Robert Hassell III is Down, But He's Not Out

Robert Hassell III has struggled consistently since his hamate injury last year. However, if you look further, the makings of a talented player are still there just beneath the surface.
Feb 20, 2023; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Robert Hassell III (55)
Feb 20, 2023; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Robert Hassell III (55) / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

When a player is involved in a trade package for someone of Juan Soto's caliber, there is no shortage of extraordinary expectations placed on them. This rings true for all of the young prospects that landed in Washington last season, but the pressure has been especially high for 22 year-old Robert Hassell III in his latest season within the Nats' minor league system.

Hassell III has been in an extended hitting slump, struggling to make contact and conjure any power. The apparent lack of power isn't incredibly worrying, as he has been outlined as a contact-first hitter so far. Unfortunately, in his time with the Nationals' Double-A squad, he has struggled to get the bat to the ball and put it in play effectively and routinely. Nonetheless, Hassell III is not a lost cause. There are aspects of his game and his approach that do continue to show promise and could help reinforce his utilization for the major league squad in the future.

It is no secret that Robert Hassell III has not been hitting the ball consistently, which is undeniably concerning from a hitter who is supposed to be contact-driven. His slash line reflects this, with a .215/.311/.315 over 98 games with the Harrisburg Senators this year, and a .626 OPS that is disappointing even for a hitter of his style.

While the low average and OBP are certainly disquieting, likely the most damaging aspect of Hassell's offense is the staggering frequency at which he strikes out. The lefty has been a strikeout victim 144 times in his tenure with Harrisburg this season. This has led to a devastating 32.7% K% this season, well above what any hitter wants to have, particularly one that the staff would like to mold into a pure contact hitter. In the simplest terms, if Hassell III continues to swing and miss so often, then he cannot fit into the archetype he was projected to, and with the hamate injury dampening the little existing power he produced, he cannot convert to a power-first high strikeout hitter similar to several of his minor-league teammates.

This high K% and clear lack of contact has led to abundant speculation amongst fans on social media that Hassell III is a "bust" and that he may never achieve the heights he was projected to, or meet the lofty expectations that come with being part of a blockbuster trade. Yet, there is more to Hassell's overall game that can still be utilized on the Nationals' future major league squad.

Offensively, Hassell still has aspects of his approach that can be workshopped to make him a useful and productive member of the lineup. While his K% is undoubtedly not where the team wants it, his BB% is still solid. Posting an 11.1% this season, Hassell III still possesses the ability to see the ball well and make better swing decisions, even if that hasn't been at the forefront. Seeing and taking pitches and making the correct swing decisions obviously go hand in hand, so Hassell III will have to work to be more calculated at the dish, but the BB% still shows that he has the ability to not swing at junk pitches and can demonstrate patience.

Hassell III has also shown a tendency to place the ball in the opposite field when he does make contact. His 39.3% Oppo% helps him to protect the outer edges of the plate, and keep the defense on their toes. This is a valuable trait in a lefty hitter, and even more valuable in the repertoire of a contact hitter.

HIs fielding demonstrates another aspect of his playstyle that the team could seek to utilize. In center field for the Senators -- where he has primarily been, playing 46 games at the position -- Hassell III has put up a 2.85 Range Factor per 9, showing that he has the capabilities to make different plays and has the range to cover center field effectively. He has also shown brief flashes of utilizing above-average speed, swiping 13 bags this season, and stretching 15 of his 82 hits into doubles. If he manages to use this speed more and combine it with improving upon his walk rate, Hassell III could make for an easy choice for a leadoff hitter and a useful pinch runner. These factors combined could also lead to a consistent and useful glove, and a helpful late-game defensive sub.

Robert Hassell III has had a very unsteady season. He strikes out often and fails to make consistent contact, leading to less than stellar overall hitting stats. However, it shouldn't all be doom and gloom when speaking of his performance and his future with the team. Hassell III has shown a solid glove, bursts of useful speed, and innate patience at the plate and the ability to identify pitches, even if his swing decisions haven't regularly reflected it. The 22 year-old is obviously not giving up yet, and Nats fans don't need to either.