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Remembering 2012: Profile of Brandon Haveman

In this week’s edition, we re-visit the story of Revolution outfielder Brandon Haveman, who joined York after being released by the Lancaster Barnstormers last season.  This column about him ran in edition number 8 of the York Revolutionary Times in case you missed it at the ballpark.

Copy of Haveman, Brandon 30 - Copy

Haveman Making a Sizeable Contribution to Revs’ Push for Playoffs

By Ron Gardner 

OK – so York Revolution outfielder Brandon Haveman has been mistaken a couple of times for the team batboy in his career.

It’s also true that his youthful appearance combined with his 5-9, 165-pound frame led to hometown fans chanting “tee-ball, tee-ball” whenever he came up to bat when he was with the Pulaski Mariners in his first minor league season in 2009.

While Haveman may not possess the super-sized athletic build scouts and front-office types covet in a guy who earns a living playing professional baseball, his physical stature hasn’t kept him from making an oversized impact since joining the Revs on May 24.  York was sputtering along with an 8-16 record at the time, in last place in the Freedom Division and manager Andy Etchebarren was busy looking for someone who could provide a positive spark for his struggling team.

Meanwhile, across the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, Haveman (a career .292 hitter over the past three seasons playing in the Seattle Mariners minor-league system, including 16 games at the AAA level in 2011) was mostly riding the bench for the first-place Barnstormers, with a .182 batting average in 10 games played. Blessed with three highly productive starting outfielders, Lancaster manager Butch Hobson was looking to drop one of his two extra outfielders from his roster and Etchebarren was all too happy to jump at the chance to add the speedy Haveman to his squad after the Barnstormers released him.

“Butch told me that he had to get rid of an outfielder,” Etchebarren said.  “Haveman played against us one night and he hit a couple balls on the ground and I watched him run to first base.  I told Butch I need a spark plug – this guy might be the guy. If you have to get rid of a guy, I’ll take Haveman.  We weren’t playing very good when we got him (and) we started playing much better after we got him.”

Much better is a bit of an understatement.  With Haveman hitting safely in 30 of his first 34 games with York (.370 BA) and setting a team record for hits in the month of June (47), the Revs improved their record to 36-34 by the All-Star break and Haveman was named to the Freedom Division All-Star Team.  Since adding Haveman to the lineup in the leadoff spot, York has a winning percentage over .600.

But back in May, it was difficult and frustrating for Haveman to deliver consistently as a hitter when he was seeing only occasional playing time every third or fourth day with Lancaster.  Once he began getting regular playing time after coming to York, better production at the plate quickly followed.

“That’s exactly what it was,” Haveman said.  “The more (at-bats) you get, the more comfortable you feel at the plate.  Every level that I’ve played at, I’ve shown that I can hit.  When I get my ABs, I can get hit and get on base for the team.”

Drafted by Seattle in the 29th round of the 2009 amateur draft, Haveman enjoyed immediate success as an Appalachian League All-Star in his first pro season, hitting .339 at Pulaski.  After seeing action at both the AA and AAA levels the past two seasons, Haveman was caught by surprise when he was released by the Mariners on the final day of spring training this year, again due to an overabundance of outfielders needing places to play in Seattle’s farm system.  Like others players released at the very end of spring training, it took a few weeks for Haveman to find another place to play, arriving in Lancaster four games after the start of the season.  But now that he’s settled in York and playing well once again, Haveman is cautiously optimistic that he’ll be able to earn another shot with a big league organization – if not this season, hopefully a spring training invitation in 2013.

But baseball is a tough business and Haveman is also somewhat resigned to the reality that his chances of getting back into affiliated baseball would likely be a whole lot better if he was a power-hitting slugger routinely dispatching towering home runs over the Arch Nemesis at Sovereign Bank Stadium instead of line-drive singles everywhere else.

“It’s more of a size issue I think – just the way that maybe scouts and teams profile me,” Haveman said.  “They look at me, you know, I’m just a little guy.  (They say) he’s not going to hit for power.  I’ve hit four or five home runs every season that I’ve played in the minors – I’ll run into a couple balls that’ll leave the park.  That’s not my game.

“I try to stay hitting line drives and ground balls on the ground and try to get on base.  That’s my game.  I can’t see why they overlook that.  I’m a fast guy and I can play the outfield and I wish that somebody would give me a chance to show that I can do that at a high level like the Mariners did.”

Blame it on all the fantasy baseball leagues looking for guys who can pile up offensive stats or it’s simply the fact that in today’s game, big-league organizations place a premium on players who can drive the ball long and gone.

“They really do.” Haveman said.  “But if you don’t have guys who can get on base, I don’t understand what the big hit is.  That’s all you see on SportsCenter.  A lot of the game that people don’t see is people that get on base and make the catch in the outfield that saved a run or two.”

Haveman is also a bit of an oddity as a hitter style-wise.  He’s a front-foot hitter, which means he quickly shifts his body weight onto his front foot during his swing.  While Hank Aaron was an exceptional front-foot hitter who obviously could hit the ball out of any stadium, most front-foot hitters tend to slap at pitches without generating much power.  Ichiro is another well-known example of a successful front-foot hitter.  In addition to limiting a hitter’s power, many scouts are also wary that front-foot hitters have trouble “staying back,” ruining the timing of their swing when facing pitchers with good off-speed or breaking stuff.

“A lot of people don’t like front-foot hitters,” Etchebarren said.  “But Hank Aaron was a front-foot hitter and he did all right in his career.  This kid’s a front-foot hitter and I don’t think you can change that.  There have been some good front-foot hitters.  Hopefully, he’ll be one of those, but he’s not going to have power – that kind of power.”

While you might entertain the notion that it could be possible to rework Haveman’s hitting style in order to generate more power at the plate, trying to change how a player has been batting for the past 20 years runs contrary to established baseball wisdom.

“He’s fine the way he is,” Etchebarren said.  “Listen, if he ever plays in the big leagues, he’s never going to go to the big leagues as a regular player, cause that ain’t gonna happen.  He could go as a fourth or fifth outfielder because he can do a lot of things to help you off the bench.  And that’s fine, if he does that, then he’s going to make a lot of money.”

But that being said, there are still other aspects of the game that Haveman can further develop to improve his chances of being re-signed by a big-league club.  With his exceptional running speed, Etchebarren is surprised that Haveman isn’t a better bunter.

“The one thing I thought he could do that he hasn’t done very well is bunt,” Etchebarren said.  “There’s no reason why he shouldn’t bunt more and get more base hits.  He should never go into a slump with his speed.  Never.  He’s got to bunt his way on base, if that’s what he has to do.  And the other night he got two bunt base hits, that’s the first time all year he’s done that.  So, maybe he’s understanding now.”

Also enhancing that understanding is some experienced advice on the art of bunting from former Major League player Jeff Fiorentino, who signed with York as a mid-season addition on July 13.

“Ever since Fiorentino got here, we worked on it a little bit and he gave a couple pointers that nobody else has told me before and I’ve been trying it out and it’s been working,” Haveman said.  “A lot of times, I try to get out of the box too fast.  Everybody keeps saying with your speed, you don’t have to get out of the box fast, you need to put it down and you’re going to beat it out.  Sometimes I don’t realize that.”

As the season begins to wind down and the serious push for the postseason takes center stage, Etchebarren is quick to point out the simple fact that with Haveman in the lineup, the Revs win more often.  When he’s not on the field, the team just seems to play differently.

Like when Haveman left the team for six days after the All-Star Game to move his wife, Sarah, from Purdue University to the University of Dayton where she was beginning a new job as head women’s cross country coach and assistant women’s track and field coach.  York’s record while he was gone – no wins, six losses.  Think it’s just a coincidence? Etchebarren thinks not.

“We didn’t play very good those six games he was gone,” Etchebarren said.  “Since he’s been back, we’re playing much better.  Now he’s not hit like he hit before, but he just brings something to the ball club.”

And Haveman certainly appreciates knowing that his manager appreciates the effort and intangible contributions that he works hard to create.

“It’s a huge compliment,” Haveman said.  “It just shows the energy that I bring to the team.  It might be a lazy ground ball that some guys will just kind of ‘Cadillac’ to first base, I have to make them make a play.  People see that.  Our team sees that and feeds off that, and so does the crowd – that I’m hustling all the time and I’m out there playing my hardest.

“I’m not playing for everybody else to see.  I want to try to do my best at all times.  By me doing that, everybody else feeds off that.  It seems to help the team.  It just seems to relax the team.  It helps them hit, it helps pitchers pitch and just makes them feel comfortable when I’m on the field.”

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