Winter Leagues: Alen Hanson Capitalizes on Recent Playing Time Off Bench

In the Dominican on Wednesday night, Alen Hanson wasn’t in the starting lineup for the fourth straight game, but he could see some more action soon. Hanson came in during the second inning after starting second baseman Jose Ramirez suffered a leg injury on a takeout slide, which required him to be carried off the field on a stretcher. The reports were that he is day-to-day, though I’m sure they will be cautious with him. Hanson ended up going 2-for-3 with two singles to raise his average to .284 through 67 at-bats. He also had two hits off the bench on Saturday.

Between struggling at the plate early and Ramirez having three years of Major League experience, Hanson has been on the bench a lot recently. He should see extra playing time now and if he can continue to raise his average, he could remain in the lineup elsewhere in the infield once Ramirez returns.

Willy Garcia went 0-for-1 with a sacrifice fly before leaving for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Garcia is hitting .159 through 16 games and has just one extra-base hit, a double. He also committed his third error.

Gustavo Nunez had another tough November day, going 0-for-3 with a walk, two strikeouts and his sixth error. He is 1-for-21 at the plate this month.

In Venezuela, Elias Diaz went 1-for-3 with a walk. He is hitting .250 through his first six games.

Jose Osuna went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He is now hitting .339/.388/.458 in 33 games. Osuna started the game in left field, before moving to first base in the eighth. When he made that move, Junior Sosa came in to play left field for the last two innings. Sosa didn’t get a chance to bat.

Elvis Escobar hasn’t had many chances to bat recently. He has been used off the bench late in games for the last month, usually pinch-running or as a defensive replacement. Since October 14th, he has batted twice prior to Wednesday. Thanks to an early one-sided game, he got a chance to enter the game earlier last night and he made the most of his chance. Escobar went 2-for-2, with a double, run scored and an RBI. He committed his second error, but also picked up an outfield assist. In 13 games this winter, he is 3-for-9 with a walk and two stolen bases.

Jhondaniel Medina threw a perfect ninth inning, needing just six pitches to retire the side. He has given up one earned run in seven innings, but hasn’t seen much mound time due to seven walks allowed.

A.J. Morris threw two no-hit innings, issuing a walk and picking up a strikeout to go along with three ground ball outs. He picked up the win and dropped his ERA to 3.27 through 22 innings.

Gorkys Hernandez went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Julio Vivas has been shutdown by the Pirates this winter. He was ineffective for Aguilas de Zulia in 11 appearances, posting a 6.10 ERA. His team wanted to send him to the Parallel League, which is their version of the minors, but the Pirates requested that he be shutdown instead of being demoted.

In Mexico, Carlos Munoz went 1-for-2 with two walks, a double, an RBI and a run scored. Yesterday, he hit his fourth homer of the winter, which can be seen below.

  • He’s got a little John Kruk in him. Munoz with that fast and violent front foot pivot on the HR swing. Second video of that I have seen. Someone can probably shoot this down but it looks unique to me. It pivots around so flat and quick. He has a quick whip of a swing and he really is only slightly more overweight than Pedro. If he goes home after the season and works out and drops another 10-15 no one is going to complain about his conditioning in 2016.

    • If he stays in shape, no one will complain about his conditioning. Seems like such a simple concept, but he was signed in 2011 and it’s been a problem every year. This is the best we have seen/heard, but the Pirates have basically been monitoring him daily this off-season and they have a program designed for him to stay in shape, lose weight and become more athletic. They are putting in overtime work with him because the bat has a chance to be special. If it works, they could have a legit top prospect on their hands, but let’s remember that he is a 1B(more of a DH actually), so he’s really going to need to hit all the way through the system.

    • That swing, at least in the videos we’ve seen, is fully geared for pull power.

      You can’t drive a pitch to left field like that. Just can’t.

      • Agreed NMR…and I think the front foot is that violent tells us he is a max effort swinger right now. It will probably have to be toned down at higher levels I’d think.

        • What makes this interesting is that he basically never strikes out.

          What makes this uninteresting is that he’s doing that in Rookie Ball.

          If he can generate that kind of bat speed and still make quality contact with pitchers who are actually done with puberty then you’re talking about an actual prospect.

          I’d love to know if he’s strong to the opposite field.

          • You would think that with his patience and ability to make contact he’d be a natural opp field hitter. The homers I’ve seen he has jumped all over and pulled. Maybe someone who has seen 30-40 ab can expand on this.

            • Exactly, which is why this intrigues me. If he’s got the kind of natural bat control to do both – yoke a mistake in the lefty sweet spot 400′ out to right *and* drive an outer third pitch on a line to LF – you’re talking about someone who can make noise.

