Adam Haseley spent three years playing for a top college program, leading the Phillies to predict that he would rise quickly through the minor leagues.
They were correct. Even if Andrew McCutchen’s season hadn’t ended this past week with a freak knee injury, Haseley was already in triple A and closing in on making his big-league debut only two years after getting drafted.
But if the 23-year-old center fielder was ahead of the curve, he's also behind the times.
Most modern hitters, especially the impressionable ones, are being trained to take an uppercut swing. The idea is to get underneath the ball in an attempt to hit it in the air as often as possible.
The gospel of “launch angle” is all the rage these days, like wearing high-stirrup socks in the ’80s. “Elevate and celebrate” is more than a snappy slogan on a T-shirt that new Phillies outfielder Jay Bruce was spotted wearing in the clubhouse earlier this season with the Seattle Mariners. It’s an ethos, even a movement.
Not for Haseley. He takes a level, almost downward path to the ball. It was that way in college, in the minors, and definitely on his first big-league hit, an RBI double that he slashed the other way to give the Phillies an eighth-inning lead Wednesday in San Diego. Haseley’s left-handed swing is a throwback, more Pete Rose than Rhys Hoskins.
And the Phillies aren’t about to change it, even though their devotion to launch angle is as strong as that of any team in baseball.
"I think for the most part you just let him play," said Tyler Henson, Haseley's hitting coach earlier this season at double-A Reading. "His thought process is obviously different than most people with launching the ball. But he takes pride in being able to hit the ball all over the field."
Henson is only 31 and four seasons removed from his playing career, which ended in triple A with the Phillies. He was a first-year hitting coach at short-season Williamsport in 2017, and when Haseley showed up a few weeks after being picked eighth overall out of the University of Virginia, Henson saw what all the fuss was about.
Haseley was uncommonly mature in his approach at the plate. He had a detailed pregame routine and a plan for each time he stepped into the batter’s box.
There wasn’t much that Henson wanted to change, including that swing. It might not have been what he was teaching other young hitters in the farm system, but it was ingrained in Haseley.
"The pure hitters are fading out of the game -- the Pete Roses, the Tony Gwynns, guys that can absolutely do it all," Henson said. "They could hit for power, they could move the ball around the field wherever they wanted. I think Adam's that type of guy."
Henson stopped short of calling Haseley’s swing “old school.” In spring training, Haseley described it as “handsy,” meaning that he lets his hands lead the way.
His most basic tenet when it comes to his swing: If he gets his hands out front enough at the point of contact, he’s going to hit the ball in the air. But if he allows the ball to get too deep on him, he’s most likely going to hit a weak grounder.
“I’m certainly not trying to go opposite of how baseball’s going,” Haseley said before the season. “I just think there are different ways that different players can get to the same result. It looks different than other players.”
But it also has its advantages. Haseley’s level swing enables him to better handle high-velocity fastballs that are elevated in the strike zone, an increasingly common attack plan by pitchers. It also helps him to generate backspin on ground balls and tends to produce line drives up the middle.
Mostly, though, it allows Haseley to use the whole field. He’s more likely to scorch a double to the gap in left-center than he is to turn on a homer to right field, a style that prompted one National League talent evaluator this week to compare him to Braves right fielder Nick Markakis.
And Haseley’s swing has produced good results, too. He batted .305 with a .361 on-base percentage, 17 doubles, five triples, 11 home runs, and a .795 on-base-plus-slugging percentage last season between high-A Clearwater (79 games) and Reading (39 games).
He returned to Reading this season, and, after starting out in a 2-for-24 slump, he went 39-for-129 (.302) with seven doubles, one triple, seven homers, and a .917 OPS.
Haseley’s promotion to triple A last week coincided with Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera’s arrest in conjunction with a domestic assault incident at an Atlantic City casino. Herrera was placed on administrative leave while Major League Baseball conducts an investigation, and it seemed plausible that Haseley could push for a swift call to the majors if he continued his hot hitting.
McCutchen’s injury took care of that. The Phillies didn’t want to call up Haseley so quickly but had little choice.
They have eased him into the lineup by batting him eighth, and if Bryce Harper, Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, and Jean Segura produce to their capabilities in the top half of the order, Haseley shouldn’t have to feel much pressure near the bottom.
"Expectation-wise, I think he's fine," Henson said. "He's handled it in the minor leagues really well.
“I was fortunate enough to get to watch all four at-bats [of his major-league debut], and every time they showed him on deck, he looked like there was zero nerves in him. I’m sure there was. I’m sure the heart was beating hard and everything else, but he looked like the same guy he was here in Reading. I watched his at-bats. His rhythm looked good, everything looked good. He didn’t look like he was doing too much.”
One thing that definitely won’t change: his swing.
"It's what I've always been used to," Haseley said. "It's the only way I've ever swung."
Launch angle be damned.