The Padres added two prep players to their system Wednesday night, selecting outfielder Robert Hassell III with the eighth overall pick and RHP Justin Lange with the #34 overall pick in Competitive Balance Round A.
Hassell, 18, is an outfielder out of Independence High School in Franklin, Tennessee. The Padres had their choice of prep outfielders, as Zac Veen was available when the Padres were on the board but the organization had Hassell as the best high school player on their board all along.
“There were a group of players that we were looking at as the draft unfolded,” said Mark Conner, the Padres scouting director. “We scouted Robert Hassell for a couple of years and through the process he was identified as one of the better hitters for our evaluators and we felt very comfortable taking him once he got to us at pick eight.”
For Hassell — the first prep player taken in the 2020 draft — the draft experience was surreal.
“You can’t really put it into words, [getting drafted] still isn’t real to me yet,” said Hassell on a Zoom conference call with San Diego media.
Hassell had most of his senior season of high school wiped out to COVID-19 but the left-handed hitter was still able to stay busy despite the lack of organized baseball.
“The [draft] process has been really good. It’s been pretty easy. I’ve been busy with Zoom calls with teams and that sort of deal but I enjoy doing that. Without having a senior season, it’s unfortunate, but how I look at it is that’s it’s out of my control. I had to take care of my business off the field and I was still around the game. I still went to hit and throw every day so I was staying busy and keeping myself sane without having an actual baseball season.”
“We really believe in Robert Hassell’s ability to hit,” said Conner. As a group, our evaluators valued that part of his game a little bit more. We think that we added probably the best prep hitter in the class to our organization.
“The toolset of Robert Hassell is very exciting. Anytime that you can get a left-handed, high school hitter with a good, long projectable body that’s going to add strength and mass is a good place to start. Then, once you talk about Robert mentally, you are getting a player that’s wired right, ultra-competitive, hates to strike out, is going to leave everything on the field. In high school he was a two-way player but we felt like the ability to just focus on being a position player was going to translate well and help that projection.”
“With Robert, he has been a very famous prospect,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “Mark [Conner] lives in the Nashville area, so he’s been hearing about Robert Hassell ever since he jumped onto the scene as a freshman in high school. He’s the two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year, he was the player of the year in the summer, the International Player of the Year for Team USA. He’s had a lot of accolades, a lot of attention; he’s not one of the guys who just jumped up on the scene. We’ve had a lot of chances to scout him and see him.”
Hassell is considered to be an above-average runner with an above-average arm. While some of the national publications think he may be better suited for the corners, both the player and organization believe he will be able to stick in center.
“I can play corners but I believe I am a center fielder,” Hassell said. “Forever.”
Area scout Tyler Stubblefield, who has had a large role in the strength of the Padres’ farm system, recommended Hassell. Stubblefield spent four years in the Padres’ organization before transitioning into scouting after his pro career ended. He had recommended each of the club’s previous three top picks, CJ Abrams, Ryan Weathers, and MacKenzie Gore as well.
“Tyler Stubblefield has done a tremendous job for us in the years he’s been an area scout,” said Conner. “Tyler is a very good evaluator. He has a really good way to connect with players and parents to get to know these guys on a personal level.
“Sometimes how the draft falls and the luck of the guy being in the area — three years in a row like it’s been — he has a very fruitful area of the country. It’s a place that we value and we scout hard. He’s done a tremendous job of putting us in a position to have a lot of comfort to scout those players and to select them all.”
In Lange, the Padres selected arguably the hardest throwing prep player in the draft. The righty from Llano, Texas hit 100 mph this spring with his fastball and the organization believes they can help him convert the raw ability.
“We think we are getting a guy with a big ceiling and big upside,” said Preller. “[Lange] is definitely somebody who is on the come. I think we were able to see that towards the end of last summer and to see his progression from the Area Code games to a few weeks later in Massachusetts in the New Balance series where he had an impressive performance and he took that into the spring season where we saw some scrimmage-type outings and a few starts. We had some other members of our scouting team like Chip Lawrence and Kevin Ham and some other guys that were able to see him.
Lange is listed at six-four and 220 lbs. which includes the 25 pounds of muscle that he has put on over the past few years. While there are some concerns about his command and lack of polish with his offspeed pitches, the Padres see a projectable righty with a lot of potential.
“I think there’s a chance for two solid average to two plus pitches,” said Conner. A part of this is that he has natural feel for a changeup which gives us a lot of confidence that that pitch is going to develop into a potential plus-pitch. The slider — he kind of blended it a little bit at times, trying to work with a couple different breaking balls. Once he gets that true slider grip and starts throwing that alone, we have a ton of confidence with the size of his hands and how is arm and wrist works, we think that pitch is potentially going to develop into a power slider.”