Alen Hanson’s Defense Is Tough to Watch; Will It Ever Be Good?

Alen Hanson added three errors today, giving him ten on the season.
Alen Hanson added three errors today, giving him ten on the season.

I’ve written a lot this week not only on Alen Hanson’s defense, but on the defense of the entire Bradenton Marauders team. Overall the defense has been horrible in the early part of the season. The frustrating thing is that a large majority of the errors have come on routine plays. These aren’t cases where a guy ranges over and gets an error on a play that a slower guy would have missed. They’re routine plays where you can’t imagine how an error could be made, only to be shocked a few seconds later when an error was actually made.

No one’s defense on this team is more important than Hanson. His offensive upside would be a great thing to have at shortstop. He’s got the tools to stick around at the position. He probably won’t have positive value as a defender, but the extra value of his bat at shortstop could make up for that. But that’s only if he eventually shows improvements on the field.

Right now Hanson is frustrating to watch. After adding three more errors today, he now has ten errors on the season. The frustrating part isn’t the high amount of errors. It’s how the errors are taking place. He’s making the difficult plays with no problems. When it comes to the routine plays that a shortstop should make 99% of the time, he’s coming up with errors.

Today he had one slow roller where he threw weakly across the field, one hopping it to Jose Osuna at first, who couldn’t make the scoop. He had another play where a routine grounder was hit right to him. He barely had to move to field the ball. He had plenty of time to throw. Yet the throw went wide. I’ve never experienced this with a routine ground ball, but as the ball was rolling toward Hanson I was just waiting for an error. The ironic part is that Hanson made two nice plays where he fielded a fast grounder and made a quick throw to second just in time for the force out. That’s not the most difficult play a shortstop can make, but it’s far more difficult than waiting for a routine grounder and making an accurate throw to first. Yet Hanson’s problems came from the routine stuff, and he made the difficult plays look routine.

You can see where Hanson has the potential to be a good shortstop, or at least passable. You see that when he makes those difficult plays. He’s athletic, speedy, and while his arm isn’t that strong, he can make the throw from short. One downside to the arm is that he makes a lot of routine plays look much closer, since the throw takes a bit longer to get across the diamond.

Bradenton manager Frank Kremblas had the opinion that the defensive issues were mental, being carried over from other parts of the game. From my observations of Hanson, it looks like he’s getting too much time to think. The more difficult plays leave him no time at all to think. He just makes the plays. But you can almost see him slow down on the routine plays. His throw across the field, which is already not the hardest throw you’ll ever see, gets a bit slower. Today the throw that one-hopped to Osuna was a very weak throw, and it didn’t look like he put anything on it at all. He had plenty of time to make the play, but just casually tossed the ball across the infield, and it ended up short.

I would agree with Kremblas in that it’s probably a mental issue. It’s either from a lack of focus on what is important at the time (defense, rather than the previous at-bat or anything else in the game), or it’s worrying yourself into making an error. Either way, this is one of those times where it’s good to remember that Hanson is only 20 years old. He’s got time to fix these problems. I don’t expect him in the majors until mid-season 2015, which gives him two and a half years to improve his defense to passable at shortstop. The good thing is that he does have the tools to be successful. He just needs to get to a point where the tools are all that matter.

In the short-term, Hanson will be frustrating to watch. My expectations are that this year is going to be a disaster defensively, and I’d consider it a success if he was just passable at short with notable improvements by the end of his time in Bradenton. The worst part is that it might be bringing his hitting down. Hanson was hitting in Spring Training, driving the ball well just like he did last year. He’s got a .191/.224/.255 line through ten games. The good news is that he is hitting beyond that line. Today he went 0-for-4, which snapped a seven game hitting streak. He’s also had a few well struck balls that went for outs. But his results so far have been far from what he did last year at the plate. What’s worse is that he has a 29.8% strikeout rate, which is very uncommon for him. That’s a big result of having five strikeouts in the last two games.

I’ve talked with plenty of players who have been focusing heavily on their defense, and almost all of them have said that the focus has taken away from their offense. That could be the case with Hanson right now offensively. He was playing against the same talent this Spring, and I didn’t see any red flags offensively at the time. But it seems that his offense has started to slip as his defensive problems have gotten worse. And if his defensive problems are a result of carrying other parts of the game out on the field, then his offensive problems could be the same issue.

In short, this is a very young, very toolsy player who needs to add maturity. That will take some time to develop. You hope it develops quickly, or at all, since Hanson has a lot of upside if he can play short. I’m not ready to hit the panic button just yet. I am ready to endure what will be a painful season full of botched routine plays and perfect execution on tougher plays.

Today’s Notes

**Dan Gamache has struggled defensively at second, which probably shouldn’t be happening since he was a good defender at third and he’s been playing second for a year and a half. He is doing well on offense, hitting the ball to the gaps and making strong contact. After a three hit day today, he’s batting .324 on the season.

**Eric Avila added two hits today, but did not look good defensively. There were two plays where he let the ball go by him for hits. Both could have been made with a strong defensive third baseman, or even an average defender. Avila looked slow and uncoordinated. His main value is his bat, but that hasn’t shown up this year. He’s got a strong arm, which is stronger than Hanson’s. But he’s looked like a below average defender so far.

**Jose Osuna hasn’t been making hard contact this year, but that changed today. He belted his first homer of the year over the fence in left-center. He also added a single, which was well struck. Osuna also isn’t a great defender at first.

**If you’re keeping track at home, that’s all of the infield defenders who are looking below average at their positions. So you can imagine how things are going for the pitching staff. Eliecer Navarro and Jhonathan Ramos were doing a good job of keeping the ball on the ground today. However, that didn’t lead to good results. They combined for five runs, three earned, on eight hits in 6.1 innings.

**Gregory Polanco went 0-for-5, but did reach on a Fielder’s Choice, and stole second. Polanco looks a bit awkward when he’s running, which is something I’ve mentioned before. When he gets going, he’s smooth, gliding across the field. He can look awkward on short routes in the outfield, and when he’s slowing down to slide into second on a stolen base. Both should improve as his body matures.

**The Marauders are on the road tomorrow in Jupiter. Francisco Liriano and Jose Contreras will both be pitching. Liriano should go three innings and 45 pitches, while Contreras will probably go two innings. I’ll be making the trip across the state to cover the outings.

**Because of the rehab starts, Robby Rowland and Nick Kingham have each been pushed back a day. Rowland will start on Tuesday, and Kingham will start on Wednesday.

**Charlie Morton is expected to make a rehab start on Thursday. Morton last threw three innings at Pirate City in an extended Spring Training game on Friday.

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There is tremendous room for improvement in every aspect of Hanson’s game: fielding, throwing, and hitting. The scorekeeper has been especially kind to him; the charged errors do not reflect the improvement needed to play at this level.

Lee Young

As Yogi once (I think) said, the game is 90% mental and 50% physical.

Alen is still young.

Steve Zielinski

Hanson may have Steve Sax/Chuck Knoblauch disease, the position player’s version of Steve Blass Disease. We often assume that professional athletes would not have confidence problems, anxiety attacks, the yips, etc. But they do. The ‘disease’ appears baffling when compared to the immense physical gifts which these players often have. I wonder if Stetson Allie or Ryan Vogelsong or Oliver Perez suffered from this problem. Anyway, I hope that Hanson can learn to relax when he plays. With his talent, the game ought to be fun.

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