Jameson Taillon and Alen Hanson Highlight Arizona Fall League Preview

Jameson Taillon will be heading to the AFL for extra work

Jameson Taillon will be heading to the AFL for extra work.

The Arizona Fall League schedule gets underway on Tuesday and the Pittsburgh Pirates will have seven players take part in the league, including two of their top prospects, Jameson Taillon and Alen Hanson.

The AFL is a six team league that runs through the middle of November and each team will play a 31 game schedule. The Pirates players are assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions of the East Division. Scottsdale will also have prospects from the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees.

Even with the emergence of Tyler Glasnow and steady progress of Gregory Polanco, most people still consider Jameson Taillon the top prospect in the Pirates system. Last year the Pirates didn’t send any of their top prospects to the AFL, but with right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon and shortstop Alen Hanson going this season, they have two of their top five prospects headed to the league.

Taillon began the season with Altoona and pitched well, though he wasn’t as dominating as some people expected. He had one very poor outing that really skewed his numbers, but he still finished with a 3.67 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 110.1 innings. He also posted a 1.38 GO/AO ratio, his best rate at any stop in three pro seasons. Taillon was promoted late to Indianapolis, where he made six starts and one relief appearance in the playoffs. He had a 3.89 ERA, which came with an impressive .223 BAA and 37 strikeouts in 37 innings. In the playoffs, he threw five shutout innings, pitching one-hit ball.

Tim Williams: The AFL will give Taillon the chance to increase his innings totals this year. He will be pitching as a starter, which means he should be getting anywhere from 20-30 additional innings. This year he saw an increase of 10.2 innings over his 2012 totals, which gives him plenty of room for an increase. Taillon is making the Opening Day start, so he should get seven outings. Last year the AFL starters who had seven starts had between 21 and 30 innings of work. This will give Taillon enough innings to prepare him for 2014, which is a year where he will probably spend the second half of the season in the majors.

Alen Hanson will get a chance to work on his defense in a showcase league for prospects.

Alen Hanson will get a chance to work on his defense in a showcase league for prospects.

Alen Hanson had a slightly disappointing season, though his overall stats weren’t bad. One thing to remember is that he played the season as a 20-year-old, so just the fact he was able to hold his own in AA is impressive. The numbers just weren’t up to the standard he set the previous season at West Virginia, where he posted a .909 OPS and showed a good combo of power and speed. This season, he hit .274/.329/.427 in 127 games, collecting 48 extra-base hits and stealing 30 bases.

Tim Williams: The key to Hanson’s game is going to be his defense. There are questions of whether he can stay at shortstop, or move to another position. He should get some extra work at the position in the AFL. One interesting aspect about this is that the AFL is more of a showcase league. A lot of people base their opinion of Hanson’s defense on his errors and what other people say. He actually has good defensive tools, and the errors are due to lapses in concentration on easy plays. This league will put Hanson on a national stage, giving more people the chance to see his defensive skills. It will be interesting to see the opinions on his game after the league is over.

The third best prospect among Pirates players going to the AFL is outfielder/first baseman Alex Dickerson. It should be interesting to see where he gets his playing time in the AFL. The Pirates could use a bat like his at first base, but during the regular season, he spent almost all of his time in right field after playing only first base in his first two pro seasons. Dickerson had a tough first half, then exploded after the All-Star break, hitting .326 with a .919 OPS in the last 48 games. He finished the year with 17 homers and 36 doubles.

Tim Williams: One question I have with Dickerson is whether his hitting was legit this year. Two years in a row he struggled in April and May, exploded in June and July, then faded in August. You could explain away the April/May stats by noting that he was playing at a new level each year. The problem is you can’t explain the late season fade. His time in the AFL will give him more experience against upper level pitching. If he really has adjusted to the upper levels, then his bat should play well. The AFL is also extremely hitter friendly, so Dickerson should have success with the bat. Because of that, I’ll still be skeptical if he hits, and if he doesn’t hit I’ll have more concerns about the way his 2013 season played out.

