For the second time in three seasons, the Padres went into the Tennessee high school baseball circuit to choose their first-round draft pick. In 2018, it was left-handed pitcher Ryan Weathers, who went on to spend the 2019 season with the TinCaps. Tonight, with the eighth overall pick (Weathers was No. 7), San Diego chose outfielder Robert Hassell, an18-year-old with big upside who has been committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt.
“You can’t really put it into words,” Hassell told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s still not really real to me yet. It hasn’t kicked in. Maybe tomorrow it will, but it’s definitely super, super exciting if I had to put it in one word."
The Franklin, Tennessee, native was the first high school player selected in the draft, the latest that pick has ever happened. With the draft sliced to five rounds this year, teams seemingly decided to go for the relative safety of college selections early on. The Padres' A.J. Preller was the first to go out on a limb and chose Hassell, MLB.com's No. 16 overall draft prospect, who hit .423 with 14 home runs as a junior in high school before his senior season was canceled. He batted a ridiculous .514/.548/.886 for the U.S. National Team at the U-18 World Cup in South Korea in September.
"The best pure hitter in the 2020 prep class, Hassell has a pretty left-handed stroke and the hand-eye coordination to barrel balls with ease," reads MLB.com's scouting report. "He's at his best when he lashes line drives to all fields but his swing got too uphill when he made a conscious effort to hit homers in the middle of the summer.
"There's some debate as to how much pop he'll ultimately have, with some scouts envisioning solid raw power and believing he'll tap into most of it, while other evaluators think he's more lean than projectable and more of a 15-homer guy."
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Hassell isn't worried about the scouts who don't think he'll grow into much power.
"Every time I see someone saying something about my power, I just go upstairs and look at the buckets of baseballs of home runs I have over my life," Hassell said. "Last summer I had three or four bombs in the circuit. Yes, I can add more power … but that’s going to come with time and getting in the weight room and build that ‘man strength.'"
Hassell is the second straight high school position player the Padres have chosen with their first pick of the draft, following shortstop C.J. Abrams, who went No. 6 overall in 2019. Because he's a high schooler, San Diego might be able to sign Hassell for less than his suggested slot value of $5.18 million, which they could use to somewhat overpay No. 34 overall selection Justin Lange, a high school right-hander with a fastball that touches 100 mph. The extra money for Lange could convince the fireballer to sign a pro contract rather than accept his scholarship at Dallas Baptist University.