First Pitch: Don’t Sleep on Alen Hanson or Elias Diaz

The 2016 Prospect Guide features a group we called “The Next Wave” on the cover. It’s a group of five prospects who are expected to make the jump to the majors in 2016, joining previous prospects like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco, to give the Pirates their next big boost from the farm system.

Three of those prospects are getting a lot of hype this off-season, with their debuts being highly anticipated. Those three are Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, and Josh Bell. The anticipation for the first two is largely due to their upsides, but also due to the projected Opening Day rotation in Pittsburgh. Bell’s hype comes from the need for a long-term first baseman, although that has been slightly reduced with the addition of John Jaso.

The other two prospects on the cover are Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz. The hype surrounding those two? Not as high.

It’s not like Diaz and Hanson are without their hype. Today, Hanson was named the number six second base prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Diaz was named the number six catching prospect last week. He also received the honors as the best defensive catcher in the minors by Baseball America. But these are also prospects who have shown some flaws in the minors.

One of the crazy things about covering prospects is that every prospect in the minors has flaws. If they didn’t, they’d be in the majors. Some guys can get by with those flaws. Others can’t. The deciding factor usually comes down to the numbers. And you can see this with the top prospects mentioned above.

Tyler Glasnow had a big flaw last year with his control in Triple-A. However, his stuff is so good that he was able to hide that flaw with an excellent ERA. Meanwhile, Alen Hanson and Elias Diaz both struggled at the plate in Indianapolis. Granted, they were both slightly above average in the International League. The league combined for a .689 OPS and Indianapolis had a .696 OPS. Diaz was at .711, while Hanson put up a .701 OPS. But in terms of prospect expectations, an OPS around .700 raises concerns, even if the numbers are better than league average.

The problem with scouting the numbers is that you miss what makes these guys top prospects to begin with. We’ll get into each player a bit more this week now that the top ten prospect countdown has started. But here’s a quick refresher.

The Pirates have had success focusing on strong defense behind the plate the last few years. They’ve also had some offense, with a .770 OPS from Francisco Cervelli in 2015, an .832 OPS from Russell Martin in 2014, and a .704 OPS from Martin in 2013. But the priority has been defense. This is something that Diaz can continue.

As noted above, Diaz is a strong defender. I’d rate Reese McGuire as the better overall defender, but Diaz is outstanding. If the Pirates want to continue having a strong defensive catcher behind the plate after the 2016 season, they’ve got an easy choice in turning to Diaz to take over for Cervelli (assuming Cervelli isn’t extended).

As for the offense, Diaz has always shown strong hitting skills, with a good ability for contact, strong plate patience, and gap power. His hitting profile is very similar to Cervelli’s. He had a big breakout season in 2014 in Altoona, but the numbers dipped in Triple-A. Looking beyond the OPS, his walks stayed the same, his strikeouts dropped slightly, and his power was slightly below his previous two seasons. He did have a lower BABIP, and the 2014 season was probably on the high side, but he should end up right in the middle of that area going forward. In short, Diaz is probably going to be a defensive first catcher capable of putting up an OPS of at least .700, and going much higher than that if everything is clicking.

Then there’s Hanson. He’s been getting attention from scouts since the age of 18 when he was in the GCL. He broke out the following year in West Virginia, posting a .909 OPS. His numbers since then haven’t touched that lofty total, but have still been strong. Hanson followed his West Virginia campaign by putting up a .783 OPS in Bradenton at the age of 20. By comparison, Austin Meadows had a .764 OPS at the age of 20 this season. The FSL is an extreme pitcher’s league, so these numbers are strong.

Hanson went on to post a .768 OPS in 2014 in Altoona, and a .701 OPS last year in Indianapolis. These aren’t the best numbers, but they aren’t bad either. There are some consistency problems with Hanson, including early season struggles, although that’s the big reason he’s still in the minors. He showed strong defense at second base last year, with a ton of range and speed. He also has that speed on the bases. His hitting profile projects for enough success to be a starting second baseman. He’s had a low strikeout rate his entire career, along with a decent walk rate and good power from the middle infield spot. Again, all of this comes at a very young age each step of the way.

