PORTLAND, Maine – When former two-way Duke standout Alex Hassan was drafted by his hometown Boston Red Sox in 2009, he was selected as a pitcher. With a fastball that touched the low 90’s, a diving changeup and a sharp breaking ball, it was easy to picture Hassan’s lanky 6-4, 200-pound frame standing on the mound in Fenway Park someday.
But the Red Sox, who play just a four-mile walk from Hassan’s old high school in Boston, were even more impressed with his bat and tried him out in the outfield in his first season. That was not unfamiliar territory for Hassan, who split time between right field and center field when not closing for the Blue Devils.
So far, the switch has paid off.
In his third season of professional baseball, Hassan leads the Double-A Eastern League in hits, batting average, on base percentage and OPS and ranks among the top five in walks, slugging percentage and RBI.
“Every day, I have the same approach,” he said. “That’s been pretty big for me. Some days, I won’t feel great, but I’ll have a good approach and a good plan, and I think just carrying that over has made a big difference. I really haven’t gone away from my plan at the plate whenever I haven’t felt good physically.”
Hassan has not made any changes to his swing mechanics and did not spend the offseason bulking up to increase his bat speed. He is simply doing what he’s always done, and as a result, he is putting up obscene numbers with a .427 batting average, 35 hits and a .510 on base percentage. While the breakout is not completely unexpected based on his career .322 batting average in his three seasons at Duke from 2007-09, he has gone from a good hitter to great hitter in one offseason.
Hassan spent the majority of his first two seasons in A ball, working his way up from Short-Season Lowell to Class-A Greenville in 2009 and then to High-A Salem in 2010. He enjoyed a brief stint at Triple-A Pawtucket last year when a rash of injuries forced Boston to call up some of its prospects and, in turn, create a spot at Triple-A for Hassan. After four plate appearances in Pawtucket in which he went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly, he returned to Salem where he hit .287 with eight homers for the year.
“We have a meeting after every season and spring training, and they kind of lay out what you did well and what you need to work on, and what, going forward, is going to be important to you,” said Hassan. “I had that in the spring, and they give you an indication of where you’re competing for a spot, and then you just go and play.”
The Red Sox told Hassan that they were pleased with his performance in 2010 and to keep providing solid outfield defense and quality at bats. He was told that he would be competing for a spot in Portland, and after a spring training in which he played occasionally with the big league club, he learned that he’d open the year in Double-A.
“[Playing with the MLB club] was a really cool experience,” he said. “You learn a lot just by watching and listening. It was a pretty valuable experience for me to just see how they conduct their business and the way they compete and play hard. I definitely learned a lot in my time up there.”
Hassan went 3-for-9 with a double and two RBI in his eight big league games and was even more impressive defensively, contributing four outfield assists without committing an error. He came in to play right field in an exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays and threw out Rays first baseman Dan Johnson at the plate on a single through the right side. The game was televised, and the clip is available on Hassan’s player profile at MLB.com.
“You don’t have full scouting reports here in spring training, especially on the backups,” said the game announcer, breaking down the replay of Hassan’s throw to the plate. “But [he] came up here with a nice throw, strong, one hop, easy for [catcher] Mike Wagner to handle.”
With a large “96” on the back of his jersey that game, calling Hassan a backup was just as accurate as his throw to the plate. If he continues to rake at this pace, however, he may soon earn a real number with the Red Sox.
Alex Hassan – OF – Boston Red Sox
2009 MLB Draft: 20th Round (618th Overall) by the Chicago White Sox
2011 Team: Portland Sea Dogs (Class-AA Eastern League)
2011 Class AA Stats: .427 AVG (35-for-82), 9 doubles, 1 home run, 18 RBI, 11 runs
Greg Burke – RHP – San Diego Padres
Undrafted Free Agent: Signed by the San Diego Padres in 2006
2011 Team: Tucson Padres (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
2011 MiLB Stats: 0-1, 5.25 ERA, 12 appearances, 12.0 innings, 5 walks, 10 strikeouts
Burke, who spent 48 games with the San Diego Padres in 2009, is back in Triple-A for the second year. Burke has an interesting journey to the big leagues, spending a year in an independent league after going undrafted out of Duke in 2005. He was picked up by the Padres in 2006 and worked his way up from A ball to the big leagues in just four years. A career reliever at both levels, Burke has thrown over 400 innings in professional baseball as a closer, middle reliever and starter early in his career. This season, he has worked through a rough start to post five scoreless outings in the last two weeks. He has given up just four hits in his last 5.2 innings while racking up seven strikeouts and just one walk during that span.