Two other players going to the AFL are repeats from last season, Tyler Waldron and Gift Ngoepe. Both missed a large chunk of the 2013 season and had disappointing overall years, so both players are trying to get back on track. It is interesting that the Pirates are sending two shortstops to Scottsdale, with Ngoepe being the better defensive player, though his bat is well behind Hanson. He hit .177 in 72 games for Altoona this year, then missed time for personal reasons. When he returned, Ngoepe went to Bradenton, where he hit .292 in 28 games to finish the season.

Tyler Waldron is exactly the type of pitcher that fits in well in the Pirates system.

Tyler Waldron is exactly the type of pitcher that fits in well in the Pirates system.

Tyler Waldron made three early season starts for Altoona, then missed half the year with a shoulder injury. When he returned, he threw a total of 17.1 innings over ten relief outings, splitting his time between Bradenton and Altoona. He will be looking to make up for lost time, so he could see extended work.

Tim Williams: I haven’t been high on Waldron, although he fits the Pirates theme of a guy who can potentially generate a lot of ground balls and have success in their system. That’s not an exciting prospect in the minors, but they’ve had success with that type of pitcher before, so I won’t rule Waldron out as a potential middle reliever in the majors. Ngoepe has the defense to be a backup in the majors, and also has plus speed. His problem is that he’s been completely overmatched at the plate in the upper levels. This will give him another chance to hit against upper level pitching. Even against high-A pitching he was striking out 30% of the time, which is a number that would prevent him from reaching the majors, even with the defense.

The final two players are two right-handed pitchers further down on the prospect charts, Zack Thornton and Matt Benedict. Thornton quietly had a strong season, splitting his time between Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis. In 75.1 innings, the 25-year-old had a .204 BAA, 2.28 GO/AO ratio and 90 strikeouts, while walking just 12 batters. His ERA at each stop went up the higher he went. Thornton was shuffled between Indianapolis and Altoona numerous times, so considering the circumstances, his stats look even better.

The 24-year-old Benedict got hit hard as a starter, so he was moved to the bullpen, where he had some success. First, the bad with Benedict. In 86.1 total innings, he had a 4.17 ERA, 48 strikeouts and .310 BAA. The good was his decent control and 1.51 GO/AO ratio, plus strong finish. In his last ten games, he had three wins, four saves and a 2.04 ERA.

Tim Williams: Thornton and Benedict are similar to Waldron. They’re not exciting prospects, but they both fit in well with the Pirates system of collecting ground ball pitchers. Thornton was acquired for Chris Resop last year, and had success in the upper levels. He could draw depth consideration next year if the Pirates need a middle reliever from Triple-A. Benedict had horrible numbers, but I’m not sure those were entirely his fault. He’s a sinker ball pitcher and Bradenton had a horrible infield defense. Not every bad play was ruled an error, which really drove up the numbers of sinkerball guys like Benedict and teammate Robby Rowland. Those two wouldn’t have been dominating with a better defense, but they also wouldn’t have horrible numbers with an improved defense behind them.

Phil Irwin was also named as a player going to the AFL, but that has changed recently. He had two strong starts for Indianapolis, with a spot start for the Pirates in between, then he missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery. He will pitch in the instructional leagues, and his off-season will be TBD after instructs.

John Dreker

Author: John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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  • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

    Thornton had a very high K rate this year, which makes him different from Benedict and Waldron, who’ve had very low K rates. He throws from a low angle and doesn’t have overpowering stuff, so it may have more to do with his delivery, but I think he’s got a much better chance of being a prospect than the other two.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

      Wilbur…you’re talking relief prospect, correct?

