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February 13, 2012 at 7:49 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Jeremy Hazelbaker and Brandon Workman

Today's installment of the series features an outfield prospect working to further establish himself in the upper levels of the Red Sox system and a pitcher looking to hone his stuff in High A.

Jeremy Hazelbaker
Position: Outfield
2011 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
2012 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 24

Hazelbaker generates strong leverage with his swing, showing the ability to square up offerings with a lot of backspin. He excels against pitches middle-to-in, especially ones down-and-in where he can drop the head of the bat to lift the ball with loft. Hazelbaker’s power grades as about solid-average, with the potential to hit 15-18 home runs at the major league level. On the raw side coming out of college, his pitch recognition and approach at the plate have been improving as he has gained experience against professional pitching. Hazelbaker has also worked hard at filling out his frame, putting on more muscle the last couple of off-seasons to better help him deal with the wear and tear of the long season. His speed has not been sacrificed by the weight gain and continues to be his best tool. Grading out as well-above average, Hazelbaker impacts the game on the basepaths and shows a strong ability to read opposing pitchers’ deliveries. He typically gauges pickoff moves by testing the boundaries of his leads, then takes off with excellent acceleration to swipe bags with ease. Hazelbaker shows the ability to tally 25-30 stolen bases at the big league level.

Development Needs: While Hazelbaker has been improving his pitch recognition and approach as he has made his way into the upper minors, this area of his offensive game still needs a lot of polish against advanced competition. Breaking balls give him considerable trouble. Hazelbaker likes to get the head of the bat out in front of the ball to produce extension and he tends to get his weight too far out in front. This causes him to produce weak contact or swing over the top of these offerings. A dead pull hitter, Hazelbaker does not cover the outer third of the plate well with his swing. This hole leads to a more limited area where he makes solid contact. Looking to use the opposite field more frequently will help him cover the plate better, instead of pulling off offerings consistently and trying to yank the ball. Presently Hazelbaker projects as having the ceiling of an average hitter for batting average. Without higher instances of solid contact, he will not be able to tap into his power or maintain enough of batting average to hold a roster spot down. Defensively, Hazelbaker at times does not get great reads off the bat in center field and tends to freeze on contact. He has the closing speed needed to cover ground in center, but looks better suited for a corner outfield slot.

2012 Outlook: Hazelbaker will return to Portland to work on polishing off his offensive game. He should continue to get the opportunity to play center and build his level of comfort with the position. With more focus using the whole field, Hazelbaker has the hit tool to produce hard contact from gap-to-gap and boost his contact rates. He does not need to sacrifice trying to drive offerings, but has to move away from trying to jerk every offering to right field for this to happen. Based on the experience he logged last year, Hazelbaker should be more comfortable in Double-A and by making the necessary adjustments has the potential to begin showing he is ready for a promotion to Triple-A in the middle of the summer. The areas to watch for are whether he is reducing his strikeouts and extending his hitting zones. Hazelbaker projects as a bench player at the major league level, and with strong improvement in 2012 on his development needs, could push towards a projection as a starter on a second division team. This season should provide a good indication as to whether he is trending towards making enough contact to warrant a look from either the Red Sox or possibly another organization taking a chance on him in 2013.

Brandon Workman
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Team: Greenville Drive
2011 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: Workman is a large framed right-handed pitcher, with a body built to handle the rigors of pitching as a professional. A loose thrower, he releases his offerings from a ¾ arm slot and finishes well out of his delivery to throw downhill. Clocking in at 92-94 MPH, Workman’s heater shows solid downward movement across the plate and he can reach back to bust right-handed batters in on their hands. He tops out at 95 MPH when working as a starter and can live in that range of his velocity in shorter stints. Workman’s fastball improved over the course of the 2011 season as he got used to working out of a five-man rotation. His other presently advanced offering is a high-80s cut fastball. Grading out as a plus pitch, Workman utilizes it ahead in the count or when he is looking to grab the strike zone with a change of pace from his fastball. The late, sharp break makes it effective against left-handed batters as it rides onto their hands, especially when it is in the lower tier of the strike zone. Hitters also tend to open up early against it due to recognizing later in the pitch’s approach to the plate that it isn’t his fastball. He shows strong trust in his cut fastball, inducing a lot weak contact against the offering. Workman has the ceiling of a third or fourth starter at the major league level, capable of eating innings as he continues to build stamina.

Development Needs: Workman has about average command of his fastball and needs improvement spotting the pitch in areas that force the opposing batter to work harder to make solid contact. He throws strikes with it, but tends to grab the fatter parts of the plate. This improvement will be a key need for him as the level of competition advances and he needs to be finer with this pitch to get ahead in counts. Workman also lacks a secondary offering that consistently misses bats. His cutter is effective, but is designed to induce weak contact. Possessing a 76-79 MPH curveball, Workman has been inconsistent throwing it. The pitch can show deep break through the strike zone, but too often rolls up to the plate. Workman tends to wrap his wrist when throwing his curve and he releases the pitch early, causing it to stay high out of the zone. He does show feel for the offering at times and it can progress to become a solid-average-to-better weapon at his disposal. Workman has also been working to incorporate a changeup into his repertoire. Rough and raw, the pitch is presently below-average. Workman has yet to learn how to throw it with the same arm speed as his fastball to make it a viable offering for him to lean on. In order for him to stick on a starter’s path, sharpening his secondary offerings is necessary to give him more options to finish off hitters and reduce the amount of contact they make against him. Workman looks likely to project as a 7th or 8th inning reliever when reaching the upper levels of the minors.

2012 Outlook: Workman pitched the entire 2011 season with Greenville as he adjusted to pitching to the five-day rotation. An assignment in High A awaits him to begin this coming season. Workman will be challenged to spot his fastball better by the more advanced hitters in the Carolina League. This push will be good for the development of his heater and as he takes more turns through the rotation at this level, I expect him to get finer with his fastball command. Complimented by his plus cut fastball, Workman should be able to be successful working these two offerings against opposing hitters and trying to further establish his curveball into sequences. This is the key pitch for him as he prepares to enter the upper minors. While he may be able to just show his curve to keep most Carolina League hitters off-balance, Workman will have to execute the pitch more frequently when he reaches Double-A. His time with Salem in 2012 will help him gain more comfort throwing it and the better hitters will force him to focus on using it. Workman has good overall stuff. Although he is a bit jerky with his delivery, he knows how to consistently get his arm into slot, which points to the command coming with repetition. With a year of professional experience under his belt, I feel he can adjust relatively quickly to High A and push himself to finish off the 2012 season with Portland. His future role will be determined in the upper minors, but Workman has the look of a future major league arm and 2012 is a season to keep polishing off his stuff to reach the finishing stages of his development.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen