EVERETT — David Hesslink harbors no illusions about what it means to be taken in the 34th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“The last few rounds of the draft are generally used for guys who can throw 90 (miles-per-hour) and have proven nothing else in terms of stamina, off-speed pitches, control, emotional composure,” said Hesslink, the Seattle Mariners’ 34th-rounder out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month.
“In me they saw someone who was the exact opposite.”
That wasn’t all the Mariners saw. In addition to a soft-tossing southpaw with the ability to “get some outs” at the professional level, Seattle selected an MIT-educated mechanical engineer. However, rather than pursuing that path, Hesslink plans for a career in baseball either as a pitcher or in an MLB front office with his analytics acumen.
“Honestly I wish I could have majored in baseball and I made that joke all the time,” the bespectacled Hesslink said. “People asked me in freshman orientation what I wanted to major in, and I said ‘baseball,’ and they’d laugh at me and walk away. So no, the answer is no, I didn’t have any idea. Honestly I decided on mechanical engineering, as bad as it sounds, because they forced me to pick something or get fined.”
Picking a major was easier for Hesslink than picking a place to call “home.” Trent Hesslink, David’s father, is a captain in the Navy, so “home” includes more than a half-dozen states.
But in many ways, Snohomish County is as much a “home” for Hesslink as anywhere else he’s lived. His mother, Heather, is a 1991 graduate of Everett High School, and his grandmother, Beverly Gruenberg, lives in Stanwood with her husband, Duane.
The Gruenbergs are hosting Hesslink this summer and can be spotted at every home game, proudly wearing jerseys with “Hesslink” and No. 36 on their backs.
Trent and Heather met in calculus class at the University of Washington and she joined him as he advanced in his naval career. However, most of Hesslink’s extended family lives in Washington state, and he spent a month each summer in and around Snohomish County no matter where his father was stationed.
“He is literally living his childhood dream,” Heather said via email. “For Halloween when he was 5, he dressed up as a Seattle Mariners baseball player. He is grateful for the opportunity to continue his involvement in baseball, especially in an area that he considered ‘home’ growing up.”
Hesslink graduated as the valedictorian of West Hills High School in San Diego with a 4.771 grade-point average. He scored a perfect 36 on the ACT and was a National Merit Finalist.
He finished his degree at MIT with a 3.9 grade-point average and found his passion for baseball analytics during his sophomore year in a computer coding class. One homework problem involved simulating a player’s at-bats, and he began working with the instructor to develop an algorithm that simulated entire seasons.
Hesslink worked that summer for the Houston Astros and developed an algorithm that tracked speed and spin rate of minor-league pitches and developed scouting reports based on the data. Then last summer he interned with the Tampa Bay Rays and worked on an algorithm that dealt with outfield shifts.
“It was a whole new world in a lot of ways,” Hesslink said. “Part of it was seeing how math and science (relate) to baseball. I give a lot of credit to the Rays folks who are doing analytics work. It would blow your mind how smart they are. They do incredible work every day. They’re doing cutting edge stuff that would be considered cutting edge at MIT or in other industries.”
Hesslink also excelled on the baseball diamond at MIT. He was the Pitcher of the Year in the NCAA Division III NEWMAC as a freshman in 2013 when he went 7-0 with a 2.18 earned-run average. He finished his four-year career with a 24-10 record and a 3.02 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 268 1/3 innings pitched. He is the winningest pitcher in MIT history.
The Mariners noticed him while looking at MIT shortstop Austin Filiere, who went in the eighth round to the Chicago Cubs in June. Hesslink weighed offers from several other clubs to go directly into front-office work, but the Mariners promised him a chance to pitch. When the Mariners took Hesslink he became just the fourth player drafted in MIT history.
The 6-foot-2, 160-pound lefty has appeared in eight games this summer for Everett. Hesslink has fashioned an 0-1 record with a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts. He went 3 1/3 innings and allowed three hits and one run Wednesday at Spokane in his longest outing of the season.
One highlight came in Eugene when he induced an inning-ending groundout from Filiere who is playing this summer for the Emeralds.
“I think the biggest thing with him is that he knows how to pitch and his numbers in college can (show) you how effective he was,” said AquaSox pitching coach Danny Acevedo. “I think his mentality, the way that he thinks and the way he mixes pitches is big and that’s a perfect example of mentality… You don’t need to have big stuff. You don’t have to throw 97 or 98 to pitch in this game. This game is more about how you think, and preparation and how to make the hitters look bad.”
Like all late-round draft picks, Hesslink plans to see how long he can extend his playing career. But when the time comes that an organization “decides his left brain is more valuable than his left arm,” he’ll simply look to shift upstairs into a front-office role either with the Mariners or any other club.
“Hopefully down the road there’s some semblance of credibility that comes with having been a player,” Hesslink said. “It really is eye-opening to see just how pervasive an organization is. It was eye-opening last year to see how much goes into the major league operations, but it’s times six when you account for all levels of the minors.
“I really have liked everything I’ve seen in the organization so far,” Hesslink later added. “I’m hoping to have a long, successful career with the Mariners, whether it’s in the center of the field or in the stands at Safeco Field.”
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