Eric Haase has been in the Cleveland Indians Organization since 2011 but has progressed with precision as a catcher should. Prior to 2017, he stood out as a catching prospect who could offer league average power, an offensive boon at the physically challenging position. Thanks to some offseason adjustments, Haase has made a monumental power leap. He matched his career high in home runs with two dingers to right-center, the opposite field, on Friday night.
With 17 home runs and a .632 slugging percentage, left field is a nitro zone for Haase.
The catcher is a strong but unimposing figure, with the sort of forearms that serve as power triggers. Haase discussed the root of his power spike in 2017 prior to Friday night’s game. “This offseason I got to work with HitTrax, which measures your exit velocity and launch angle,” he said. The HitTrax allowed Haase to take a more focused approach during his offseason preparation for 2017. “I focused more on the launch angle area and what mechanical adjustments to make.”
While launch angle adjustments have become en vogue over the past year with launch angle being a new baseball obsession, the difficulty of implementing these adjustments is often overlooked or simply forgotten. Haase spoke to the challenges of these adjustments: “The hardest part of the adjustment is once the mechanical adjustments are made, being able to consistently get the bat head to the baseball.” Retaining contact skills upon a changing bat path is one of the truly difficult parts of the launch angle revolution.
The catcher has increased his fly ball percentage by more than 10 percent with a similar reduction in ground balls. “Across the board I am hitting the ball higher, the balls I am missing are now on the fly ball side.” Haase altered his bat path in order to drag it through the zone for a longer period, which is most easily done with a slight upswing. The slight upswing is the anchor to increasing fly ball frequency.
Another piece of elevating the ball and improving launch angle is pitch selection, a key part of Haase’s adjustments. “I have worked with coaches here, cleaning up the strikeouts.” He noted that in previous seasons he felt that his elevated strikeout rate was partially driven by discomfort with his mechanics. With the adjustments he has made, Haase feels more comfortable at the plate which allows him to become less mechanically focused and more focused on selecting pitches in his hitting zone.
The rising prospect has raised his status by committing to an elevated launch angle and narrowing slots of pitches that he will swing at. Regarding his defense, Haase is a solid blocker receiver with a very nice arm. His defensive profile is solid, which paired with above average power would make for a super useful starting catcher or semi-regular catcher down the road. Obviously, Francisco Mejia is in the way long term but Haase’s defensive skills are significantly more polished than Mejia’s. The only roadblock for Mejia is his game-calling and receiving behind the plate.
For the Indians, Haase’s 2017 has been a boon elevating catching prospect into legitimate spec territory.