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July 19, 2011 at 8:01 AM

The Book: Jeremy Hazelbaker

OF Jeremy Hazelbaker
Date: July 14, 2011
Team: Portland Sea Dogs

Line: 1 for 5, 2-run home run, 3 groundouts, 1 strikeout swinging

Swing/Approach: Hazelbaker hits out of an open stance from the left side that he uses to get both of his eyes pointed at the pitcher. After closing down during his load, he unleashes a fluid swing with upward plane through the hitting zone to create lift and backspin. As expected for a hitter with such a swing, Hazelbaker is a much better low-ball hitter, with a sweet spot for power down and in. That was on display in his third plate appearance of the game, when he lined a 1-2 fastball down and in out to right field for a home run. Hazelbaker turned perfectly on the offering while dropping the head of the bat and lifting the pitch with solid torque. His other four plate appearances illustrated some of the holes in his swing. Twice he was jammed on offerings around the top of his thighs that resulted in weak contact pulled on the ground to the right side. Hazelbaker was unable to get his hands above the baseball and barrel up the pitches on the sweet spot. The second instance also highlighted the development he has remaining on pitch recognition. Picking on a first-pitch slider in that plate appearance, Hazelbaker was out on his front foot and his swing dragged through the zone. He also reached for an 0-1 slider away in his fifth plate appearance to pull a soft one-hopper to the second baseman, and went fishing for a 1-2 changeup away his second time at the plate to strike out swinging. In both of these instances, Hazelbaker was way out in front of the ball with his swing and his lower body had already cleared early, sapping his batspeed.

Defense: Inexperienced with playing in the outfield after signing, Hazelbaker has been given the chance to continue to play out in center field since being promoted to Double-A. His inconsistency in center showed in the game. Hazelbaker has the type of speed to cover a lot of ground into the gaps, but needs work on his reads. His first instinct at the crack of the bat is to take a step in or freeze. This showed on a routine line drive to him off the bat of a right-handed batter, when Hazelbaker first took a couple of steps in and then had to quickly recover to prevent the ball from sailing over his head. He does, however, show flashes of what he can become in center field if he learns to make better reads. Getting a solid jump at the crack of the bat and moving fluidity to his right in the process, Hazelbaker tracked down a line drive ripped into the left-center field gap from a left-handed hitter to make a sensational diving catch at full extension. While the play was a highlight reel catch, it was how he got in position to make the diving catch that made it really stand out.

Take: Despite coming from the college ranks, Hazelbaker was on the raw side after signing with the Red Sox and it took him some time to adjust to the low minors in the beginning of his career. Now tasked with the challenge of facing Double-A pitching in his second full season, he has some adjustments to make to continue producing frequent solid contact and to cut down on his strikeouts. The key need is to improve with how quickly he picks up secondary offerings out of pitchers’ hands. Often over-committing, as seen in this game, Hazelbaker gets himself way out in front of the ball, leaving him with little chance to do much with pitches when he does make contact. This is compounded by the fact that he likes to get the head of the bat out in front of the ball, and does not let it get deep on him to begin with. Hazelbaker showed a lot of pull in his swing that makes it tougher for him to go the other way on balls running away from him.

Hazelbaker has some power in his bat that can play up when he is picking up pitches quicker and able to get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball. Combined with his plus-plus speed, it is an intriguing package. To project him as a regular, heavily relies on whether he can improve enough to play an average-to-better center field at the major league level and if he can close up his holes to produce enough contact. On the defensive side of the game, Hazelbaker is relatively inexperienced as an outfielder and only moved there during his last year of college. With continued repetition, his reads and jumps can become more consistent. When moving at the crack of the bat, Hazelbaker showed he can go get the ball in the gaps. The mechanics of his swing and the work he has to go with his pitch recognition at this point in his development have this view pulled back on Hazelbaker projecting as a regular down the line. Given his outstanding speed and natural progression of his defense through experience, he looks to be trending towards a ceiling of a fourth outfielder on a contending team, capable of producing in stretches or a rotation off the bench.