Once the consistency problems are gone, Hanson will be a dynamic player. He can be a game changer with his speed and his ability to do it all offensively, plus his defense will add value.

Both players will likely return to Triple-A for the start of the 2016 season, where they will get a chance to work out their issues and allow the numbers to rebound and reflect the skills a bit better. In Hanson’s case, he’ll have a shot at the Opening Day roster, and making the team as a utility infielder wouldn’t be the worst thing. It would actually be the best way to bring him in the majors, in my opinion, as this could reduce the impact of his initial struggles at a new level. Eventually, he projects as the best option to take over starting at second, and his ranking today shows that this isn’t just a hometown bias on his upside.

Glasnow, Taillon, and Bell are definitely going to provide the biggest impacts, both in 2016 and the future. But don’t sleep on Diaz and Hanson, and don’t put too much stock in their 2015 struggles, or write them off for numbers that fall below what their hitting skills are capable of producing.

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Top Prospects: #10 – Ke’Bryan Hayes. The top 10 countdown begins. 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.

**Site Updates: 2016 Prospect Guide, Top Prospect Rankings, Pirates Prospects App. From the weekend, the latest updates on the site, including news on the upcoming app.

**Alen Hanson Ranks Among Top Second Base Prospects. A look at Hanson’s ranking from MLB.com.

**Pirates Still Interested in Bronson Arroyo. I’d expect they’re looking at him to be depth out of Triple-A, considering his circumstance.

**Pirates Sign Gift Ngoepe’s Younger Brother. Includes a GIF where the younger Ngoepe is looking very similar to his older brother at shortstop.

**What Changed For the Pirates’ Biggest Breakout Prospects in 2015? From Sunday, a look at what changed for some of the bigger breakout prospects in 2015.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    January 26, 2016 8:09 pm

    if the plan is for Diaz to be the starting catcher in 2017, he should be playing in Pittsburgh in 2016 as the backup to Cervelli. He is already 25 – and has spent 7-8 years in the system. He is as ready as he ever will be. He could help the team in 2016, by being a huge defensive upgrade over Stewart, while getting his feet wet as the backup.

  • I hope Hanson is the type to be better MLBer than MiLBer. He seems to have an arrogance that may bode well for him once he gets his shot. The mental side is all about confidence and having him on the 25 man to start 2016 could give him the needed confidence boost to eliminate the inconsistencies.

  • I always think back to George Brett: .281 in minors and .305 in the majors. He was always a year or two young for his level though but he was just grinding it out and putting up ok numbers in the minors. Times he hit under .282 until his last 3 years in the league: zero. Hanson really only had one off year and it was last year. I don’t think there is reason to worry unless he spends two or so months in Indy and does the same thing again. Still, a solid defense, .675 OPS guy with speed is a decent backup in today’s game. It’s just that you hope he’s more than that….and you really hope he’s not a .625 OPS guy that is barely above replacement.

    • Wow! You are comparing Hanson to Brett?

      Player A, in his age 22 season, had a .743 OPS at Altoona. In his age 23 season, at Indy, he had an .846 season.

      I will be shocked if Hanson approaches that Indy season. He is 23 this year (He turns 24 on Oct 22).

      Oh that guy’s name is Josh Harrison.

      • Ha! Not really. In a round about way I guess. I was just trying to say things can click later on for a player…too think Hanson has 2 more seasons at age 24 or younger and he is nearly MLB ready is great. I like that he has never been overmatched at any level of the minors.

  • Prospect mania is a very strange phenomenon – I saw a little bit of trivia the other day over at ESPN that put the reality of converting potential into production into perspective for me. Anyone want to guess how many #1 draft choices are currently in the HOF?