Chris Capuano – LHP – New York Mets
1999 MLB Draft: 8th Round (238th Overall) – Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Team: New York Mets (MLB – NL East)
2011 MLB Stats: 2-2, 6.04 ERA, 6 appearances, 4 starts, 25.1 innings, 6 walks, 19 strikeouts
Capuano found a new home in 2011 when he signed a one-year deal with the New York Mets. A 2006 All-Star, Capuano worked his way back from his second Tommy John surgery to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers for the second half of the 2010 season. Capuano flashed his old form and velocity down the stretch, and the Mets took notice and made him a member of their starting rotation. He threw seven innings of one-run baseball in a win over Houston on April 21 and has gone at least 5.2 innings in each of his four starts.
Nate Freiman – 1B – San Diego Padres
2009 MLB Draft: 8th Round (234th Overall) by the San Diego Padres
2011 Team: Lake Elsinore Storm (High-A California League)
2011 MiLB Stats: .278 AVG (27-for-97), 4 doubles, 1 triple, 4 home runs, 19 RBI, 15 runs
Freiman has solidified his role in the middle of the Lake Elsinore lineup and ranks second on the team in RBI, runs, homers and walks. Duke’s all-time home run leader and an Academic All-America First Team selection, Freiman trails only Padres’ 2010 second-round selection Jedd Gyorko in each of those categories. On April 22, Freiman exploded for two home runs and five RBI in a 12-1 victory and went on to bang two more home runs in his next three games. Also Duke’s all-time slugging percentage leader and among the top five in career batting average, RBI and on base percentage, Freiman is coming off of a 2010 campaign in which he hit .294 in A ball and set career highs in doubles, home runs, RBI, runs scored and hits.
Jimmy Gallagher – 1B – Chicago White Sox
2007 MLB Draft: 7th Round (239th Overall) – Chicago White Sox
2011 Team: Charlotte Knights (Class-AAA International League)
2011 MiLB Stats: .287 AVG (25-for-87), 9 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 6 RBI, 12 runs
Gallagher had a career year in Double-AA in 2010 and carried that momentum into Spring Training where he hit .571 in 15 games with the big league club. His performance in the spring landed him a starting job with Triple-A Charlotte, and he has made the most of that opportunity to emerge as one of Charlotte’s top hitters. Gallagher has hit in the two or three spot in the batting order every game and leads the team in walks and on base percentage. The highest drafted outfielder in Duke history, Gallagher converted to first base prior to the 2010 season and has played errorless defense so far in 2011. The Knights are in the same Triple-A league as the Durham Bulls, and Gallagher owns a .381 average in seven games against Duke baseball’s downtown neighbor.
Jeremy Gould – LHP – New York Mets
2010 MLB Draft: 28th Round (842nd Overall) by the New York Mets
2011 Team: Extended Spring Training
Gould is in the process of making his transition to a full-time pitcher. Primarily an outfielder and first baseman during his career at Duke, Gould ended his career ranked 10th all-time at Duke in batting average and tied for fifth in doubles. However, it was his left arm and low-90’s fastball that led the Mets to draft him in the 28th round of the 2010 draft. In the Rookie Gulf Coast League in 2010, Gould posted a 3.12 ERA, 11 strikeouts and seven walks in 14.2 innings.
Marcus Jones – OF – Baltimore Orioles
Undrafted Free Agent: Signed by the Baltimore Orioles in 2010
2011 Team: Extended Spring Training
Jones, who played one season at Duke in 2009 following a four-year football career with the Blue Devils, signed with the Orioles organization in 2010. A broken bone in his hand prematurely ended his 2010 season, but he is now working his way back in Extended Spring Training.
