The biggest question surrounding Alen Hanson’s future is whether he can stick at shortstop for the long-term. He has all of the tools to be a shortstop in the majors, but is still a little raw at the position. There are questions about his arm strength, although it seems good enough to stay on the left side of the infield. He also has issues with his glove work, which led to a lot of errors last year, and led to some instruction with the coaching staff this Spring.
Last year Hanson had 40 errors in 103 games. You can’t always judge a fielder by his minor league errors. The field conditions in the minors aren’t always great, and can lead to some really difficult plays. You also have players who have more raw talent, but are prone to mistakes. Some of Hanson’s errors might be attributed to poor conditions, but for the most part he’s raw on defense. So far this year he’s off to a bad start, with five errors in six games.
So far this season I’ve had a chance to see the good and the bad with Hanson’s defense. Last Friday he made two really nice plays, showing off his skills at the position. The first play came in the first inning when he robbed Miguel Sano of a single for the third out. Sano hit a roller past Eric Avila at third. Hanson ranged deep into the hole to his right, backhanding the ball behind Avila on the edge of the outfield grass, and making a strong throw to first to get Sano. You could definitely see that he doesn’t have plus arm strength, but the throw was accurate, and he had enough strength to get the ball across the diamond with enough time for the out. He also displayed his range, which is definitely good enough to stick at short.
The next play came in the third inning. Hanson charged in on a slow roller past the mound. He scooped up the ball and had trouble getting it out of his glove, doing a double clutch. He still got the out at first, making a difficult play look easy.
I also had a chance to see the bad version of Hanson’s defense two nights later. That’s when he stepped up to a routine grounder, went to scoop it up and throw it quickly, and ended up booting the ball, with the ball rolling up and hitting him in the chest. He still tried to make the play and threw wild of first base. The runner didn’t advance, so it was only ruled a fielding error, but there was a good chance that the play could have resulted in two errors had there not been someone backing up the throw.
Hanson got some work with minor league infield coordinator Gary Green at the end of Spring Training. Green’s program is very similar to the program used by former Pirates infield coach Perry Hill. The focus is on sound fielding mechanics where a player will set up and funnel the ball to their chest, which puts them in position to make an accurate throw each time.
So far Hanson only has one throwing error and four fielding errors. The fielding error I saw was that routine ground ball, where he failed to make the scoop. He was set up in a way where he could try to funnel the ball to his chest, but he seemed to rush through the play, and the result was that be booted the grounder.
You can’t bring up the topic of lower level errors from a shortstop without mentioning Derek Jeter. At the age of 19, Jeter had 56 errors in 126 games in the South Atlantic League. Hanson had 40 in 103 in the same league at the same age. Jeter did show improvements after that, with only 25 errors in 138 games between three levels the following season. Hanley Ramirez is another shortstop who had a high error count in the lower levels. He had 36 in 102 games in the SAL at age 19, then 22 in 98 games between high-A and Double-A the following year. Of course, Ramirez has never been known for strong defense at short, and still had error problems moving up the levels of the minors and into the majors.
Hanson’s tools at short are definitely visible. He’s got the arm strength to stick at the position, although it’s definitely not a plus arm. He’s got good range, and can make some tough plays. But he also makes a lot of mistakes, and sometimes they come on routine plays. He’ll get every chance to stick at shortstop, as the Pirates don’t have a lot of options to push him off the position. With his bat providing a lot of value at short, he’s not going to need plus defense to have a strong overall value. He is going to have to show improvements, and that will be a big thing to watch this season.