              • There definitely aren’t a lot of guys his age and experience level who do what he is doing…especially with the bb:k ratio. I made the John Kruk reference earlier because I was thinking of chubby guys with pure hitting ability and an open left-handed stance and Kruk was a similar hitter in the minors as Munoz. Kruk had already played small college ball and hit for more power but it a lot of it was in hitter’s environments. If Munoz could even come within 80% of the hitter Kruk was I think everyone would be happy. Kruk could really hit and checked out of the game as soon as he hit his 10 years. and he was still hitting and putting up big obp numbers.

  • Sorry if I missed this before, but what are the rules for the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft? Any chance Munoz gets selected during that?

    • No, they protect players on the AAA roster and then others get protected on the AA roster. For a player to be selected in the minor league portion, a team doesn’t care about them, valuing them less than the cost of a AAA pick($12,000) or AA($4,000). A player like Munoz would have to be selected in the Major League portion for another team to get him and unlike the minor league draft where the players can be assigned anywhere, he would have to stick in the majors.

      • Thanks!

        • It would be horrible for both Munoz & the Pirates if he was selected in the MLB portion. He would be sitting on the bench, having his skills erode and probably getting out of shape. He is such an intriguing prospect but he needs to at least see a full season of A ball and excelling before you’d think he would seriously be on someone’s radar. I am thinking he will blow through low A in 2016 and then hopefully be very good at high A too then maybe be headed to the Arizona. You would think Low A will not be too much of a challenge for him at his age and what he has shown this year.

          • It shouldn’t be a challenge for him from the hitting standpoint. He should have no trouble with A-ball pitching at either level. The real thing they need to find out is if he can hold up through a full minor league schedule.

            He’s had a lot of trouble in that regard with teams that have easier schedules, much easier travel and all the meals catered by the team. There were no long road trips(nothing overnight) during his first four years of pro ball and half of this year down in Extended Spring Training. He needs to show he could last a full season and not get in even worse shape on a per diem on the road for half a season.

            I think he puts up big numbers the first half of the year in 2016 and they won’t mean anything if he starts wearing down the second half like usual. For that reason, I’d leave him at the same level all year(at least mid-August) regardless of how good he is doing. That way you know the struggle is condition related and not due to moving up a level.

            • You can workout all you want but the only way to simulate the physical and mental grind is to play 130 plus games over five months. Next year will no doubt tell a lot about what he can do and handle.

  • Let’s dream that this will jump start Hanson and maybe it will lead to a spot on the PBC roster in the spring. Maybe a wake up call is what this dude needs.

    • I have stated in other blurbs about Hanson that this competition for PT with Ramirez will be good for him. Baseball is a tough game to master, but he has the skills & ability to help the Pirates. He has always played in leagues where he was 3 to 5 years younger than the average, and 2016 will be his age 23 season.

      He has the opportunity going into ST; what he does with it is up to him. I hope he does well because if the Pirates cannot see the need, he could be a VG add in a future trade. Coming off the 2015 season I think it was MLB that rated him as the second best AAA prospect at 2B – Perazo (Dodgers) was first.

      After being moved from 2B to SS in 2011, and suffering through 3 frustratingly pitiful years as a SS with 30+ errors a season, he was moved back to 2B last year and responded with only 9 errors in 117 games and excellent range.

      • Let’s hope he does not LAMBO!

      • It’s good to hope on Hanson but right now there’s no objective reason to think Hanson will conribute much at all. HQ pegged him as 590 OPS equivalence in 2013 and around 630 after 2014. I doubt his 2015 season moved the needle at all. There’s been a lot of helium around this kid and I’m not saying he won’t have a future in MLB but I really think the expectations based upon his body of work are not in alignment.

        We can talk about slow starts and defensive athleticism but right now he would be nothing more than a complimentary bench piece. Whether he is ever more than that remains to be seen.

        Going into 2014 Baseball America had a really high rating on him at 55 Medium. Coincidentally they had Grichuk much lower at 50 HIGH and Piscotty lower at 55 HIGH as well.

        As far as his prospect status is concerned he has been spinning wheels last 2 years. Doesn’t mean he can’t one day be a great player- but there is nothing in his body of work the last 2 years to say that’s a realistic expectation.

        • I really don’t know about the spinning wheels statement…he has stayed about the same hitting-wise while making adjustments to the two highest levels of the minors, but has been able to hold his strikeouts at the same rate if not better and greatly improve his base stealing and defense. These are major things that show he is putting in the work and improving. The thing I like most about him is he does have some pop so if he only ends up a .250-.260 hitter with not a lot of walks he may still give you close to 50 XBH per 600 AB. Throw in 20 SB speed and I think at worst you have a .675-.700 OPS Util that is a nice piece to have.

          • The equivalencies don’t support a 675-700 ops as worst case. They just don’t. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen but really no merit to arguing it is worst case.

            • Understood. But projections get blown up all the time in both directions, up and down. He’s still a young guy with some projection, and he has never been overmatched anywhere he has been. You can definitely make the argument his offense is stalling though.