Prospect Notebook: Consistency is the Key For Alen Hanson

Alen Hanson

The key to Alen Hanson’s defense will be consistency.

Alen Hanson got off to a rough start in Bradenton this year. The shortstop was coming off a breakout year in 2012, which put him on almost every top 100 prospect list, and on a lot of top 50 lists. The Pirates had a long-term hole at shortstop to start the year, and Hanson looked like the best chance to fill that with an impact player. Yet his first ten games in Bradenton weren’t pretty.

Coming in to the year the main questions surrounding Hanson were on his defense and whether he could stick at shortstop. Those questions didn’t let up, as he recorded ten errors in his first ten games. There were also several plays that should have been errors, where Hanson got the home town scoring benefit. The defensive problems carried over to the offensive side of the game, where Hanson was hitting for a .191/.224/.255 line. There were questions about the defense, but the offense didn’t have as many questions, which made the struggles on both sides of the ball so alarming.

The Pirates gave Hanson a few days off to clear his head following a game where he had three errors and went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. The time off also coincided with the arrival of infield coordinator Gary Green to Bradenton. Green was making his normal stop in Bradenton for a week, and spent most of that week working with Hanson on his fielding mechanics.

The issue with Hanson was never that he lacked the skills to play shortstop. The issue came on routine grounders, where he wouldn’t properly funnel the ball, would drop his arm on the throw, and/or wouldn’t be as aggressive on routine plays. All of those issues led to the poor throws. While all of this was going on, Hanson was making the difficult plays, showing off his range deep in the hole, and showing the arm strength needed at short with some long throws.

The time off worked for Hanson. It definitely turned the bat around, as he was hitting for a .294/.355/.472 line in 320 at-bats since being benched. The defense also improved, with 15 errors in his next 82 games. He did go on a stretch in June where he had five errors in four games, but followed that up with just three errors in his final 29 games in Bradenton.

“He’s continued to work on the defense and the consistency of defense,” Neal Huntington said last Sunday following Hanson’s promotion to Double-A. “That’s gonna be his key going forward. He can swing the bat. He can run. He can do a lot of things on a baseball field, but defensive consistency at shortstop is going to be…his main goal or main indicator as to when he’s ready to make that next step. We felt that Alen had gotten to a point in time where he was ready to go to the next level, where the game’s a little bit faster.”

So far Hanson is off to a rough start at the plate in Altoona, although the jump from high-A to Double-A is the most difficult to make. He does have at least one hit in 9 of his 12 games in Altoona, but most of those games have just been one hit games, leading to a .208/.255/.313 line. The bat isn’t the question mark with Hanson. His hitting abilities are strong enough that he will eventually have success in the upper levels once he adjusts to that level of pitching.

The questions surrounding Hanson are on his defense, and they’re not on the skills. Hanson is very fast, and has a lot of range. He does a great job ranging to his right and making plays deep in the hole. He also does a good job charging slow grounders. His arm isn’t a plus arm, but he does have the strength to make the throw from shortstop. The problem has been consistency, and most of the issues surrounding his consistency have been more mental mistakes on routine plays, whether that’s a lack of aggression, or just relaxing the mechanics, leading to poor throws.

It’s important to remember that Hanson is only 20 years old. He’s still very young. In fact, if he would have started in the Eastern League this year, he would have been the second youngest player in the league. He was the sixth youngest player at the start of the year in the Florida State League. Hanson isn’t as safe of a prospect as someone like Jameson Taillon or Gregory Polanco, but there’s a reason he’s widely considered a top 50 prospect. He’s got great hitting abilities, and as far as the debate over his defense, I believe he can stick at shortstop over the long haul. He’s never going to be a guy who ranks near the top of the league defensively, but he won’t be a liability at the position and will provide value with his bat.

Hot Starts For the 2013 First Round Picks

Austin Meadows leads the GCL Pirates in homers, extra base hits, and total bases.

Austin Meadows leads the GCL Pirates in homers, extra base hits, and total bases.

Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire have both gotten off to strong starts in their pro careers in the Gulf Coast League. Meadows is hitting for a .315/.392/.550 line in 111 at-bats, and is showing off his power with three homers, nine doubles, and four triples. McGuire is hitting for a .328/.382/.403 line in 119 at-bats. He hasn’t shown the same power as Meadows, but his ability to make strong contact and drive the ball to all fields has been excellent. Neal Huntington talked about both picks this past week.

