Get To Know: Alex Hassan (Twins Assistant Director of Minor League Operations)
Image courtesy of Mark J Rebilas, USA TodayAlex Hassan grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts. He was a four-year letter winner in baseball at Boston College High School.
He recalls, “I played almost exclusively baseball during high school. I say ‘almost’ because I played one season of basketball my freshman year. Let’s just say I was not nearly as committed to becoming a good basketball player as I was committed to becoming a good baseball player.
"I was a good player in high school, and I worked really hard during my four years at Boston College High School to improve and get better as a player. I was fortunate to have a really good coach in high school who invested a lot in my development, Norm Walsh.”
“A good player in high school” may have been an understatement. Following his senior season, he was named the Louisville Slugger Massachusetts Player of the Year. In addition, his AAU team won two state championships and his Legion team won a state title too.
He had a few options coming out of high school, but he chose to head south and play at Duke.
“I had some options coming out of high school, but my final choices came down to Duke, Notre Dame and Boston College. Ultimately, having grown up in Massachusetts where I was relegated to training indoors for a good portion of the year due to the weather, I decided I would attend the best academic school I could get into that was the furthest down South, and that happened to be Duke.“
At Duke, he was able to be a two-way player. As a freshman, he made 11 starts and won two games. Over his final two seasons, he moved to the bullpen. His sophomore season, he went 5-0 with five saves and a 1.30 ERA in 17 appearances. His junior season, he worked in 16 games and went 2-2 with eight saves.
He was also a strong hitter in the Blue Devils lineup. He batted in 49 games and hit .262 with 17 extra base hits as a freshman. His sophomore year, he hit .353/.458/.486 (.924) with 17 doubles and four homers. He also stole 14 bases. His junior season, he hit .342/.424/.498 (.922) with 17 doubles, four triples and three homers. Over those final two seasons, he walked 56 times and struck out just 38.
“I really enjoyed my time at Duke. I spent three years there from 2007-2009 before being drafted by the Red Sox after my junior year. Similar to high school, I put a lot of time and effort into becoming a better baseball player at Duke. I also made lifelong friends, many of whom were in my wedding.“
Hassan had put together a strong resume in his three years at Duke on the field and in the classroom. He also played well in his time in the Cape Cod League. However, just a few weeks before the draft, he pulled his oblique and didn’t pitch at all as the draft approached. So, he wasn’t sure at all what the draft would bring.
“I figured that would hurt my draft stock, as more teams were looking at me as a pitcher than as a position player, but I had no idea by how much.”
He did have to wait a while to hear his name, even to start getting calls from teams.
“On draft day the first call I received was in the 10th round but the team calling was not willing to offer me the amount of money I was asking for so I told them not to take me-- they ended up passing on me. As the rounds went on, each subsequent call I received from teams were offering less and less money- things were not trending in the direction I was hoping. At a certain point, I decided I would just return to Duke for my senior year.”
Certainly there was some disappointment, but then things started picking up again.
“In the 20th round a scout from the Cubs called me and told me they were taking me with their next pick, so I was glued to streaming draft feed on my laptop waiting for the Cubs to pick me.”
But then a surprise, a pleasant surprise.
“In the 2009 draft, the Red Sox were slotted two or three picks before the Cubs, and when it was time for the Red Sox to make their pick in the 20th round, I saw my name pop up. I was completely shocked, but elated at the same time that I had been drafted by the team that I rooted for my whole life growing up.”
A dream come true, to be certain, but even then the process took time to develop. Hassan found himself waiting, and wondering.
“I ended up not signing right away with the Red Sox and instead went to Cape Cod where I played the field and pitched. By the end of the summer the Red Sox wanted to sign me as a position player and not a pitcher and offered me a contract, which I ultimately signed.”
After signing, he played 26 games of rookie league ball and ended with eight games in Low A. In 2010, he spent the season in High-A, though he did spend three games in AAA. In 2011, he spent the full season in AA. He was hurt some in 2012 but played in AAA. He was limited to just 55 games in 2013 at Triple-A. In 2014, he started the season in AAA again.
But late in May, he got the call that every ball player dreams of.
“We had a night game in late May at home in Pawtucket and I remember it was a fairly uneventful game for me. I showered and went home like I normally would and when I got home I received a call from my manager Kevin Boles telling me that he needed me to come back to the field. When I got back to the stadium I went into his office and he had a big smile on his face and congratulated me and told me I was going to the big leagues and gave me a big hug. Nothing was official until the following day, so I think I only told my now wife and parents. The night before I went to the big leagues, I did not sleep one minute; I was too excited.”
On June 1st, he made his major-league debut at Fenway Park. Can you imagine jogging out to your position at the ballpark you frequented as a kid, with family and friends in the stands?
“The most memorable moment was running out to right field for the top of the first inning thinking that once the first pitch is thrown, I will officially have made it to the big leagues and there isn’t anything that would ever change that. I was really proud of that accomplishment because of just how difficult the path to getting there was for me.”
In the game, he played right field and went 1-for-3 with a walk. But his bigger memory was an interesting, and scary, feeling he had in the field.
