Max Moroff vs Alen Hanson.
It’s a debate that has already started, as you’d expect from a situation where there is a long-term need at a position, and two prospects in the upper levels who could fill the spot.
In one corner, you’ve got Hanson. He’s been on the prospect radar for a much longer period of time. He’s a level higher than Moroff, and the higher rated prospect, although he’s coming off a year where his performance wasn’t great, and his value slipped a bit. In a prospect world where “What have you done for me lately?” is one of the only things people consider, Hanson has done enough to open the door for the debate.
Then there’s Moroff. A year ago, the Pirates could have traded him and no one would have noticed. I actually had to explain why he was getting playing time in Altoona at the start of this season. Then he breaks out with a .783 OPS in Altoona, and suddenly he’s the shiny new toy with zero flaws.
But we rated Moroff behind Hanson in our rankings. And another thing about prospect rankings is that hyperbole rules all. Rankings create a sense of competition, and putting one guy ahead of another guy means the better ranked prospect wins, and the lower ranked prospect loses. You aren’t giving credit to a guy unless you say he’s the best prospect. Putting Hanson above Moroff is seen as a knock against Moroff, rather than labeling both of them good players, with one more valuable than the other.
A focus on recent performance only. A shiny new toy. A clear line between two players, while ignoring the reports that both are good prospects. This is how we get the Hanson vs Moroff debate.
To be honest, it’s a debate worth having. It’s what you do when evaluating prospects. But there’s a reason we picked Hanson as the better prospect, even though Moroff is the flavor of the month right now.
For one, the recent performance needs some perspective. In this case, it’s age. Moroff had a .783 OPS, while Hanson had a .701 OPS. But Hanson had his numbers at a higher level. Hanson went through Altoona a year younger than Moroff. He posted a .768 OPS during that stretch, which isn’t far off the numbers that Moroff had this year.
Hanson was also better in Bradenton and West Virginia. Moroff hadn’t broken out yet, as things didn’t click for him yet. So the past numbers don’t carry as big of a weight, except that Hanson has a better track record. Hanson is coming off a down year after posting good numbers at every other level. The idea that he won’t post good numbers going forward, even though the hitting tools are still there, is wrong. Meanwhile, Moroff has a largely inconsistent track record, but finally put together a strong year after some key adjustments. But will those stick?
In 2014 we saw Elias Diaz have a breakout season in Altoona, after putting up inconsistent numbers at every other level. The numbers from Diaz in Altoona were better than the numbers Moroff put up. He also had a strong second half in Bradenton the year before, leading to some pretty good overall results. And yet this year he had a .711 OPS in Indianapolis during his first run through Triple-A. That’s slightly higher than Hanson’s performance, and raised the same doubts about Diaz and his future.
My question is this: what makes Moroff a guarantee that he will avoid the struggles Hanson and Diaz saw in their jumps to Triple-A?
There was a bit of a crack in the armor for Hanson, but I’m not assuming he’s done just because he didn’t tear it up in Triple-A at the age of 22. Likewise, I’m not assuming the road ahead for Moroff will be without any bumps or delays, just because he looked great this year in Altoona. The “What have you done lately?” approach punishes Hanson for being at a higher level, and assumes Moroff will succeed with the same jump that others have struggled with.
I don’t want to say it’s a bad thing that Hanson and Diaz struggled a bit this year. It won’t be a bad thing if Moroff struggles in the same way in 2016. It’s just when you take all of this into consideration, the recent performance of both players becomes less of a driving factor in the comparison.
The bigger factor would be the comparison of the tools. Hanson at least edges out Moroff in all of the five tool categories, and outright beats him in some categories.
Speed would be one of those areas where Hanson has the outright win.
I’d give a big edge to Hanson on defense. I felt he could play shortstop if it wasn’t for the inconsistencies that he had with routine plays. It was a frustrating experience where you’d see him make an amazing play deep in the hole, showing off his range, and showing the arm strength needed to stick at the position. Then, on the very next play, he’d boot a routine grounder, or make a weak throw that would miss the first baseman. There was no obvious solution for this, although the problems seemed to disappear in his move to second base. Now you’ve got a guy who should be playing shortstop providing strong defense at second. Moroff was also a shortstop at first, but never looked like a guy who could stick at the position as a starter. He’s improving his defense at second base, but Hanson beats him in range, edges him out in arm strength (another tool comparison), and has a better overall feel for the position.
Both guys can hit for power, and neither are going to be great power hitters. I’d give Hanson the edge here, since his results have been much better, especially with over-the-fence power. Moroff looks more limited to gap power, which isn’t a big problem, but doesn’t give him the advantage over Hanson.
The hit tool is complicated. Hanson is an excellent hitter from the left side, but struggles from the right side. Moroff really improved this year, but how much of those improvements will stick? He also did better from the right side against left-handers, which has been the case throughout his career.
The comparison of tools is why I personally don’t make it very deep in the Hanson vs Moroff debate. Early in the season, before Moroff was on the radar as a breakout guy and just starting his breakout campaign, I got a David Eckstein comp from a long-time American League scout. That seems like a good comparison for a ceiling. A guy who won’t be a flashy starting option, but won’t be a bad one either. He doesn’t impress in any one area with his game, but does everything well enough to be a guy who grows on you.
As for Hanson, he’s a guy who also does everything well enough, but also has some tools that really stand out. He’s a guy who could be a flashy starting option. He won’t be a star at his position, but he could become an above-average regular due to his skills.
But let’s go back to that last tool comparison, because that’s where I really focus on Moroff and Hanson together. Hanson has a track record of struggling against left-handers, which is his biggest flaw now that his defensive issues are resolved. Moroff has a history of being better against left-handers.
So rather than debating Hanson vs Moroff, why not discuss Hanson and Moroff? After all, who says the future starting position can only be filled by one of these players? Hanson could be the primary starter, and Moroff could spell him against left-handers. When Hanson is starting, Moroff could fill in at other infield spots off the bench, or as a pinch hitter. Moroff started learning third base last year, and got some time at shortstop. I’d expect him to do the same thing in 2016, getting prepared to break into the majors in a utility role.
Having a future platoon of Hanson and Moroff seems to be combining the best of both players. You remove Hanson’s biggest weakness, and Moroff’s skills become more valuable off the bench in a smaller role, rather than expecting those skills to play up as a regular starter (not unlike how Josh Harrison has more value to the Pirates as a super utility guy than a starter). If both players continue their current paths, with the same strengths and weaknesses, then a platoon would be the best route to take in this situation.
**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #17 – Max Moroff. We will be rolling out a player per day for the top 20 countdown. If you buy your copy of the Prospect Guide, you’ll get all of the reports, along with our grades, and the reports of the 21-50 prospects and every other player in the system. It’s the most information you can find on the Pirates’ system, and the cheapest price you can find for a prospect book this time of year, especially with the Top Prospect and Annual discounts.
**Pirates Sign RHP Trey Haley, Release Guido Knudson. Another day. Another hard throwing right-handed relief option signed. The Pirates almost have enough of those guys to fill two bullpens.