    • Griffey was the first, I believe. And I think Piazza was the highest pick, and that round doesnt exist anymore.

      • Fun stat that this HOF election included the highest drafted and lowest drafted players in the HOF with Griffey #1 overall and Piazza drafted in the 62nd round. It’s funny how unpredictable baseball really is.

        • I have a Piazza Mets jersey somewhere at my moms house. Great swing. He and Griffey both had neat ones. Good class, imo.

          • I still can’t believe Jeff Bagwell hasn’t been voted in. Bagwell, Mussina, and Schilling are all HOFers in my book. So was Jack Morris. I don’t care what the stats say. He was the ace for 3 different teams that won the World Series.

            • Bagwell legitimately gets me upset at every writer who doesnt vote for him due to suspicions of steroids. Little to no actual substantiated proof of him being linked to steroids, but since he got bigger and rumors always swirled his 15 HOF worthy years arent enough.

              Bagwell should already be in the HOF.

              • He was always kinda stout anyways. Unlike say Barry Bonds, who went from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk.

            • I think Tim Raines better go in next year. That is a bigger travesty than Bagwell.

              • I forgot about Raines. Yeah, he should be in too. I think, based on the voting results from this year, that Bagwell and Raines should get elected next year with Vlad Guerrero.

      • Pizza was I believe a 52nd round before the draft rules changed. Supposedly Lasorda was his godfather and that is why he was picked.

    • I have a bookmarked couple of pieces which show how many of the Top 100 (and Top 10) prospects fail or at least become pedestrian MLBers (think Edwin Jackson).

    • Prospects are the currency with which teams are built, no team, maybe the Yankees or the Dodgers, can build a winning roster from established major league players.

      It really isn’t that odd at all, I think most understand it is a volume game.

      • Maybe this isn’t what Bruce was trying to say, but I absolutely thinks its odd that so many fans these days get “prospect mania” for *their* favorite team’s prospects.

        No, you do not have guys outside the top 30 of your system that project to be average big league designated hitters. No, you do not have “too many good prospects” at shortstop. No, the rotation three years out headlined by three aces in A-ball will not work out.

        Maybe fans were always like this and the internet just gave them a voice, but we seem to have higher expectations despite more knowledge than ever about how few of these kids actually end up being what we hoped for.

        • I think your last paragraph/sentence is close to the truth, whole fields of psychology and economics that deal with the failings of human judgement and how we overate are ability for success. I see people’s faith in their own team’s prospects as a extension of this.

          I also think if we did an accurate poll on a fanbase’s prospects you would get success rates close to the outside rankings, but slightly more positive.

  • Despite Tim’s campaign-worthy recollection, Hanson dropping from once being one of the top five shortstop prospects in the game to third ranked second baseman last year and sixth this year shows how folks outside of Pittsburgh have continually cooled on his prospect stock since he was riding high on that 2012 breakout.

    At some point, a kid has to actually show growth in order for most prospect analysts to give them the young-for-the-league benefit of the doubt, and Hanson’s issues with plate discipline, breaking stuff, and production from the right side really haven’t shown many signs of improving.

    The Diaz/Hanson connection is interesting to me as one is seen by some as a “dynamic” offensive presence while the other a defense-first player, despite very little separating them in skill or production. The key with Hanson will be whether or not he can put up average power numbers in the big leagues, as he won’t have the positional value to make up for below-average offense like Diaz.

    Good depth to have, but not guys you plan your future around.

    • I couldn’t agree more, NMR.

      • Be curious to hear from you after you see him in spring training. The eye test imo sometimes is the best test. So after you get down I’ll anxiously await a change in your stance.

        • Eye test will always love pure skills. He has skills, its his consistency and finer details of his game that keep him from currently being an elite hitter.

          Also, the eye test depends on the eye of the person watching. None of us, assuming we dont have a pro scout or professional coach posting here, might and can miss key points of finer details.

