along with an impressive .408 OBP and .855 OPS. All three of these stats would place him near the league lead in the NYPL if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Recently, Hassan took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and answer a few questions for the blog.
Playing high school baseball at B.C. High makes you the prototypical ‘native son’ considering your place in professional baseball now. Growing up so close to Boston, you must have been exposed to the Red Sox from quite a young age. How does it feel now to now be playing for the Red Sox franchise?
Between living in Milton and going to school in Dorchester, I definitely was always around the city. It’s really neat now getting to play for the Red Sox organization, especially after growing up as big of a Sox fan as I was. It’s just something that I’m really fortunate to be able to do. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the place I’m at right now.
Speaking of B.C. High, you must have had some incredible times there. Not only did you win Massachusetts Louisville Slugger Player of the Year honors in 2006, but you also won team state championships in both AAU and Legion play while excelling as a pitcher. If you had to pick one memory from those years, what would it be and why?
My favorite moments really came with the Legion Team Post 114, just because it was kids that I grew up with. Most of the kids were from Milton, so I knew a lot of them really well outside of the game, some were even my best friends. Being able to win a state title with those guys was something that I wouldn’t trade for the world. Those were definitely some of the best times I’ve ever had in baseball, even to this day.
The individual award was a nice pat on the back for all the hard work, but it didn’t mean as much to me. The team accomplishments will always hold a bigger place for me.
Your college recruitment process must have been interesting considering how much you had to offer. How did you navigate through all this and eventually find your way to Duke?
The decision about where I’d play on the field was a big thing for me in my college search. I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to give both pitching and the outfield a try before figuring it out. At first I was recruited more as a pitcher. Then once the scouts came, they’d see me hit a few times in practice and eventually I got interest for both positions.
A lot of programs told me that they wanted me for both, including my eventual choice Duke. Once I got there it was pretty much the same story. It went back and forth throughout my college career as to what I’ve been better at. But like I said, I think the right decision has ultimately been made here (focusing on outfield).
It came down to Duke, BC, and Notre Dame. I had those three schools finalized for a while. Once I actually visited Duke’s campus though, I knew immediately that was where I’d end up. It was clear to me at that point, and there was very little doubt.
Obviously then, Boston College was one of your final cuts when arriving at a choice for school. Did you ever feel any pressure, either internally or externally, to head down the street and play ball in Chestnut Hill for the hometown Eagles?
They recruited me just like any other school. One thing I wanted to avoid going into it was shutting out my other options just because I went to B.C. High. There’s definitely a connection there, but I really wanted to look around and evaluate each school for what it offered as a whole. Once I did that, it was clear to me that Duke was going to be it.
Your freshman season at Duke was quite a roller coaster. Playing in 54 games total, you saw action as an outfielder and a pitcher. Your statistics were not overwhelmingly impressive in either category, but you remained more than respectable in both roles. Did this workload hurt your performance at all down the stretch that season, or was it more of an adjustment to the college game overall?
Yeah, I think it took a toll on me physically more than anything. Being a starting pitcher and playing the outfield as a true freshman, it was tough. Looking back on the time, it was definitely something where I didn’t want to admit how much of a challenge it was for me.
Especially being a guy that young, I wasn’t as physically developed as most guys on the team.
I’m really fortunate that I was given that opportunity, even though I had my fair share of struggles that season. Everything I went through that year helped me become the player that I am now. Doing both allowed me to sort a lot of things out.
At this point in your college career, was there any indication as to which position you would choose as your long term best fit?
There actually was some talk in that off-season that I wouldn’t pitch as much the following year. I was probably heading for a reserve bullpen role, but then our closer got injured and everything changed. I stepped in for him, and it ended up being a lot easier on my body than starting. Even though I got used more often, the fewer innings helped keep me fresh to play in the field.
Can you expand at all on how closing helped you develop your entire game?
Closing was a pretty unique opportunity for me. I had the chance to really contribute to the team every game, even ones where I had gone 0 for 4 at the plate. When my offensive game wasn’t there, I would lean on closing as a way to stay positive. Normally, I’d play the field for the first 6 innings, then head out to the bullpen in some sort of double switch. Getting tired was never a problem. It served me in so many ways, I can only be grateful.
With the hardware to prove it (08 Rawlings Gold Glove Team), you are known amongst scouts as a very strong defensive outfielder. Even in your short time in Lowell, you already have multiple run-saving assists. Has your time spent on the mound helped you at all develop this dimension of your game?
I think, more than anything, it has helped me with my accuracy. For some reason, I feel like arm accuracy is always overlooked from a defensive standpoint. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw or how big your arm is if you can’t hit a target. Pitching has absolutely helped me develop those skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have developed.
On top of your duties at Duke, you also played for Orleans of the Cape Cod Baseball League in each of the last two summers. This past season, you were named to the League’s All Star Team after success in (no surprise) a multi-position role. How did your time in the Cape help you as a player, and how did it feel to be recognized in one of the nation’s truly elite settings?
That’s where I first started getting looked at as a pitcher, for the most part at least. I can honestly say that I probably learned more that first summer than I ever have playing any full season of baseball elsewhere. I had a number of failures, but I think that it made me a lot stronger mentally both as a person and a baseball player.
I made [the all-star team] as an outfielder. I expected the same thing going in this season that I had last summer there, so it was a little more comfortable with the playing time. Most of the staff was the same as it was from 2008, so I have to credit them with helping me along.
I knew the Red Sox were going out there to originally watch me as a pitcher, so I just went in with the expectations to close out every game I could and still get some at-bats in the outfield.
At some point along the way, you must have felt like picking one position would be best for your long term development. How were you able to put this aside and take on such demanding roles from nearly every team you’ve played on?
I always knew that id be better if I could just concentrate on one. At Duke though, they needed me to play both ways. It was something out of team need more than anything. Ideally I would have been able to focus on one and try and get better throughout my time there, but that’s just not the way it turned out. I’m really happy with how my career ended up, and it feels special to have played both spots for so long.
You have been extremely successful since arriving here in Lowell. Your numbers do more than speak for themselves, but tell us how you’ve stepped in to be so efficient in your first action as a professional?
I just think that the coaching staff and players here have really done a really god job of making me feel welcome. I can honestly say that the transition has been really easy for me just because of how comfortable I’ve felt from day one. There aren’t many places that would be so open, but I can’t say enough about this group of guys. I’ve felt like a part of the team ever since I walked through the door.
So, just to clarify, are there any plans to return as a pitcher at some point?
No, to my knowledge there really aren’t. Now I’ve just accepted the decision and I’m really excited to finally specialize. One of the final times they scouted me in the Cape, they came up and told me how I would be used. It was a little surprising that day, but I think their track record speaks for itself so I will not argue.
Check back early next week for our next installment featuring Ryan Westmoreland!