It's All About Speed For Red Sox's Hazelbaker

BOSTON—While the Red Sox selected Jeremy Hazelbaker in the fourth round of the 2009 draft because of his across-the-board tools, the outfielder makes no secret about which one he considers his greatest asset. 

"Without a doubt, I'm a speed guy," Hazelbaker said. "Ten home runs are great, but I'd almost rather hit a ball in the gap and leg out a triple. I'm a speed guy. It's fun for me to get on the basepaths, steal a base."

By that measure, it has been a very fun season for Hazelbaker. Through mid-August, he had swiped 52 bags (in 65 attempts) with low Class A Greenville, tied for the most by a Sox minor leaguer since 1990. Team officials suggest that he has an explosive burst on the bases that few in the organization can match, and that his baserunning instincts are advanced. 

Yet it is not speed alone that is helping to establish the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Hazelbaker as an intriguing talent. Through 362 at-bats, he was hitting .273/.367/.478 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs. Since the beginning of July, he had been particularly locked in, hitting .336/.413/.641 with six homers and 19 steals.
Though he is slightly above the average age for a South Atlantic League player, the Sox think the 23-year-old remains a prospect by virtue of his wide-ranging skill set. His combination of speed (both on the bases and in the outfield) and easy gap power (44 extra-base hits in 93 games) is relatively rare. 

"This guy has an ability to really impact the baseball. When he's short and consistent and on time, this guy backspins the ball as well as anyone in the system," noted farm director Mike Hazen. "He has plus raw power, there's plus speed, a good arm, and he's athletic as heck . . . It's a pretty impressive package."

When Hazelbaker's swing is compact and direct, as the Sox suggest it has been since the start of July, he appears capable of being a dynamic offensive player. His swing can get long, however, resulting in relatively high strikeout totals (roughly one for every four plate appearances). 

"Across the board, everything has improved for me," Hazelbaker said. "Everything is starting to click. Now I'm starting to produce like I know I can and like the organization wants me to."

Sox Yarns

• Ryan Westmoreland continues to progress well in his recovery from March brain surgery. As of mid-August, he was running, throwing, swinging off a tee and taking soft toss.

• Double-A Portland first baseman Anthony Rizzo became the first Sox minor leaguer to hit 20 or more homers in his age 20 season since Dernell Stenson in 1998.