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August 12, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Q&A with Alex Hassan

It has been a whirlwind year for Alex Hassan since he signed with the Red Sox on July 30, 2009. The club’s 20th-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Hassan was selected out of Duke University as a pitcher, but after a summer playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the two-way player instead signed to play outfield. Since then, he has already made four stops in the system, primarily playing for the Lowell Spinners last summer and the Salem Red Sox this year, but also making cameos for the Greenville Drive and Pawtucket Red Sox as an injury fill-in. One of just three 2009 draftees to begin the year in High-A, Hassan had a difficult start to with his aggressive assignment, hitting just .140 in April, but he has turned things around in a big way. He was one of the organization’s best hitters in July, turning in a .329/.407/.557 slash line, and midway through August has been even better at .424/.487/.667. Since the calendar turned to May, Hassan is hitting .316/.419/.502. Alex took the time after a recent home game to chat about his turnaround at the plate, his alma mater, and fellow Sox both inspiring and interesting.

Chris Hatfield: We’ll start with the most recent: In the past month-plus, you’ve really gotten yourself into a groove. You’ve got an 11-game hit streak and hits in 16 of your last 17. (Note: these streaks are at 13 games and 18 of the last 19 at press time.) What in particular has gotten you into that groove? Is there anything that clicked?
Alex Hassan: I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. First of all, early in the year, this being my first full season, I think I just put some pressure on myself to show people that I belonged on this team, and that’s just unneeded pressure and stuff I didn’t need to do. I think I pressed at the beginning of the year, and when you do that in baseball, it’s really counterproductive. I really didn’t need to do that. I think it’s just more settling in and accepting my role on this team and accepting how things are going. I just really got more comfortable. I think also as certain guys got promoted or injured, more opportunity arose, and with more opportunity comes more consistent at-bats, and I think that certainly has helped as well.

CH: You mentioned wanting to prove that you belonged on this team. The Sox certainly haven’t been afraid to aggressively move you, between last year’s brief injury call-up to Greenville, this year you were briefly in Pawtucket as an injury fill-in, and even just putting you in Salem to start the year. Were you expecting to start this high? I guess you’ve already touched on how that affected you.
AH: Right. Quite honestly I wasn’t. All off-season, my focus was on how I got a taste of Greenville last year and how I was going to get ready to play there and do the best I can there, and then I made this team out of spring training. I think I put pressure on myself, saying I need to prove to the coaches on this team, the players on this team, to the front office that they didn’t make the wrong decision to put me here. That’s stuff that you really can’t control and that’s what I’ve learned in this first full year – that there’s only so many things you can control on a baseball field, and when you put any extra pressure on yourself, it makes it a lot harder. I think that I’ve just realized a lot of the things that go on throughout the course of a long season are out of your control. I really wasn’t expecting to play here, but when I got that opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it.

CH: You were drafted as a pitcher, and then when the Sox saw you play on the Cape, they decided they liked you better in the outfield. Were you surprised at that happening, and did you have any preference?
AH: Well honestly, before the draft, I didn’t know of any teams that were looking at me as a hitter. I was drafted as a pitcher, but I wasn’t drafted as high as I thought I would be because I got injured before the draft. I went to Cape Cod just to show I was healthy and that I could still pitch, and I was really surprised by the end of the summer that I was going to be a hitter, just because nobody had told me that would be an opportunity for me. I didn’t have a preference. I would have done whatever they told me to do. Sometimes you think you have a plan, and you have a way you envision things working out, but your plan’s not always the way it happens. I think that God has a different plan than I do sometimes, and I just trust in His plan and I’m really happy in how it’s worked out. I think the Red Sox did a really good job in scouting me during that summer in Cape Cod, and I think that ultimately, the best decision was made.

CH: Obviously, being from Milton, you were a local boy getting drafted by the Sox. Maybe that didn’t necessarily affect how you did things when you got drafted, but what was it like to have the Red Sox be the team that picked you?
AH: Initially, I was really excited to be drafted by the Red Sox because it was the Red Sox and I grew up a Red Sox fan. But once I got into pro ball and saw what the Red Sox are all about, I think I’m more excited to be part of the Red Sox for the way that the organization is run from top-to-bottom than I am because I’m a Red Sox fan.

CH: You mention how well the team treats its players. Is there anything that sticks out to you in the way they do things that might be different in other parks, or other places you go?
AH: I can’t really speak for any other organization because I’ve never played for any other organization, but I know the Red Sox have the best staff and coaches that I could ask for. I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and not only from my managers, but the rovers and the field coordinators, and the front office people, just how efficient and how well things are run. I’ve really learned a lot, and that’s where I’m really fortunate to be in the Red Sox organization.

