Top 10 Hitters: Alen Hanson Continues to Hit, But Defense Could Keep Him in Altoona

Below are the top Runs Created* totals in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every hitter who had an at-bat for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, with no limitations on whether the hitter has prospect eligibility. Notes on the top ten players from the last week can be found below the chart.

*Runs Created is a stat created by Bill James used to estimate how many runs an individual contributes to his team. There are many formulas for runs created. For these purposes the basic formula is used. That formula is ((H + BB) * (1B + (2*2B) + (3*3B) + (4*HR))) / (AB + BB).

The Top Ten

1. Alen Hanson, SS – Alen Hanson has been on fire this month, with a .339/.388/.597 line in 62 at-bats, along with four homers. On the season he has a .281/.319/.453 line in 360 at-bats, with ten homers, seven triples, and 18 doubles. Despite the strong offense this year, Hanson might remain in Altoona for the remainder of the season. That’s largely due to his defense. He has the defensive skills to stick at the shortstop position, but has struggled with a lack of consistency. He usually makes difficult plays, only to struggle with a routine play, either with a wild throw to first, or by booting the play. Hanson is reaching the point where he needs to start eliminating these problems, as his bat is close to major league ready. The one flaw with his bat has been a low OBP, due to a low amount of walks. He’s done a better job in that area since the start of June. That will be a focus, but the main thing he has to work on is the defense.

2. Tony Sanchez, C – Last week, Ryan Palencer wrote about how Sanchez had a month-long struggle in June. The catcher rebounded by going 10-for-24 with four doubles, a homer, and five walks this week, taking the number two spot in the system. Sanchez is seeing the offense pick back up in July, but his defense is largely going to determine his role next year with the Pirates. At the moment, it looks like the Pirates need to re-sign Russell Martin, as Sanchez isn’t looking like a good starting candidate defensively.

3. Chase d’Arnaud, CF – D’Arnaud has moved to the outfield this year, getting a lot of time in center field now that Chris Dickerson has been traded. He had a good week offensively, going 16-for-38 with two doubles and two walks. On the season he has a .243 average and a .665 OPS. This month he has a .375 average and an .879 OPS.

4. Keon Broxton, OF – Broxton is having a very back and forth season. He had a .417 OPS in April, followed by a monster month in May, with a 1.108 OPS. In June he struggled once again, with a .370 OPS. He’s back to having a monster month in July, with a 1.109 OPS. If he can continue hitting this way, and avoid the massive slumps, he could become a candidate to be promoted to Triple-A, especially with several outfielders leaving the team lately.

5. Dan Gamache, 3B – Gamache returned to Altoona this week after missing the first three months of the season with a broken foot. He got off to a good start, with a .375 average, a 1.131 OPS, four doubles, and a homer. I saw a lot of Gamache last year when he was playing second base. The defensive results weren’t good at all, which is strange, as he was touted as a strong defensive third baseman in the 2011 draft, and the move to second is supposed to be easier. He’s back at third base now. His bat doesn’t play as well at third, as he mostly relies on doubles power (74 doubles between 2012-13). He’s going to need to hit for average and provide strong defense in order to make it as a starting third baseman in the majors.

6. JaCoby Jones, SS – Jones has been the breakout hitter in the Pirates’ system this year, with a .297/.361/.488 line in 303 at-bats. He’s currently riding a 15 game hitting streak, and has a 1.348 OPS in the month of July. The defensive reports have been mixed on him, with some saying he can stick at the shortstop position over the long-term, but noting that he shows some struggles this year. The struggles are to be expected, since he’s new to the position. If he can stick at shortstop, and not be a defensive liability, then his bat could provide a lot of value in the future.

7. Carlos Munoz, 1B – Munoz is an interesting first base prospect. He’s only 5′ 11″, but is a big guy, listed at 225 pounds. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, being limited to doubles power so far. He does get on base a lot, with 16 walks in 18 games this year, compared to just six strikeouts. He has a .452 OBP this season, and had a .456 OBP in the DSL last year. He’s also shown a good glove at first, making several good picks on poor throws this year. Despite his size, he moves well. If he can add some power to his game as he gets older, he could be a very interesting first base prospect to follow.

