The Oakland A's already claim an embarrassment of riches in its major league rotation, and the organization looks to have another formidable group of starting pitchers stashed away at its Midwest League affiliate in Burlington.
At the top of the list is 6'4'' right-hander Blake Hassebrock, who has consistently handled Low-A hitters this spring. The A's eighth-round selection in the 2010 amateur draft has compiled a 2-0 record and MWL-leading 0.79 ERA while striking out 33 batters in 34.1 innings of work. Opposing batters have hit just .179 against him.
Even more impressive is the fact Hassebrock didn't allow an earned run until a May 4th outing against Cedar Rapids – his fifth start of the season. Most recently, the UNC-Greensboro product led Burlington to a fifth straight victory on Monday in Clinton by allowing just one earned run and five hits over six innings.
So what's the secret to Hassebrock's success? It's pretty simple, really.
"I'm focused on the task at hand and the next pitch is always the next pitch," said Hassebrock.
"I'm not worried about what's going to happen or what happened before. And throwing strikes is always the biggest thing. Let your movement do the work and keep it low in the zone. It just happened that they got themselves out.
"I'm not trying to be too fine and just throw my sinker away to lefties and righties. If you keep it down in the zone they'll usually ground out. I want to be efficient, which I've had trouble with in the past throwing too many pitches. I've had to leave games early with high pitch counts."
Exiting early in games hasn't been an issue thus far, as an efficient Hassebrock has gone at least six innings in his last four outings even as managers tend to limit their starters' workloads early in the season.
But the outlook hasn't always been so rosy for Hassebrock, who dealt with more than his fair share of adversity just to reach Burlington. A bout with the swine flu prior to the start of his junior season at UNC-Greensboro put in place a chain of events that tested his desire to play the game he loved.
"I had a really strong fall and coming into the season just before our first series I caught it," he said.
"I was bed-ridden for two weeks and lost a bunch of weight. That took a toll on me physically and when I came back the pressure of the draft weighed on me a little bit. I over-pressured myself and ended up not being in a good place."
Although the A's still had the confidence in Hassebrock to draft him in the eighth round, his troubles didn't end with his next stop.
He allowed six runs (four earned) in just 3.1 innings in the Arizona Rookie League before heading to short-season Vancouver in a relief role. Hassebrock's struggles continued in the Northwest League where he posted a 5.12 ERA over 19.3 innings. Opposing batters hit .333 against him last summer.
"I didn't have the best season and wasn't mentally in a good place, as far as being calm, relaxed and focused out there," Hassebrock said.
"I definitely had an overhaul when it comes to my mindset. Up in Vancouver I was battling against myself.
"The biggest thing about this off-season was grounding myself again and getting back to my work ethic. I got my mind to a relaxed place with no pressure. That's what I try to take out on the mound every day."
That has included changing the way he approaches the off-field aspects of the game, too.
"This is the first time that I can remember where I've had free time to do my own thing," he said.
"I followed the A's program totally, but it was also getting on a good diet and working out all the time. I started pilates exercises and doing yoga. I started drinking egg whites. It's hard to get enough calories with the schedule that we have."
In anticipation of his rise through the A's minor league system, Hassebrock is continuing to refine his arsenal of pitches. He features a four-seam fastball that has hit 97 MPH on the gun, in addition to a slider and change-up that continues to improve.
"The biggest thing with the change-up is when hitters get into advantageous counts, if you have one you can throw over the plate the hitter can't sit on the fastball," he said. "That will be huge in the future to get outs."
And that's the last thing opposing hitters in the Midwest League want to deal with – another bullet in Hassebrock's arsenal.