BOSTON Underneath the bubble covering the Harvard football field during the Red Sox rookie development program last week, the hard plastic boot on Alex Hassans left foot raised a few eyebrows. Nothing to worry about, though. It was not related to the injury to his left leg that limited him to just 94 games last season, ending his season prematurely. The boot was just precautionary, after he fouled a ball off his left foot during a recent work out.
Hassan, an outfielder who added to the Sox 40-man roster earlier this offseason, was one of 11 prospects participating in last weeks mini camp. The program is designed for players whom the organization considers to be within 18 months of impacting the big league team. Along with workouts, its an immersion program to get the young players accustomed to the grind of big league life both on and off the field.
After his first invite to big league camp in 2012, Hassan hit .256 with seven home runs, 46 RBI, a .377 on-base percentage and .365 slugging percentage in his first full season for Triple-A Pawtucket. The move up was a challenge.
Last season was a great season for me mentally, said Hassan, the native of Milton, Mass., who was the Sox 20th-round pick out of Duke in 2009.
I went through a lot of challenges. Things I might not necessarily have gone through in my career. I think I was challenged in a lot of ways, both mentally and physically at the new level but I think I made a lot of good adjustments and learned some things that are really going to benefit me in the future.
Triple A was definitely a step up in experience level. Double A theres a lot of good stuff, guys on the way up. But Triple A is a lot of guys with experience and theyve been around a while and it really just challenged your approach. They're smart about how they pitch you and if they throw a ball its for a reason. Its not because they can't throw a strike. So it just really challenges your approach. That was a big thing for me, balancing when to be aggressive, when not, when to be selective, and my overall approach. But I think it really shaped my approach and helped make me a better player.
Hassan got off to a slow start last season, hitting .250 (16-for-64) in April and .230 (20-for-87) in May, before finding his stride and improving to .300 (24-for-80) in June and .304 (17-for-56) in July before the leg injury ended his season on Aug. 13.
I think he learned a lot about himself last year, said Ben Crockett, the Sox director of player development. Being invited to big league camp for the first time, there were a lot of firsts for him. In Triple A he talked about it to the group recently, he struggled early in the season and had to realize that struggling in April is the same as having two bad weeks in July. But when you look at the scoreboard and it says .083 its different than July when you drop 110 points.
Its just having to deal with some of the statistical side of things that really doesnt matter in the short term. Having to kind of deal with some of those things and he continues to progress and for him its about being aggressive and attacking pitches and improving on the defensive side.
Hassan has played all three outfield positions in his minor league career, but has far more games, 230, in left than in right (98) or center (14). He appeared in 60 games in left for the PawSox last season and 30 games in right.
After batting .291 with a .404 OBP and .456 SLG in 126 games for Double-A Portland in 2011, last season caused Hassan to take stock.
Its the nature of the game, he said. Its a game of failure. At certain times you do feel not as good as other times but I think you have a confidence about you. When things are going bad you dont feel great but theres still that confidence within that you know that I think Im a good player and even though Im struggling I think I can figure it out and I think this is helping me become a better player. So I think you have that perspective. Thats really important.
Hassan has been living in North Carolina this offseason where he can work out at his alma mater. Hell be back in big league camp this spring, hoping to build on what he learned there last year.
It was awesome, he said. Tremendous experience. Was able to see the ins and outs of how major leaguers go about their business. Its kind of s first-hand look at that and I think you can really learn a lot just by watching and listening and just seeing how they do it.
Hassan turns 25 on April 1, which is the major league Opening Day. But he will likely begin the season with Pawtucket again. Which is fine with him.
I think Im on a good development path I've been on throughout my whole career, he said. I've been moving up it seemed like a level each year and right now Im just focusing on being a better player. That stuff is really out of my control. The rest of the stuff, if I started worrying about that, it would just put more pressure on me. So I just kind of let that stuff take care of itself and Ill take care of what I can take care of.