Prospect Notebook: Alen Hanson’s Future Opportunity in the Majors


In yesterday’s meeting with the media, Neal Huntington talked about Alen Hanson and the chances he has of coming up to Pittsburgh.

“Part of it is opportunity, and part of it is continued refinement of his skills and his tool package,” Huntington said. “I know the Indianapolis club missed him when he was out with the injury. He’s come right back in and has been dynamic offensively, and he is learning second base and continuing to get better there. He’s a threat on the base path, as well. He is making great progress. Consistency will be a key for him; he has the ability to work through some struggles and stay hot when he is hot.”

You have to wonder if the opportunity part of that might have changed with the recent injury to Josh Harrison. The Pirates placed him on the 15-day disabled list today with a left thumb injury. They can replace Harrison by giving regular playing time to Jung-ho Kang at third base and Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Mercer has been hitting well lately, so that shouldn’t hurt them much with the loss of Harrison. However, this loss does hurt their chance to be flexible and give days off when needed.

I’m not sure if Alen Hanson could help in that regard. He can play shortstop in a pinch, but has looked much better and more consistent at second base this year. I doubt the Pirates would trust him at shortstop. Therefore, he could give Neil Walker a break at second, but wouldn’t provide help at third or shortstop. I think the real opportunity for Hanson would come with an injury to Neil Walker, especially with Harrison out. That would make Hanson the everyday guy at the position. Without that injury, he looks to be a guy who is doing well in Triple-A, but is blocked from making the jump to the majors in the short-term.

Don’t Expect an Aggressive Push For Bell

Josh Bell has been hitting the ball well in Altoona, including an increase in power lately. Despite that, don’t expect the Pirates to get aggressive and rush him up to try and fill the short-term need at first base in Pittsburgh.

“You never want to make a call on September call ups in July,” Huntington said. “Josh is making great progress. There are a few more home runs which will make some people in this group happy. He’ll continue to work on driving the baseball and getting good at bats as well as continue to learn defensively at first base. He is making good progress. The next step would be Triple-A, and when and how does that happen is the next question for us.”

As Sean McCool wrote a few weeks ago, the jump to Indianapolis would be warranted from the hitting side, but the defense has been a big focus for him, and remains a big focus in Altoona. Moving him up might give his bat a new challenge, but that might not be a good thing with the defense currently challenging him.

“He is making quality progress [at first base],” Huntington said. “When you take a guy that has played almost his whole life very far from the baseball, and you put him much closer to the baseball at a high level, it is unsettling for some guys, and Josh dealt with that. There are some games when Josh shows that he needs a lot more work, and there are other games where he shows that he’s made great progress. It’s just a matter of experience and repetition at first base, and he is getting that now.”

Don’t be surprised if Bell stays at a lower level a bit longer while he works on the defense. The Pirates have no plans to call him up this year, and he probably wouldn’t be up anyway in the first half of 2016. They could keep him in Altoona all year, and it probably wouldn’t impact his timeline to the majors.

Strong Defense From the Minor League Catchers

The Pirates stress defense at the catching position, and that is clear through their prospects at each level. Elias Diaz has shown some of the best defense in the system in Triple-A, and is still looking to regain his offensive consistency from last year. Reese McGuire is the best defensive catcher in the system, and one of the best in the game, although he’s dealt with some offensive struggles in Bradenton this year. The Pirates have also seen Jacob Stallings emerge as a potential future MLB backup, with continued strong defense and much better hitting this year. Huntington offered a lot of praise for his minor league catchers at the top three levels.

“We have some guys that are continuing to do some great things defensively,” Huntington said. “Elias Diaz is progressing in game calling, blocks, throws, energy, and leadership. Jacob [Stallings] has done the same in Double-A as had Valle. Reese McGuire is learning. He is in his second full season as a catcher, and we sometimes forget how taxing that can be. He continues to make progress. We have a handful of guys who can really catch a throw as well as handle the bat.”