CH: Now, you’ve had the rare opportunity in just about a year in the organization to have stopped in four different places. Is there anything from getting that perspective that you’ve noticed? Perhaps that plays into what you were saying about how well things are run, top-to-bottom, but is there anything in particular you’ve picked up on being able to see that many places along the line so soon?
AH: Yeah, I’ve learned a lot. You know, I went to Triple-A as an injury replacement, and I knew that, but you still can learn a lot, and you learn a lot from the people you’re around. I took a lot away from that experience. You know, one more thing I’ve learned is that in the Red Sox organization, if you do well, you’ll advance. You look at guys like Daniel Nava, who went undrafted but has just consistently produced and moved up, and that says a lot about a team like the Red Sox, because they want to win, and they’ll promote guys and use guys that have success. That’s really good from a player’s perspective, because if you do well and handle your business, there’s opportunity, even though it’s a big-market team and they sign a lot of guys and it’s really competitive in the minor leagues. The bottom line is if you produce, you’ll advance. That’s refreshing as a player, because you don’t feel stuck in the minor leagues – even though they have a ton of talent, there’s still guys in the major leagues that weren’t the biggest prospects, but they produced.

CH: You went to Duke, and Duke’s probably known more for the basketball team. It seems like all neutral basketball fans love to hate on Duke. Even though you weren’t on the basketball team, do you catch any of that?
AH: The only guy I really catch it from is Tim Federowicz, because he went to UNC. If there’s anyone that would give that kind of stuff to me, it’s him. As far as other guys, there’s some jokes about ‘oh, you went to Duke’ anytime we have any kind of debate, they’ll bring that up. Not often though. The baseball team doesn’t get as much publicity as the basketball team, for obvious reasons.

CH: And you were teammates with Ryan Lavarnway for half a season, so you had a couple guys from really good academic schools. Were you the resident smart guys in the locker room?
AH: Yeah, a little of that. He was actually my roommate, so we got a lot of jokes about, “oh, I wonder what you guys do back at the apartment, play (chess).” Some jokes about that stuff, but Ryan’s just like me, he’s educated, but he’s just a really cool guy. We catch that sometimes, but nothing too serious.

CH: What teammate that you’ve played with in the organization so far has impressed you the most?
AH: Probably Ryan Westmoreland. Ryan is one of the most talented players I’ve ever played with. He’s also just an unbelievable person. He made it fun to come to the field. It was honestly a pleasure to watch him play, just because of how talented he is. He is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. I’m just amazed by him, both on the field and off the field. To keep a positive outlook, he is a really special guy, and a special baseball player. I’m really looking forward to the day where I get to, hopefully, play with him again.

CH: I think he was in Greenville recently. Have you guys gotten the chance to see him at all? I know he’s been to all of the New England parks.
AH: No, I haven’t had a chance to see him. We text a lot, and I’ve talked to him, but I haven’t had a chance to see him. I’d love to see him at some point. I think we’re all just really, really inspired by what he’s done, and what he’s been through. We’re all inspired to have him back at some point.

CH: Give us the scouting report on Alex Hassan off the field. We see you play, what about when you get out of this place and you’re on your own?
AH: I’m not the most interesting person, I don’t think. During the season, um… I’ve got a Mac, which I really enjoy. So I’m on the computer a good amount. I’m a really big Entourage fan. I like to go the mall… nothing really too exciting.

CH: So you're saying a 140-game season keeps you busy?
AH: Yeah, exactly.

CH: Last question. MILB.com has this name tournament every year (Minors Moniker Madness) where fans vote on the guys who have the best names. The Sox had three guys in there this year, your teammate, Stolmy Pimentel, who just lost, Seth Schwindenhammer’s still in there, T.J. Large was in there as well. Do you have any favorites from within or without the organization, any particularly great baseball names?
AH: Hmmm… (thinks briefly). Schwindenhammer’s pretty unique. That’s a long name, and it’s funny on those spring training jerseys when they have to fit all those letters on the jersey. That would probably be the one that sticks out the most for me.

CH: You know, I believe it’s German for “swing the hammer” too.
AH: Is it really?

CH: Yeah.
AH: That makes it a lot cooler. I didn’t know that, that’s pretty funny. Then yeah, that’ll take the cake then.