The Toronto Blue Jays have the fifth overall pick in the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, scheduled for June 10 and 11.
As with any draft, there is much speculation concerning what player the Blue Jays will select. Robert Hassell III is a name that has recently appeared in the Top Ten of some well-known mock drafts. Perhaps the Blue Jays will use their first-round selection on him.
This article will review the Hassell candidacy, and it will draw upon the summaries published by Baseball America (“BA”), Baseball Prospectus (“BP”), and MLB.com. For reference purposes, Table 1 contains FanGraphs Tool Grades; Table 2 reflects FanGraphs Future Value Chart.
Hassell is an 18-year-old center fielder who stands 6’2″, weighs 195 pounds, bats left, and throws left. He plays for Independence High School, located in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee. Hassell has verbally committed to attend Vanderbilt University. In 35 at-bats at the 2019 U-18 World Cup in South Korea, he posted an impressive .514/.548/.886 slash line, which led the tournament.
Keith Law of The Athletic described him as follows:
"Hassell’s swing rivals (Zac) Veen’s for the best in the draft, and many teams view him as the best hitter in the class, which could be enough to push him into the top 10."
“Hassell is at the top of the list when it comes to the best hitters in the high school class,” according to BA. “He brings a sound approach to the table and understands the strike zone, rarely swinging and missing no matter the stuff.” He uses the entire field and shows “an advanced ability to make adjustments.” Hassell has a lean frame, which makes some scouts wonder if he can add power to his game. Other evaluators are more optimistic that he can develop average or better power.
BP sang the praises of Hassell at the plate. “Hard to find a sweeter swing from the left side than the one Hassell comfortably eases into. It’s textbook balanced as he stays through the ball on his front side while generating power from his hips and back leg.” BP is a little more optimistic than BA when it comes to Hassell’s ultimate power. “Even with his present raw power and more-than-sufficient game power, there is still some physical projection that could lead to even more in that department.” BP determined that Hassell’s hit tool is advanced and that he can take the pitch to all fields with power.
MLB.com assigned a 60-grade to Hassell’s hitting and a 50-score for his power.
BA opined that Hassell has “a chance to stick in center field. He’s an above-average runner with above-average arm strength, but his speed is better underway, and he lacks the elite sort of footspeed that most major league center fielders possess”. According to Perfect Game, the scouting service, Hassell’s 60-yard sprint speed is in the 98th percentile of high school players. Also, his 10 SPL, which is a measure of the first 10 yards of the 60-yard sprint, is 85th percentile. These times are consistent with BA’s assessment; his first steps are not as relatively fast as is his overall speed is over a longer distance.
BP offered that Hassell “features a plus arm that profiles in right field.”
In what appears to be a typo, MLB.com gave a 50-grade to Hassell’s overall defence. This assessment is inconsistent with the 55-grade for running and the 55-score for his arm.
Will Hassell add the power? If he does, then the anticipated move to right field will work in the Majors. Hassell will be an above-average hitter with power, have better-than-average foot speed, and a strong arm. If he doesn’t add the power, then you have an above-average defensive right fielder who is an above-average hitter, absent the power. Alternatively, you will have an offensively-talented centre fielder with a strong arm, but lacking the top-tier speed of elite centre fielders.
On the positive side of the ledger, MLB.com noted that Hassell has “clocked up to 93 mph on the mound”. He is a “legitimate prospect as a pitcher as well but has a much higher ceiling as a hitter.”
Hassell is the #16-ranked player on each of BA’s, BP’s, and MLB.com’s prospect list. MLB gave an overall 55-grade to Hassell.
Law’s assessment of him is on point.
"Hassell has a classic left-hander’s swing with plus bat speed and some loft for hard, line-drive contact, more a hitter for a high average with maybe 15-20 homer power as he fills out. He’s a solid-average runner with a plus arm who should be at least a 55 defender in right. His value is in the swing, and the potential for a 60 or better hit tool down the road."
Why is he a candidate?
Hassell does not rank as highly as the other players profiled in this series. Those prospects, and their respective BA ranking, are as follows: Asa Lacy (#3); Emerson Hancock (#4); Nick Gonzales (#5); Garrett Mitchell (#6); Zac Veen (#7); and Max Meyer (#10). However, in the recent BA mock draft, he was the eighth selection, despite his #16 ranking.
Draft strategy time! Yes, Hassell does not appear to be as enticing a prospect as the other players listed above. Nonetheless, let’s play a what-if game. Assume the following:
- The Blue Jays think that Veen is the player to select at number five (this presumes that Lacy is already off the draft board)
- The Blue Jays are of the view that there is not much of a difference between Veen and Hassell
- Hassell is willing to sign for $5,500,00, which is less than slot value
The Jays could take the $680,700 in savings ($6,180,700 – $5,500,000) and use it to pay over-slot on their next pick (#42) or others. This draft-day strategy would be similar to the approach that the Blue Jays used when they drafted Jordan Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein in 2018.
Do I think the Jays will do this in 2020? No, it is not likely. But it is an interesting scenario to consider as we wait for the actual draft.
The last word
Many scouts think that Hassell is the best pure hitter of the draft class. Although he does not rank as high as other prospects, his candidacy for selection by the Blue Jays is a possibility. Given Hassell’s projected draft position, Toronto could acquire a player with a potential 60-grade hit tool and also free up valuable slot money. Do you think the Blue Jays will pursue this strategy? Do you believe that they ought to? Or should they pick the best player available?