      • http://users.rcn.com/wtmiller/pirateprofiles.htm WTM

        yep

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 leefoo

    Tim….some of us were talking about a potential 3b replacement for Pedro, who should (will?) get traded within two years (since he is a) a Boras client and b) ‘gone’ after 3 more).
    .
    We don’t have anybody who stands out, so I was wondering about moving Hanson to 3b (and leave Mercer at SS)? His bat should play there right?
    .
    Foo

    • deacs

      Your question depresses me but I had the same one. On the bright side I wonder what Alvarez would command in a trade.

    • scrappy2499

      Does he have the arm to throw across the diamond? Wasn’t one knock against him his arm strength? Pedro has that cannon of an arm…I do think the bat would play with the better avg. he would bring and he does have some power (not Pedro’s 30 HR power). Overall, I think I could see him moving over to 2nd and with his skill set be a top 5 in all of baseball at that position.

      • smurph

        Shortstop requires a stronger arm than 3B, because you have to make those throws in the hole, moving away from first, which are longer than any throw the 3B makes.

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

      They don’t really have a 3B prospect in the system right now. Hanson wouldn’t work there.

  • leadoff

    IMO, the Pirates will have to make some deals in this offseason and a few of these players will/could be throwins, I would not bet on most of them being in the majors with the Pirates, Taillon/Polanco probably, but most of the rest of the players mentioned above have a good shot at being traded.

  • leadoff

    Gift is still very young with baseball playing experience, more than likely a couple of years behind the players he is playing with, remember he was not a little league or high school player. If he learns to hit he could be the inexpensive defensive backup to Mercer for many years to come.
    Hanson I can’t ever see in their plans, the philosophy of the Pirates is strong defense up the middle, Mercer is a good (Not Great) defensive shortstop, albeit not very flashy and Hanson is no where near as good as Mercer and the Pirates don’t seem totally satisfied with his defense.

    • John Dreker

      From what I have seen of Hanson, he has the arm to play shortstop and his range is above average. As Tim mentioned above, his defense lapses are more mental than physical and that could just be due to his age and experience. He didn’t play any shortstop in his first season in 2010 and in 2011, he spent some time at second base. He has played 269 games at shortstop in his pro career and he turns twenty-one in a couple weeks, he has time. The “problem” seems to be his bat is well ahead of his glove, so while he may hit enough to see the majors next year, he probably won’t be major league ready until mid-2015. I’d leave him at shortstop and let him mature and get his time in there

      • John Dreker

        Basically, I think they would be better off leaving him at shortstop and letting him get better because the skills are there to handle to position. Quick hands, quick feet, athletic and a good enough arm. Even if he doesn’t hit into the Pirates plans(I think he does), he would have more trade value as a serviceable shortstop that can hit well for the position. I honestly think he has the tools and ability to be above average defensively, but whether he ever develops the consistency and mindset for the position is another thing. I’ve seen him make a handful of highlight reel type plays I thought he had no chance at and also saw him boot an easy grounder and throw away a couple routine plays. The skills to play shortstop in the majors are definitely there.

  • CalipariFan506

    As long as NH and Hurdle are around I don’t see Hanson ever making it to Pittsburgh before he is traded.

    They signed Tabata to that modest extension but Hurdle has gone out of his way to not play him because of mental lapses and lack of focus. I don’t see how they’ll want their SS top have those same issues.

    IMO they’ll leave him at SS until he is eventually traded in the summer or next winter or even the following summer.

    • smurph

      As drekker said, he is still a young kid with not that much experience. I would not dismiss his potential at this point. He won’t be a ML player in 2014, but let’s see how he progresses next year.

      • John Dreker

        I will point out that in his first full season, he made 40 errors in 103 games, 430 chances. This year, after a rough first two weeks, he still cut that down to 32 errors in 127 games and 569 chances. That is 139 extra chances this year and eight less errors. He had ten errors in the first ten games this year. So really, over the last 117 games he made 22 errors. For a 20-year-old, that isn’t really that bad. Jordy Mercer made 19 in 107 games with Lynchburg in 2009 as a 22-year-old. Clint Barmes in 112 games in his 2nd year(22 yrs old) made 35 errors in 585 chances. Hanson has the range, foot/hand speed and arm to play SS. There is no doubt he needs to be better mentally, but with age comes maturity and just because Jose Tabata never came around, doesn’t mean Hanson won’t either.
        I think he spends at least a full season at Indy(140 games) after starting with Altoona next year, so I don’t see him as close, unless he shows the same kind of improvement he showed from game 11 this season until the end, over how he did in 2012 and the blip at the beginning of the year.

