Interview with Travis Hafner (Gold)
by David Laurila
His production has waned in recent years, but for a handful of seasons Travis Hafner was a monster. Finally given a chance in Cleveland after languishing for six years in the Rangers system despite lusty minor league numbers, Hafner exploded onto the scene as a ready-to-bash 27-year-old. From 2004-2007, the Sykeston, North Dakota product put up an OPS run of .993, 1.003, 1.097, and .837, while averaging 32 home runs and 109 RBI. Hafner talked about his development as a hitter on the final weekend of the 2009 season.
David Laurila: Why have you been a good hitter?
Travis Hafner: I think the main thing is…first you have to be able to control the strike zone and get good pitches to hit. You have to recognize the ball early. I think that my strength helps me. It’s also being able to work hard and trying to get your mechanics as consistent as possible. But, basically you just want to go up there and get a good pitch and put a good swing on it.
DL: At what point did you become a good hitter?
TH: Probably in high A. I changed my mechanics a lot to where I started getting ready for the pitch really early. I used to have like a leg kick and would try to time the pitch, and I just changed that up to get my foot down early to where I’m able to see the ball a lot better. That year I played winter ball in Puerto Rico, where I’d take until I had a strike on me and that helped me to learn the strike zone really well. I think those were the two biggest things that have helped me as a hitter.
DL: You bio in Baseball Prospectus 2002 said, “Travis Hafner can flat out mangle a pitched baseball,” and in 2003 it said, “Now that he’s with a new organization that’s likely to give him a chance, he should be able to do great things.” That was high praise for a mostly undervalued minor leaguer.
TH: If I see a kid in Double-A or Triple-A, I think that I have a pretty good read on whether he has a chance to be a pretty good hitter in the big leagues. That was probably a similar situation there, where you could see a guy having success in the minor leagues and you were kind of projecting it out to how it might translate at the big league level.
DL: Were you ready to hit in the big leagues before you were given a chance to do so?
TH: Well, I was blocked somewhat in Texas. Rafael Palmeiro was there, and we had Teixeira in the organization, and Carlos Pena was in the organization for awhile as well. So, I spent pretty much a full year at every level. I might have been ready earlier, but you just try to make the most out of the opportunity that you’re given. I definitely had enough time in the minor leagues.
DL: Is it possible that the Rangers were guilty of looking too much at what you couldn’t do, and not enough at what you do very well?
TH: In this game, players get labeled all the time, and fair or unfair it seems like once you have that label, it’s tough to shed. So, some teams may do that, but baseball is a game where things can change so much. I mean, you can be a guy with a plain, average swing, and then you get with the right coach and something clicks, and your career takes off. I mean, it would be tough to scout baseball players, I think.
DL: You play for an organization that places a lot of value on statistical analysis. What do numbers mean to you?
TH: First and foremost, you show up to the park every day to try to become a better player and your ultimate