Jake Lemmerman – SS – Los Angeles Dodgers
2010 MLB Draft: 5th Round (172nd Overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers
2011 Team: Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (High-A California League)
2011 MiLB Stats: .306 AVG (30-for-98), 8 doubles, 2 home runs, 12 RBI, 20 runs
The highest drafted Duke player under sixth-year head coach Sean McNally, Lemmerman was named MVP of the Pioneer League in his rookie season and received a bump to High-A to start 2011. Lemmerman is currently in the midst of a hot streak, hitting .350 over his last 10 games to raise his season average to .306. He has five multi-hit games during that span and has solidified his role as the two-hitter in Rancho Cucamonga’s lineup. Also the top defensive shortstop in the ACC in his tenure, Lemmerman has made just three errors in his 24 games with the Quakes. He is one of three Blue Devils currently playing in the California League and has faced former Duke teammate Michael Ness twice. Ness, pitching with the Lancaster JetHawks, intentionally walked Lemmerman the first go-round and then got him to fly out to right field in the next meeting.
Christopher Manno – LHP – Washington Nationals
2010 MLB Draft: 26th Round (776th Overall) by the Washington Nationals
2011 Team: Hagerstown Suns (Class-A South Atlantic League)
2011 MiLB Stats: 1-1, 3 saves, 0.00 ERA, 9 appearances, 11.1 innings, 2 walks, 19 strikeouts
Manno has been one of the most dominant relievers in the South Atlantic League and has yet to allow a an earned run in his 11.1 innings out of the bullpen. Manno did not issue a walk until his eighth appearance of the year and has piled up 19 strikeouts early in the season. Duke’s single-season record holder for strikeouts per nine innings, Manno is splitting closing duties for the Suns and owns three saves while giving up just six hits. He has at least one strikeout in every appearance this season and multiple punchouts in six of those outings.
Ryan McCurdy – C – Houston Astros
Undrafted Free Agent: Signed by the Houston Astros in 2010
2011 Team: Extended Spring Training
A four-year starter at second base, third base and catcher during his Duke career, McCurdy is in his second professional season with the Astros organization. McCurdy served as a volunteer assistant coach with the Blue Devils last fall and into the beginning of March, but left the staff to participate in Spring Training. McCurdy had the opportunity to travel with the big-league club to several Spring Training games as a catcher and is currently in Extended Spring Training awaiting a professional assignment.
Michael Ness – RHP – Houston Astros
2010 MLB Draft: 33rd Round (993rd Overall) by the Houston Astros
2011 Team: Lancaster JetHawks (High-A California League)
2011 MiLB Stats: 0-1, 6.52 ERA, 7 appearances, 9.2 innings, nine walks, 11 strikeouts
Ness spent the majority of his collegiate career as Duke’s top reliever and has filled that same role in his short professional career. Ranked third all-time at Duke with 85 career pitching appearances, Ness is currently working out of the Lancaster bullpen in the High-A California League. Uncharacteristically, Ness struggled with his command early in the season, but has found his form recently and has not issued a walk or allowed an earned run over his last 3.1 innings. Ness also boasts 11 strikeouts in just 9.2 innings and ranks third on the team with seven relief appearances.
Andrew Wolcott – RHP – Arizona Diamondbacks
2009 MLB Draft: 17th Round (516th Overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks
2011 Team: Injured Reserve (Elbow)
Wolcott suffered a setback to his professional career in Spring Training when he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The former First Team All-ACC selection has already undergone surgery to repair his elbow and is currently rehabbing in Arizona. Wolcott put together one of the greatest seasons by a Duke pitcher in the modern era in 2009 when he went 8-3 with a 2.77 ERA as a senior. He went 5-0 against top-25 teams and beat No. 1 North Carolina, No. 6 Miami, No. 7 Georgia Tech and No. 17 Clemson twice. He spent his first two seasons of professional baseball in Arizona’s Class-A system.