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Robert Hassell III is over his wrist injury, in more ways than one

Robert Hassell III is over his wrist injury, in more ways than one

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 1

Washington Nationals prospect Robert Hassell III picked up a new accessory this offseason: a navy blue wristband with stars that serves as protection for his right wrist. The 22-year-old outfielder started wearing it as he trained ahead of the upcoming season.

He doesn’t even need to wear it anymore. But if this past year has taught Hassell anything, it’s the importance of a healthy wrist. And if his start to spring training has shown anything, it’s how much better Hassell is when that wrist is uninjured. So better to be safe than sorry.

“I was just worried about injuring it last year further and more, just because it was giving me a little bit of pain,” Hassell said. “I’m coming in this year and I’m able to go the whole day and take 100 swings without having to think about anything physical, injury, none of that. It makes it a lot better.”

Hassell broke the hamate bone in his right hand during the Arizona Fall League in 2022, a fracture that limited him to just two games. He missed about a month of the offseason but was fully healthy for the start of spring training a year ago. Hassell suffered a setback during last year’s camp though, an unrelated wrist injury that delayed his start to the season.

He rehabbed with Class AA Fredericksburg this past April before joining Class AA Harrisburg in early May. He stayed at that level for the rest of the season, eventually joined by outfielders Dylan Crews and James Wood. Hassell finished the year with a .225 batting average in 106 games with Harrisburg. He grounded out 53.1 percent of the time and struck out 31.9 percent of the time, a career high for any level.

Strong bat-to-ball skills have always been a calling card for Hassell. He has quick hands, something he joked that he’s known since he was a 6-year-old taking swings in the backyard. His dad taught him about how Hank Aaron could flick his wrist to get his bat through the zone; Hassell always tried to do the same. But there were times last season where Hassell felt like he couldn’t trust his body.

Hassell would head to the plate thinking about his injury. He’d overcompensate, relying on his top hand more to swing. Looking back now, Hassell said he was so in his head that some at-bats were over before he stepped into the batter’s box. Delino DeShields — Harrisburg’s manager — never heard Hassell complain once about the injury. Hassell felt it was important to be available, even if he wasn’t fully himself.

But his mental hurdles extended into his mechanics. Hassell tried changing his swing to elevate the ball more to his pull side. He admits he went about it the wrong way and wasn’t sticking to what works well for him.

Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said the team has stressed the importance of staying on top of the baseball to hit line drives. This camp, DeShields has seen more maturity.

“The way he talks about the game, what he wants to do at the plate, as a player, he’s starting to figure out who he is,” DeShields said. “I think that was maybe part of his struggles. Probably was just some identity issues, just not knowing what player you actually are.”

Hassell has always considered himself a handsy, upper-body hitter but wanted to focus this offseason on using his legs more after watching Wood and Crews. He’s also put on 10 pounds. Hassell hopes these changes will allow him to display the power he tried to generate by his swing change. And he believes the pull-side power will come by catching the ball further out in front when he gets the right pitch.

The Nationals’ top hitting prospects have shined in the early portion of camp, and Hassell — who had a triple in Washington’s first game of spring training — has been perhaps the most welcome surprise. He’s shown flashes of the player the Nationals hoped would help accelerate their rebuild when he arrived as part of the Juan Soto trade in 2022. One could argue that player was there all along, even after a disappointing 2023 season.

Hassell dropped off most prospect ranking lists this season and had only been on a handful headed into 2023. The lefty is a prime example of the reactionary nature of prospect rankings and the concept of prospect fatigue.

Players in their late teens and early 20s are expected to progress in a quick, linear fashion. And when they don’t, they can be cast off and dismissed as players who aren’t living up to their billing. That kind of thinking could have been why Hassell pressed to make changes and tried to play through his injury.

Yeah, I do. I do, for sure,” Hassell said about whether he felt he fell victim to prospect fatigue. “But, listen, I have no doubt in the player that I am and the player that I can be.”

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