July 18, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Alex Hassan's season to get off to a rockier start. Injuries twice delayed his debut: First, a broken bone in his left foot held him out for a large portion of spring training, and then while he was with Pawtucket in April getting ready to make his season debut, he injured his calf muscle in pre-game warm-ups and headed back to the disabled list.
However, he has quickly made up for lost time since returning to the PawSox on June 14, putting up a line of .329/.441/.529 in 26 Triple-A games.
"Injuries are always frustrating, but they're part of the game," said the 25-year-old Hassan. "Just something you have to deal with and move on."
"He's come back from his injury, and his progression's been slow as far as a couple days on, a couple days off," said Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina. "The one thing that he's done really well is work the zone, command the zone and swing at strikes. He's done a really good job at that. He's got a line drive stroke and he goes the other way, uses the whole field."
Always known as a patient hitter that could work the count and get on base — Hassan sports a career minor-league on-base percentage of .399 — his power has been more of a question mark. Despite having a strong hitter's frame at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he has topped out at 13 home runs in a single season in his career. However, DiSarcina sees power developing in the right-handed hitter, and the numbers bear that out. At .529, his current slugging percentage in Pawtucket is higher than any of his previous marks for a full season by a significant amount.
"He has the ability to hit the ball out, his home run power has been to right-center field," said the manager. "So he's got some power, but his ability to draw walks has been big too."
Another new development this year has been the introduction of first base into the former full-time corner outfielder's defensive repertoire. Out of the 370 games he's played in the field in minors, 349 have been in one of the corner outfield positions, more than two-thirds of those in left. His bat does not profile to play up as a full-time left fielder in the majors though, so the Red Sox want to see if added versatility can allow Hassan, who was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason, to help the major-league team quicker.
"It's going pretty well," Hassan said of learning to play first. "I'm getting more comfortable each game. I've been out there for [five] games so far and each one has been better than the previous, so it's been going pretty well."
Having not played in the infield since high school, Hassan’s learning curve has been steep at the Triple-A level, especially with the intricacies of positioning that a first baseman needs to know.
"There's a lot to learn," he said. "It's not an easy position. I think the perception is that it's kind of an easy position, but it's really not. Once you're over there, it's definitely pretty tough."
"He's learning the position, and he's learning it at the Triple-A level," said DiSarcina. "He's going to be exposed. When other teams know that, they're going to bunt on him. They're going to see how he reacts. So those are all things he needs reps with.
"He needs that position to open up doors for him, keep his bat in the lineup and stuff like that, so we just need to have some patience with him."
Hassan knows that increased position flexibility could be his ticket to the big leagues, so he's not complaining. Not only does he see the value in it, he seems to genuinely enjoy the challenge.
"I think it's great, I really enjoy it. It's really fun," he said. "And yeah, I think it's going to be good for my career."
If he keeps hitting like he has so far in Pawtucket though, it won't matter what position he plays, the Red Sox will find a way to use him in majors one way or another.
Photo credit: Alex Hassan by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is Managing Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.