Alen Hanson is off to a great start in West Virginia. The 19 year old shortstop is currently hitting for a .400/.450/.800 line in 55 at-bats on the young season, after making the aggressive jump from the Gulf Coast League in 2011 to full season A-ball in 2012.
Heading in to Thursday’s game action, Hanson is tied for the South Atlantic League lead in home runs (4), and leads the league in hits (22) and total bases (44). He ranks in the top five in doubles (6, T-2nd), triples (2, T-4th), average (.400, T-4th), slugging percentage (.800, 3rd), and OPS (1.250, 3rd). He currently is riding a nine game hitting streak, and has at least one extra base hit in each of his last six games.
The hot start to the season, combined with his age and aggressive promotion, makes Hanson a potential breakout prospect. He was rated the 37th best prospect in the system in the 2012 Prospect Guide, mostly due to questions about whether he can remain at shortstop, and questions about his second half hitting — he had a .600 OPS in the final month and a half of the GCL season, after starting off with a 1.300 OPS in the first month.
Hanson won’t keep this pace up throughout the entire season, but if he continues to hit well, he could easily move in to the top 15 prospects list in next year’s Prospect Guide, and might even have a shot at cracking the top ten. That said, I wanted to get some outside perspective on Hanson’s hot start, seeking the opinion of people who cover prospects, but don’t cover the Pirates exclusively. I asked four prospect writers for their opinion on Hanson’s hot start, and what it means for his future outlook.
Jim Callis, Baseball America
Editor’s Note: I sent Jim an e-mail right after he answered another question about Hanson. He sent the following answer, which originally appeared in his latest Ask BA column.
Hanson earned “Helium Watch” kudos in the inaugural 2012 edition of the Prospect Hot Sheet, and he’s hitting .404/.451/.809 with four homers and four steals in 11 games. He obviously won’t keep that pace up all year, but he’s a legitimate prospect and a terrific breakout candidate.
Hanson, 19, is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 152 pounds, but he’s an athletic switch-hitter with plus speed and precocious feel at the plate. He projects as a player who will hit for average with some pop and plenty of stolen bases. The biggest knock on him is his fringy arm strength, which may necessitate a move from shortstop to second base, though he should have enough bat for either position.
Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
Hanson is a talent hitter, but he’s also going to have to hit his way to the big leagues. He’s a little guy, but he makes consistently hard contact and can drive the ball, and he also has a decent approach and runs well. The issue is the defense. He’s not going to be a shortstop in the end, and he needs to improve his fundamentals at second base. Even as a second baseman, he has to keep on hitting to profile as an every day player, because there’s no such thing as a backup second baseman.
Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com
I’m always one to remind people to be cautious in drawing too many conclusions after just 11 South Atlantic League games, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how Hanson has started, especially given his age and how he’s making the leap from the GCL (with a very brief stop in State College) to full-season ball. He’s ranked No. 16 on MLB.com’s Top 20 Pirates prospect list and it’s going to be clear pretty soon that he’ll need to move up if this continues. One thing that’s interesting especially so far has been his power production. I wrote in his capsule that he’ll need to add strength as he gets to higher levels and I have to wonder if he’s already on his way. Still a long way to go, but it’s an encouraging start. If he can stick at shortstop, it’s an even better development for the Pirates.
John Sickels, MinorLeagueBall.com
I see two caution flags. He’s striking out once a game, a lot more than in the past. There are also questions about his defense at short and he may wind up at second base.
Overall he is a highly intriguing prospect and it will be very interesting to see if he can remain anywhere close to this hot as the season progresses.