Steven Hajjar had high hopes for his redshirt freshman season last spring after missing his first year at Michigan. He sat out the entire 2019 season due to an ACL injury he suffered while playing in an offseason pickup basketball game.
In 2019, Hajjar, a left-handed pitcher, had to watch Michigan’s run to the College World Series from the sidelines. He hoped to play a vital role in leading Michigan back to Omaha, Nebraska, last spring. But the college baseball season ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic also limited Hajjar to just 20 innings in four starts in 2020. He thrived in the limited sample size, posting a 2.70 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 11 walks allowed.
This spring will be a critical year for Hajjar and his development. He enters the season as a potential first-round pick in the 2021 MLB draft in July.
Michigan hasn’t had a pitcher drafted in the first round since Jim Abbott in 1988. For Hajjar to snap that 33-year drought, he will have to show that he’s healthy and has the intangibles to thrive as a major-league pitcher.
“The draft is what it is,” said Hajjar, who the Milwaukee Brewers selected in the 21st round of the 2018 draft. “I am more focused on getting in my first full season with the guys. I want to pitch for a full season and win as many games as I can for Michigan. I’m trying not to think about anything beyond that.”
Hajjar throws a four-pitch mix from a high arm slot and deceptive delivery. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound left-hander throws a four-seam fastball, gyroscopic slider, changeup, and a recently-developed curveball.
He typically works off his low-90s fastball, which features some sinking action, while his slider serves as his top off-speed pitch. Besides adding weight to his frame this offseason, Hajjar also developed a true curveball.
In December, he spent over two weeks at KineticPro Performance in Tampa, Florida, working on pitch design and refining his repertoire. Hajjar developed a curveball at KineticPro Performance. He believes the pitch can serve as a better outpitch than his slider due to his arm slot.
“I think that is something I am going to use a lot this year, especially late in counts, to get some strikeouts,” Hajjar said. “I think it plays better off my fastball compared to my slider.”
This spring, Hajjar needs to show consistency with his control and command of his secondary pitches. He also will have to prove to scouts that he’s durable while maintaining his velocity late into starts and handling a starter’s workload.
Hajjar will have to refine his skills with a new pitching coach. After three years as Michigan’s pitching coach, Chris Fetter departed the Wolverines, his alma mater, to fill the same position with the Detroit Tigers.
Fetter was one of the top pitching coaches in college baseball and is the second college pitching coach in three years to jump to the major leagues. He did a tremendous job of developing pitchers at Michigan. He also helped the pitchers understand Rapsodo and Trackman reports and incorporate that information they learned into their games, Hajjar said.
In Fetter’s final two years, Michigan had three pitchers selected in the second round of the MLB draft. Lefty Tommy Henry and right-hander Karl Kauffmann were second-round picks in 2019, and righty Jeff Criswell was a second-round pick last year.
“Coach Fetter was an amazing coach,” Hajjar said. “The knowledge he brought to us was big. It’s a big loss. It looks like we have a couple of strong candidates here looking to get the job. I don’t know who we are going to hire, but hopefully whoever comes in can do just as good of a job as Coach Fetter did.”
In 2019, Michigan made an improbable run through the NCAA tournament and fell one victory short of capturing the College World Series. The Wolverines dropped the decisive Game 3 to Vanderbilt. It marked their deepest postseason run in program history.
Hajjar is a team-first player who hopes to pitch in the CWS while at Michigan. This spring, Hajjar isn’t focused on his development or personal success. Instead, he wants to remain healthy and do whatever he can to lead Michigan deep into postseason play, he said.
“I think the main goal for us is just to win every game,” Hajjar said. “Our main focus is to win for Michigan. That’s my main goal for the season. I want to take that mentality all the way to a national championship.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.