“McGuire and Meadows have certainly gotten off to great starts,” Huntington said. “Austin, after a rough first week or so, recently has come out of the gate swinging the bat. All the reports on [McGuire's] defense are everything that we expected. Mature. Quality throw, quality receive, quality block, quality game call. Very, very positive.”

As someone who has seen both players, I agree with both reports. Meadows came out of the gate slow, swinging at a lot of bad pitches in his first few games. He didn’t look like the strong offensive talent that was described at the time of the draft. That quickly changed, and he immediately started showing his potential. Meadows currently has 16 extra bases hits, three homers, and 61 total bases, which lead the GCL Pirates. His total bases rank in the top ten in the GCL this year, despite having 12-15 fewer games than most of the players in the league.

McGuire was hyped for his defense, and the opinions have been split on his bat. So far he has excelled defensively, throwing out 46% of base runners. His throws down to second are usually strong and accurate. His receiving abilities behind the plate are also as advertised. As for the question marks with the bat, he has been answering a lot of those questions early on.

“The reports have been that he has shown a very mature approach,” Huntington said on McGuire’s hitting. “He has used the middle of the field with authority, has been able to drive his pitch when he gets it, hasn’t tried to do too much, which for a young hitter, trying to go out and impress and justify the first-round pick, typically that happens. He hasn’t done it. It’s been a lot of fun to see.”

That has been what I’ve seen out of him. He has a good swing and makes solid contact. He drives the ball, even in plays where he’s hitting into outs. There are two ways of looking at hitting success in the GCL. One way is that it’s the lowest level of the minors. Another way is that it’s an extreme pitcher’s league due to the playing conditions and the deep parks. So there are some good things to take away from strong hitting from these guys at this level, and at the same time you have to consider that a strong line in rookie ball doesn’t translate to a strong line in the upper levels, or even A-ball.

What does translate is the approach and the tools. Meadows and McGuire both have a good approach at the plate, and both have strong hit tools, with the ability to make solid contact and drive the ball. Because they’re both advanced, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them both spend the 2014 season in West Virginia.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • BostonsCommon

    I guess you kind of answered it already, but what is a reasonable path for Meadows and McGuire? WV next year, Bradenton as 20 yr olds, Altoona and Indy as 21 year olds, and Indy and Pittsburgh as 22 year olds in 2017? Would we expect McGuire to move a little slower because he’s a catcher? There just isn’t much of a history of highly drafted prep hitters. Bell is about the only one and he lost his first year to injury. How much of an advantage do these two have, getting 200+ ABs in their draft year? Are they going to be playing in a fall or winter league somewhere?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I think best case:

      2014: West Virginia
      2015: Bradenton/Altoona
      2016: Indianapolis/MLB

      More conservative case would be 2017, with some extra time in Altoona/Indy. I don’t think McGuire will move slowly because he’s a catcher. Catchers move slowly because they need to focus on their defensive work, but that’s not as big of an issue with him. Not that he doesn’t need work. It’s just that he doesn’t need as much work as the majority of prep catchers.

  • BostonsCommon

    Yea we’ve seen the Bradenton/Altoona jump by Hanson and Polanco this year… Although Polanco is a year older at 21. Is it fair to compare prep players to international signings? If I kid has spent a couple years at the Dominican academy before jumping to the GCL, would he be any more or less advanced than American prep players that are sent there out of high school?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Hanson is 20 this year. Meadows and McGuire would be 20 in 2015 when they’re projected for High-A/Double-A.

      Keep in mind that Dominican kids sign two years earlier than high school kids. So they’re still jumping to the GCL around the same age, or younger, even with the time in the DSL.

      • BostonsCommon

        That’s kind of what I was hinting at. Does the two years most kids get at the academy compare well to the prep circuit, in terms of competition level? Will an 18 year old American prep player be more or less advanced that an 18 year old who spent 2 years at the Dominican academy? Or does it just depend on the individual players?

        Or I guess how does the DSL compare to what 16-18 years olds face in the states, either in high school or their AAU teams, or whatever team supplements their high scho season?

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          I would say an 18 year old prep pitcher is more advanced than an 18 year old Dominican player. The prep player would have been playing organized ball for years, while the Dominican player is more about raw tools and abilities.

  • CalipariFan506

    Judging by what I have read here and other places, Hanson could be a guy that your general Pittsburgh fan despises. “Yinzers” do not like guys that lack focus even slightly. I hope he matures because he will be the object of a lot of ire in Pittsburgh.