        • csnumber23

          Good insight John Dreker! Not sure what the posters above are thinking but Hanson is definitely in the Pirates plans. He is a top 30 overall prospect by most sources for a reason. Whether he ends up a short, 2nd or 3rd he is in the plans. I think he stays at SS unless we acquire a long term answer. Mercer is not the long term answer.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD

    “Because of that, I’ll still be skeptical if he hits, and if he doesn’t hit I’ll have more concerns about the way his 2013 season played out.”

    So, again Tim, in regards to Alex Dickerson, you apply different standards to him then you apply to other prospects. Given the quote above, it sounds like he cannot do anything to convince you – damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t kind of thing.

    Polanco did not exactly light it up in Altoona after he was promoted, and all in all, I thought his 2013 season was a bit of a drop-off compared to his 2012 season. Same for Hansen. I am not overly concerned in either case, as they both had good years despite promotions. You don’t seem to cut Dickerson any slack. in spite of the fact that he has had two very good years in a row – one at high A and one at AA. Maybe he’s just a slow starter – like Pedro Alvarez?

    Given the fact that Dickerson played most of the season on an Altoona team that was offensively challenged and there usually was not much protection behind him, I thought he had a good year. Now, I am not saying he is going to be a good MLB player, but I just don’t get why you are so negative towards the kid.

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

      Actually, I don’t. I apply the same standards with Dickerson as I do with any other first base prospect. When the emphasis is on the bat, and when so much is required from the bat, I need to see strong proof that the bat will play in the majors.

      You mention Polanco. He plays premium defense at a tough position, and is a threat on the bases. So even without the bat, he has value. He’s also good with the bat. The triple slash line didn’t show it overall (he was hot at the end with Altoona), but the overall secondary numbers were good, including his walks and strikeouts.

      Hanson plays a premium defense position, and I think he can stick there. He also has a lot of speed and is a threat on the bases. And he only got a month in Double-A, so I’m not holding that against him (just like I was willing to ignore the first two months from Dickerson). Once again, this is a guy who can provide value beyond his bat.

      Dickerson’s only value is with the bat. He’s not going to provide value defensively, or on the bases. I’m not being negative here. I’m just giving an honest opinion. With all first base prospects, I wait until I see upper level success with the bat before I believe in them. The exception would be if they show some sort of amazing skill or power, which Dickerson doesn’t. Right now I don’t think Dickerson has proven himself.

      • BuccosFanStuckinMD

        “With all first base prospects, I wait until I see upper level success with the bat before I believe in them.”

        You made a similar statement either last year or earlier this year in regards to Dickerson and AA – that was the litmus test you said (paraphrasing of course)…..or something along those lines. BTW, not that it changes the argument, but didn’t he play more RF this year than 1B at Altoona?

        I just hope he proves you wrong. Seems like a nice kid – would love to see both Lambo and Dickerson stick next year – one at 1B and the other in RF. I think Polanco will need at least another half year in AA/AAA before he’s ready. Just my opinion.

    • smurph

      Tim’s point is legitimate. You would prefer to have HR power at 1b, which probably requires the least defensive skill on the diamond. However, I do think Dickerson has a chance to be a ML first baseman. Sure he has to learn better plate discipline. But if he can hit .270 with a few (10-15) HR, and play decent defense, he could become at least a partial fix at that position in a year or two.

  • CalipariFan506

    Dickerson also had an 89/27 K/BB ratio. That isn’t promising.