Mitch Haniger Brings The Power For Cal Poly
FULLERTON, CALIF.—Mitch Haniger has more home runs than the top two teams in the Big West standings combined. Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State have hit five homers apiece, while Haniger has hit 11 for Cal Poly. So it's fair to say his power stands out in Southern California.
"Out here in the West, it's tough to put up really solid power numbers," Poly coach Larry Lee said. "You look at his power numbers compared to anybody in our conference, there's a difference, especially this year."
In an April 21 win at Big West power Cal State Fullerton, Haniger put his pop on display, hitting a missile over the left-center-field fence for a three-run homer that put the Mustangs ahead in the fifth inning. The junior center fielder jumped on a 2-0 fastball from Kenny Mathews and hit a low line drive that left the park in a hurry. He also ripped two other hard singles to left field in the game.
Haniger has serious bat speed and plus righthanded power potential in his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, but he doesn't punish only fastballs. Over the course of his career, he has learned to be more selective at the plate; he posted 17 walks and 38 strikeouts as a freshman, but he has a 54-56 walk-strikeout mark over the last two years.
"He's able to barrel up offspeed pitches, which is a big part of a hitter's development," Lee said. "Even earlier in the season it was a struggle. But the good hitters, they see so many sliders and curveballs and changeups, and the more they see, the more comfortable they feel. And that's him."
Haniger said his approach has improved as he has gained experience and matured, and he has put in work in the offseason with his brother Jason, who hit 18 homers at Georgia Tech in 2008-09 and now works as a high school coach in the Kansas City area.
"I talk to my brother a lot," Mitch Haniger said. "He's helped me mature as a hitter big-time with my approach, and just little hitting drills when we go back home over break. When he comes home, he'll help me, teach me some things he's learned."
Haniger has hit for solid power every year at Cal Poly, mashing seven homers as a freshman and six last year. But he has taken his game to a new level this year, hitting .343/.419/.624 and leading the Big West with 11 homers and 51 RBIs.
Scouts still want him to improve a timing mechanism in his swing, but he has done a good job cleaning up his set-up even since the beginning of the season, getting his hands in better hitting position. Scouts all agree that Haniger has plus power potential, and this year he is proving he has a chance to hit for solid average as well, helping increase his draft stock. Scouts on the West Coast are now buzzing about Haniger as a potential top-50 pick.
"He does have a feel to hit. How much he will, who knows?" a National League area scout said. "What I like about him is he really battles with two strikes. He doesn't give in, he's very patient at the plate. He shows he's not afraid to hit with two strikes. He has the makings of a pretty good hitter.
"And there's just not a lot of guys with power around, so that's what intrigues people about him."
Haniger also has another true plus tool in his arm, which figures to play well in right field throughout pro ball. Haniger played right for his first two seasons at Cal Poly before sliding to center as a junior to replace Bobby Crocker. He is an average runner who does a decent job in center, and he enjoys playing the position, where he has also played in high school and in summer ball. But Haniger knows his game, and he knows where his future likely lies.
"I just think I profile better in right field," he said. "I know there's going to be guys running 6.5s, 6.4s in the 60, and I'm not quite up there in my speed."
But he certainly runs well enough to make him one of the better all-around talents in this draft, and the top college prospect in Southern California.
"He's the total package, and he'll continue to get better and better," Lee said. "He has a great work ethic, and he's really put in the time to better himself."