The Pittsburgh Pirates called up Brent Morel today after placing Jordy Mercer on the disabled list. Mercer is expected to be out for about six weeks, and Josh Harrison could be out for another month. That leaves the Pirates thin on the left side of their infield. Sean Rodriguez is getting the start at third base tonight, with Jung-Ho Kang at shortstop.
Several people asked today why Alen Hanson didn’t get the call to be considered at shortstop. Hanson played the position up until the end of last season, but has since moved to second base, where his defense has been much more consistent. The problem there is that Hanson is blocked at second in the majors by Neil Walker, and the Pirates don’t seem to trust him at shortstop.
But that doesn’t mean that Hanson won’t factor into the mix in the future. Ryan Palencer is covering tonight’s game in Indianapolis, and reports that Hanson was taking ground balls at third base prior to the game. He is in the starting lineup at third in tonight’s game. (UPDATE: This decision is up in the air. The lineup hasn’t been released yet, and is usually out by now. This was Hanson’s first day getting reps at the position, and the decision on when to put him in could depend on that. If he doesn’t start tonight, expect Gift Ngoepe to get the start.)
I reached out to Neal Huntington, who said that the goal for Hanson this year was getting him comfortable at second, while getting him some pre-game work at shortstop to keep him fresh at the position. As for the move to third, this is directly impacted by the injuries to Harrison and Mercer.
“The added work at third base was planned as a part of his natural progression but the time frame has been altered somewhat given the two recent injuries at the major league level,” Huntington said.
Hanson played third base and left field in the DSL in 2010, but hasn’t played those positions since then, switching over to middle infield exclusively in 2011. He played 21 games at third base in 2010.
If Hanson can re-learn the position on the fly, he would be the best option to start in the majors right now. He has been hitting well in Triple-A, with a .286/.332/.421 line in 354 plate appearances. Those figures include his typical April slump, which has taken place the last three seasons. Since the start of May, he has been hitting for a .303/.346/.473 line in 270 plate appearances, while also being derailed for a few weeks with a finger injury.
Obviously there would be concerns defensively. Hanson has been doing well at second base, enough that the Pirates seem comfortable with his development and feel he would be ready for the majors if he had a spot. He struggled at shortstop in the past, although most of the struggles came on routine plays. He would show a lot of range and make some highlight reel plays, only to boot a routine grounder or drop his arm and make a weak and off-the-mark throw to first. Third base is faster, which might give Hanson less time to react and think, which might benefit him considering the history. The Pirates would have to hope for his second base consistency at the new position, rather than what he showed at shortstop.
According to Ryan, the Pirates had other guys taking reps at third and short. Gift Ngoepe was taking ground balls at third base, while Steve Lombardozzi was taking reps at shortstop. However, these aren’t new developments, as both received work at those positions in Spring Training. Hanson moving over to third base is something that just came up, and it’s no coincidence that it happened right after Jordy Mercer went down.
Ryan Palencer contributed to this story.