        • Bill…I have seen him live 4 times. He is fast, has good hands in the field and a quick bat.

          It is that inconsistency both in the field and at the plate that is maddening. The move to 2b helped him on the defensive side, but he looks lost as a RH hitter.

          • I think the connotation behind that “inconsistent” term needs to change.

            We know there’s a range of outcomes in any baseball event. The “luck” you love talking about, Foo. We know that the more skilled a player is, the higher the probability those outcomes are positive.

            So why is it that when a player – particularly one on the team/organization we root for – only infrequently does really good things do we call him “inconsistent”? As if that’s a flaw in itself?

            Isn’t it just as, if not more, likely the player simply isn’t as skilled as it takes to “consistently” do those good things?

      • Hell, I thought he was high on Diaz/Hanson.

    • Bit of a strawman here. No one ever said Hanson’s value hasn’t dropped.

      Our ratings for his upside the last three years:

      2014: 6.5
      2015: 6.0
      2016: 5.5

      What I said in this article:

      “Eventually, he projects as the best option to take over starting at second, and his ranking today shows that this isn’t just a hometown bias on his upside.”

      MLB didn’t rate any other Pirates second base prospects ahead of Hanson. They rated him a 50, which is an upside of an average starter. So they’re rating him as a future starter, just like we are. And we both have dropped his value a bit the last three years, although not to the point where he’s no longer a future starting option.

      As for Diaz/Hanson, the key difference is speed. Hanson can do a lot with his speed on both sides of the game, which is why I used the “dynamic”. Diaz isn’t stealing 30 bases a year, he’s not beating out infield singles, and he’s not taking a lot of extra bases with his speed. Hanson has also posted better power numbers every step of the way, at a younger age. So that’s why he rates higher.

    • If he doesn’t have “average” power for his position, he can certainly make it up with above average speed and defense.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      January 26, 2016 8:12 pm

      I think Hanson’s problem is that he became a hot prospect at a very young age. Although he has played pretty well since his big breakout season 3 years ago, a lot of additional young players have been drafted and signed – and there seems to be the mentality that the newest prospect is the best prospect. You see that on all top prospects lists, including on this site. In a lot of organizations, Hanson would already be in the majors. So, he may be viewed as a stale prospect.

  • Once the consistency problems are gone, Hanson will be a dynamic player.

    ONCE? Like he will turn a switch and they will be gone? It doesn’t work that way, Tim. I have my doubts they will go or improve.

    Also, I have some old Prospect Books that say the same things about somebody named Ronnie Cedeno.

    Like Yogi once said “90% of the game is mental, the other half physical”.

    All that being said, I hope he has a .792 OPS this year at Indy. 🙂

    • I think you can question Tim’s wording, which conveys certainty that Hanson will be dynamic, but picking on the use of the word “once” seems silly. That’s a common usage and you should know that the purpose is to indicate change.

      • Tim probably does means “if”, but it served my purpose to refute all of this “Hanson-mania” that seems prevalent on this blog. And, even if he had put “if” in there, I would’ve used the quote nonetheless.

        My point stands…there are many prospects out there, even more highly touted than Mr Hanson, who never gained that consistency.

        • Neil Walker, the man Hanson is in line to replace, would regularly get red hot for two or three weeks and have stretches of a disappearing act too. All players are streaky to some degree but having a higher “floor” of production level when your game is off is what separates average and great players.

          At every level/season Hanson has played at least 50 games he’s never had less than 20 stolen bases, a .313 OBP and a .701 OPS with both the OBP and OPS lows being last season in his first look at AAA ball. His career numbers in the minors .281 BA, .339 OBP, .431SLG and .770 OPS show his end of season stats line up just fine.