“The other thing I remember was how bad the sun was shining in my eyes standing in right field the first game that I started. It was a day game and if anyone hit a fly ball in my general direction I was going to have a really hard time picking up its trajectory because the sun was directly in my line of sight. To make matter worse, Jon Lester was on the mound that day, and I found him to be an extremely intimidating person. Very nice guy, but also very intense and intimidating. So, most of the day I was praying that no one hit a fly ball to right field because if they did I was almost certainly not going to catch it. Luckily for me, no one did.”
Two days later, he was back in the lineup and went 0-for-4 in Cleveland. He was sent back to the minors. He was called back up in mid-August and got one more at-bat. And that was it for his big-league career. Three games. Nine plate appearances. One hit. But a lifetime of memories and a huge accomplishment.
“I was really, and still am, really proud of making it to the big leagues. I was not the most naturally gifted athlete but I put a lot of time and effort into refining my skills over the years. Trying to become a good major league baseball player is an extremely difficult pursuit, and the lessons I learned along that journey are still serving me to this day.”
He spent 2015 playing in AAA in the Blue Jays, A’s and Rangers system. In 2016, he spent the season on the AAA roster of the Dodgers, in Oklahoma City. Following that season, he knew it was time. He was ready to retire from playing the game.
“The decision to move on was really easy for me as towards the end of my career I could no longer physically perform at a level I would need to in order to give myself a chance to get to the major leagues. Injuries had compounded over the years, and I did not do a good enough job managing those, so by the end of 2016, I was physically ready to move on.”
At Duke, Hassan had studied psychology. Upon his retirement, he returned to the school and graduated in 2017.
His season in the Dodgers organization allowed him a great networking opportunity, one that eventually led him to his current job with the Twins.
“Luckily for me, Jeremy Zoll and Gabe Kapler gave me the opportunity to get some exposure to the player development side of the Dodgers front office while I was finishing school. I traveled out to Glendale during my spring break to get a sense of what working in the front office might look like and also made a few trips to affiliates during my time in school.“
He noted that the timing just wasn’t right for he and his wife to join the Dodgers full -time. They moved back to Boston, and he got a job with Dell Technologies for a little while. He took time away from the game of baseball, something he feels was important for him.
“I think getting away from the game for a period of time was good and healthy for me. This time away reinforced to me just how passionate I still was about baseball and how eager I was to continuing to learning and developing in the game.”
However, months later, the situation changed.
“After about six to eight months, Jeremy reached out to me about his new opportunity with the Twins and gauged my interest in getting back into baseball. Jeremy and I first began talking when I was a AAA player with the Dodgers in 2016 and he was working as the assistant farm director for the Dodgers. I remember asking him a lot of questions when he would come in town in OKC and he was always extremely approachable and willing to talk to me. From day 1 he really blew me away with his baseball and general intelligence. When I had the opportunity to join him with the Twins, my wife and I were in a better situation in our personal lives and we were really excited to make the jump.”
He was offered the job as the Twins Assistant Director of Minor League Operations. In the position, he is involved in several aspects of the minor leagues and player development.
“I’m responsible for assisting in the oversight of the minor league system. I work with player development leaders- Jeremy Zoll (Farm Director), Edgar Varela (Field Coordinator), and all of minor league coordinators regarding on-field philosophies, training, and special programs that we’re running. Also, I aid the Research and Development department in the implementation of various initiatives and findings with our coaching staff and our players.“
In his role, he will spend spring training in Ft. Myers and throughout the season, he will travel to see each of the Twins seven minor league affiliates multiple times.
He recently passed the one-year mark in the job and has found a lot about it enjoyable. “What I’ve enjoyed the most is how much I’m learning about the game of baseball and that I’m in a position where I have the ability to impact people to help them improve and reach their goals.”
Alex Hassan reached the big leagues, something the great majority of the minor leaguers haven’t done yet and dream of being able to do. His experiences as a player, good and bad, help him to better understand what the players are dealing with from day to day. Understanding the game helps him understand the players and their struggles.
“The thing I would like to bring from my experience as a player to this job is never forgetting just how difficult this game is. Sometimes, the further you get from your playing career the easier the game seems to be. I try to never forget just how challenging this game was for me and how hard I had to work to just be a below average player. I would like to think I bring a great deal of empathy to this job.”
When you consider the technology used in the Twins minor leagues, the addition of coaches and coordinators, and new ideas and thinking on development, Twins fans should be excited about the direction of the organization as it relates to player development.
“I think Twins fans should feel really good about the direction the player development department is headed. What I’m most proud of is the team that we have built and how we’re collectively working toward a shared purpose of making the players better. As part of that, we’re all collectively striving to improve ourselves, ask the better questions, and not being afraid of what we don’t know. We, and more specifically, Jeremy has fostered a culture of continual improvement and my hope and goal is that a couple years from now we’ll still have the same mentality as we did on Day 1- that we still have so much improvement ahead of us.”
Hassan and his wife moved to Minneapolis in August. “So far, we have really loved it. It is quite cold in the winter.”
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