Drue Hackenberg grew up in a competitive family. Sports have always been a huge part of their lives, with Hackenberg and his three brothers – Christian, Brandon and Adam – all elite athletes. Their competitiveness and talent have helped them play for NCAA Power Five programs and in the professional ranks.
Christian was a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft, Brandon was a first-round pick in the 2021 MLS draft, and Adam was an 18th-round pick in the 2021 MLB draft.
Growing up in that environment has helped Hackenberg on the baseball diamond. He was a talented high school pitcher at Miller School of Albemarle (Va.) and has enhanced his skill set in his two years at Virginia Tech. As July’s draft approaches, his performance, skill set, development and potential have intrigued scouts.
“It’s an adventure with those guys every day,” Hackenberg said. “It’s uber-competitive in this household. That is where I got it from. Every day we were competing, whether it was video games or for the last steak at dinner. That environment allowed us to be as successful as we are.”
Hackenberg will follow in his brothers’ footsteps as a pro draft pick in less than a month. After watching his brothers go through the draft process, he has appreciated experiencing it first-hand. His brothers have advised him to enjoy the process and not get caught up in outside expectations.
Scouts project Hackenberg as a potential early-round pick in this year’s draft.
“It’s nuts,” Hackenberg said. “I go back to my days in high school. The difference in level of how much I have seen myself grow. It’s been nuts to see my growth from high school to now, where I’m a higher starting pitching prospect. It’s surreal, and it’s exciting. I feel it’s something that should happen, and I’m ready for it. “
Hackenberg credits 16-year MLB closer Billy Wagner, who coached Hackenberg at Miller School, for his development into a draft prospect. Wagner has still mentored Hackenberg over the last two years, advising him on his game and pro ball.
“During my senior year, we really got to work, and he gave me a solid foundation to help me do what I did in college,” Hackenberg said. “He has given me great advice and has helped me with my composure on the mound.”
Hackenberg is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a sinker, slider, changeup and fastball from a quick arm action and three-quarters arm slot.
The righty is primarily a sinker and slider pitcher. His mid-90s sinker features run and sink. It generates swings and misses and weak ground balls. His slider serves as his outpitch. It has above-average potential and regularly results in batters swinging through the offering.
Hackenberg’s changeup is a developing pitch. He has sometimes struggled with differentiating the speeds of his sinker and changeup. He found some feel for his changeup late in the season when he started throwing it more in the mid-80s. It’s a pitch that flashes potential, and he plans on working on it this offseason.
Hackenberg occasionally uses his fastball. He uses it to show a different look to hitters and will attack them high in the strike zone with his fastball.
Hackenberg has a quality pitch mix and attacks the strike zone. He is a workhorse on the mound who profiles as a starting pitcher in pro ball.
“My composure is big for me,” Hackenberg said. “That has always been a big thing for me. I’m a strike thrower, and I’m efficient. I think there’s a lot of room to improve. But my composure and maturity on the mound are my biggest strengths.”
Hackenberg served as Virginia Tech’s top starting pitcher in his two seasons. The right-handed pitcher posted a 3.30 ERA with 87 strikeouts and 19 walks allowed in 92 2/3 innings as a freshman. As a sophomore, he showed growth during the season and finished with a 5.80 ERA, 99 strikeouts and 26 walks allowed in 85 1/3 innings.
Hackenberg is eager for the next step in his career. His goal is to continue to show growth with his pitch mix and mentality as he prepares for pro ball.
“You could argue I pitched better this year than I did last year,” Hackenberg said. “I think it was statistically unlucky, I feel like. It was weird. It wasn’t the year I wanted as a whole, but there were starts in there where you could see who I am. There was a lot of adversity, but I learned a lot that will help me moving forward.”
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Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for eight years. He has interviewed 433 of the top draft prospects in that period, including four No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com, The Arizona Republic and The Dallas Morning News, have quoted his work, while he has appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.