Last week, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a switch, moving shortstop Alen Hanson over to second base. On Sunday, Neal Huntington said that Hanson was moved to second base to be Major League ready to help the team in 2015.
Hanson does have the defensive skills to be a shortstop, but needs some work at the position to add consistency. The emergence of Jordy Mercer over the last year, along with Mercer’s improved defense this year, means that the Pirates don’t have to rely on Hanson as a shortstop. They can move him to second base, hope his defense is better at the position, and fast track the bat to the majors.
“With Jordy and with Neil and with Josh, we’ve got some depth up the middle,” Huntington said. “What we wanted to do with Alen was give him some refresher course at second base and put him in a position where he could help us maybe sooner than later at second or short if we had an injury next year. He could be able to come up and play a position comfortably or come up and provide us with a spark off the bench.”
Hanson would definitely be an upgrade over the middle infield depth the Pirates currently have. Michael Martinez is their current backup in the majors, with Clint Barmes currently on the disabled list. They’ve been active on the waiver wire, picking up Dean Anna — who was recently outrighted to Triple-A — along with yesterday’s addition of Tommy Field. They like Robert Andino’s defense in Triple-A. Chase d’Arnaud was formerly a middle infield option, but it seems like the Pirates don’t see him that way anymore, as he’s been playing the outfield this year.
None of these guys are more than Triple-A depth, with the upside of being a backup to your backup middle infielder. Meanwhile, Hanson’s upside is a starter in the majors, and the potential with his bat could make him a starter at either middle infield position.
With the injury history to Neil Walker, it’s almost a certainty that Hanson would have an opportunity to join the Pirates as an injury replacement next year. The struggles from Pedro Alvarez this year, combined with Josh Harrison’s emergence, will create an interesting story line over the off-season about who to play at third base. I could see one of Walker or Harrison playing third to start the year, with the other playing second, and Alvarez playing first base. If there’s an injury to Walker or Harrison, that would open the door for Hanson to come up.
The potential long-term impact here involves Walker. He’s under control for two more seasons beyond the 2014 season. If Harrison continues to play well, and if Hanson comes up and does well in the majors next year, that would make Walker expendable. If Hanson comes up and struggles, that would create a bigger need to keep Walker around. Over the weekend I wrote about how the Pirates don’t have to rush a decision to extend Walker. I think Hanson will be a big factor in determining whether Walker is still with the Pirates beyond the 2016 season.