Great Start For Ke’Bryan Hayes

The Pirates took prep hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes in the compensation round of the 2015 draft, and sent the third baseman to the GCL. He’s off to a great start so far, reaching base safely in his first seven games, and going 10-for-22 in his pro debut. He has also shown some smooth fielding skills and a strong arm at third base, living up to his defensive hype on draft day.

“It’s always better to get off to a good start, and we wish all of our guys would get off to a good start,” Huntington said on Hayes. “Some of our guys are going to go through adversity early, and they will learn how to deal with it and cope with it. The game is relentless and never let’s up. There is another game tomorrow. It’s a good experience, but in Ke’Bryan’s case, getting off to a good start is helpful. He’s shown up and played with energy and done the things we’ve like of him out of the draft. Our goal is to have that for many years to come”

I’ll have more on Hayes in tonight’s Prospect Watch.

  • Something tells me Hayes is going to fly through the minors.

  • If Bucs could figure out how to get Hanson ABs, I’d be for that, but not going to happen w/o Walker going down.

    As for leadoff, Polanco has to figure things out right now. Maybe there was a glimmer tonight with a nice bat control bloop single into right and a decently hit fly out to left. No rolling over into weak grounders to right side.

    Ish looked like ish at the plate tonight. Like a left-handed Corey Hart, actually.

    Hard to believe Pedro only has two walkoff hits in his career and that the last one before tonight was in 2010.

    • bucs: The last sentence in the second paragraph speaks volumes. Why a hitting coach or manager does not tell the kid to get back off the plate slightly and start to hit through the ball straight out to the LC/RC gaps is beyond me. Concentrate on making good contact first.

      Ish and Bowker at 1B? Prior to that it was Hunter Morris and Brent Morel?

  • Has this Pirates’ front office ever debuted a top 10 prospect because of injury? There is only the last 3-4 seasons to draw from, but the Pirates seem pretty deliberate in their time frames and not influenced by injuries.

  • Isn’t it amazing the article talked about catching in the minors albeit defense and not a mention of Tony Sanchez. Wow how this changed.

    • Well, when you go 13-112 throwing out runners and make 17 errors in 107 games you probably won’t get a mention other than “Why are you still at catcher?” Hope springs eternal and it had looked like Sanchez had figured things out with his throwing but it is all done now. Sadly, he is worse than he has ever been. I hoped he would at least hit and while his peripherals aren’t bad his power has declined…the only thing that has kept him from being considered a total bust is that he has hit pretty good for a C in the majors and somehow thrown better there too.

  • Walker to 3rd and Hanson up to play 2nd if Kang can’t handle playing every day or Polanco can’t hold up in lead off position?

    • I agree on Polanco but Walker just can’t move to 3rd out of nowhere. He’d need time to prepare. He hasn’t been there for years. Also, Kang has never gotten the chance to play everyday so how do you know he can’t handle it? They brought him in to eventually be a starter

      • He’s been a slightly better overall hitter per wRC+ than Harrison to this point, so he only sample size to date shows he can likely handle starting without being a large drop off.

      • Scott Kliesen
        July 7, 2015 6:08 am

        Yeah, I think you’re right. In retrospect, I think I was just talking out my arse.

    • I actually think moving Walker to Third makes a heck of a lot more sense than moving him to 1st since he played there and played WELL there all the way up through AAA. It would give you Kang, Hanson, and Walker to play 2 spots, and return some flexibility to the roster.

    • I would rather see Walker move to the other corner

      Given a choice between keeping Walker, or keeping Pedro… Walker is a no brainer

      • Keep Pedro right? He higher upside. Probably cheaper. Less injury prone. His defense will only get better. Since this is literally 81 game at 1st.

  • May be too late. My concern is bad things happen in 3’s.

  • I’m not a big fan of bugs, ecspecially the injury bug. Time to fumigate the clubhouse before it spreads.