8. Gift Ngoepe, 2B – Ngoepe is the best defensive shortstop in the system, but has been playing second base this year while Alen Hanson plays short. Ngoepe’s bat isn’t good enough to be a starter, with a .236 average and a .699 OPS in Double-A. He also strikes out about a third of the time. He’s doing well this month, with a .293 average and an .843 OPS. Ngoepe could be a strong defensive backup in the majors, but he’s going to have to hit enough to not be a total liability at the plate in the process.

9. Kevin Ross, 1B – The Pirates drafted Ross as a shortstop in 2012, but he quickly moved to first base due to his size. He’s hitting for average this year, and showing some power. He currently has a nine game hitting streak, and doubles in three of his last four games. The downside is that he hasn’t drawn a walk yet in 18 games, which is something he needs to improve to continue having success at the plate.

10. Nick Buckner, OF – Buckner was an over-slot prep outfielder in the middle rounds last year, and has some promise due to his raw power and strong arm in right field. The power hasn’t shown up yet, and Buckner strikes out too much at the moment. He is starting to hit lately, finishing last week with three straight three-hit games. He has 16 strikeouts in 39 at-bats over his last ten games (41%), and that’s something that needs to see drastic improvements if he wants to move beyond short-season ball. Buckner reminds me of Wes Freeman a few years ago. He’s got a lot of raw power and a great arm, but he’s extremely raw at the plate. Freeman never got past that, and barely made it out of short-season ball.

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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  • Lee Young

    I still remember the excitement when Wes Freeman had that one good year.

    • deacs

      Oh yeah. I remember him. Where would Jones play if he can’t stick at SS? Could he move to 3rd? Anyone seen him play? More than likely the Bucs will have 2nd Base covered whether it be Walker or Hanson.

      • Lee Young

        Walker’s fielding is going downhill….I don’t consider his playing 2b as having it covered. He fields everything he gets to, but his range has diminished each year.

        • deacs

          Um……..could we stick Walker at first and Hanson at 2nd? Not that Mercer is Tulo but he seems to be fielding well these days. Walker can hit 20 HR’s and .270 right? I mean, that would be pure gold at first nowadays at first. Honestly. I would love to see Bell mash his way to AAA next year and then they send him to first but that’s a couple years away.

    • leadoff

      I liked Wes, guess I missed on that one.

      • Lee Young

        so did I.

  • leadoff

    From what I have heard recently, Sanchez’s defense has greatly improved, the other day he threw out 2 runners and narrowly missed getting a 3rd.

    So if throwing is his problem, looks like he is rounding into shape. His other defense has always been good.

    • deacs

      He’s always been regarding as a good defender behind the plate with just the problems being the throwing right? I would still break the bank on Martin and have Sanchez play 2-3 times a week which could extend Martin later into his 30’s. Even with his age I think if Martin hits the free agent market he’ll command crazy dollars.

  • leadoff

    Hanson at SS and Pedro at 3rd, I am pitching with the hope that every infield batted ball goes to Walker.

    • deacs

      Yeah. I made this point last week. I don’t think they can do that. I’ve heard nothing but exciting things regarding Hanson’s offense, speed, etc. But he sounds exactly like Pedro at SS – all the ability with these numerous mental lapses. I wonder if Walker at 3rd, Pedro at 1st and Hanson at 2nd would work. That seems like a lot of moving parts though and rarely works. Almost as crazy as just sticking Harrison at First.

      • Lee Young

        Pedro’s throwing is not the result of lapses…it is a mental thing, almost a phobia.

        Of course, a phobia is mental, so there’s that….lol

      • leowalter

        Hanson isn’t exactly like Pedro though at shortstop. He has trouble fielding routine groundballs occasionally. I can’t remember seeing him have more than one or two throwing errors in his time in AA.

      • bucsws2014

        I would actually be OK with Walker at 3b, Hanson at 2b and Pedro at 1b.

      • Y2JGQ2

        i would be in favor of moving walker to third an pedro to first, harrison to 2nd until hanson is ready. I honestly think that’s the best mix, but wow that’s a lot of people playing new positions at once!

    • ElGaupo77

      Mercer to third. Put on 20 lbs. Become a 20 HR hitter with plus defense

      • Y2JGQ2

        Why would you move mercer? He’s the only guy who isn’t a liability at his position who can hit in the infiel