  • By coincidence I reread “The Next Wave” section of the 2016 Prospect Guide this morning with the coffee, before checking in with the site. It is extremely well-written and a cause for enthusiasm over the long-term future of the club. My favorite two pages in the whole book. Five special players we should see this year, and as Tim points out Reese McGuire and Max Moroff are right behind Diaz and Hanson. Nick Kingham, Meadows, and Harold Ramirez are not far away.
    It causes me to speculate whether the club should consider a prospect package coming from the pool of Ramirez, Kingham, Barrett Barnes, Adam Frazier, Willy Garcia, Chad Kuhl, Mitch Keller, Kevin Kramer( you pick another prospect from the 10-20 rankings). Could we yield a #3 starter with control years for any two of those guys? Without gutting the future doesn’t this give us the best chance to win in 2016 with Cutch at his peak.

    • I don’t think NH would do something like that but I have a fantasy of getting Tyson Ross from the Padres for some prospects. I think it’d be a good move right now if we were win now but as it has been stated we’re in a ‘bridge year’.

      • I’ve had dreams of him or Cashner since the middle of last season.

      • another Pirate Blog has an article on why it would be a good ides to trade Reese McGuire. Catching depth is only as good as your next injury.

        • Catching depth is only as good as your next injury is a double edged sword though. If the Bucs trade McGuire and Diaz blows his ACL or has major shoulder, elbow, or concussion issues this year that catching depth evaporates.

          • I would not trade Diaz or McGuire now but I believe we have enough pitching, OF, and infield prospects to trade two for an obvious need. Some of them looked to be blocked from advancement.

    • No GM I know about would ever dream about doing that with the price of competent pitching currently.

  • Tim … I have read about a lot of these players being given a chance (or not) to break the season with the club. Is that really an option with Glasnow, Taillon, Bell, or Hanson? I would think that the only chance that would happen is a brief injury replacement (like for Kang). The Pirates wouldn’t want to lose a year of control on any of these guys – would they?

    • Your right, for different reasons, for each of TG/TJ/JB but not sure there is a control worry for Hanson like the other 3, to me….

    • I think Hanson has the only real shot. They have so many 2B prospects in the low levels that they probably won’t need him by years 6 and 7. They could also send him back down when Kang returns.

  • @leefoo and artie dayne: Alen HANSON Bandwagon is now open for special invitees only.

  • Hanson certainly has seemed to battle back from some growing pains (hiccups) and continue to be a significant prospect. Again, what do I know, on how any prospect will turn out but that to me shows some positives…. Not that anybody cares but quite disinterested in him coming up and being a utility guy, even for a short time, to me his time is better served progressing/reps in AAA….

  • Tim: I should have read this before commenting on the previous thread about Hanson because I said about the same things about the kid. I see him as the dynamic player who can be the leadoff hitter, provide top defense at 2B, possibly play other IF positions when needed, and the footspeed to get 30+ SB’s a year. He is maturing into being a better base stealer, and his 75% success rate and 35 steals last year are proof of that.

  • No love for Diaz even from Sawchik yesterday.

    • Yes that was curious and he did not give any reasons.

    • Yeah, I found that very odd. He’s a good writer. All the comments were about that fact as well and he hasn’t addressed it.

    • If he doesn’t like Diaz’s defense he doesn’t know what he is looking at. Writing about how the Organization works with tech is one thing, judging a player’s ability is a whole other thing.

  • I’m cautiously optimistic at the end of the season Hanson will have made us fans think trading Walker was the right move. Of course, how well Niese pitches will impact how we feel about who he was traded for, too.

    By all accounts Hanson has rounded the corner on the maturity issues which dogged him early on. Once he gets to Pittsburgh and is surrounded by successful ML players who can further demonstrate what it takes to be a star, he may start to become one himself. He certainly has the tools to be one someday.

    • Excellent take. I think moving Walker was the right move regardless of the success of Hanson or anyone else. The Pirates have to get younger in key positions such as 1B and 2B and 2016 seems to be the right time to get it done.

      • Yes I think Walker was overrated and Hanson my allow most to quickly move on.

      • I think Scott K and emjayinTN that the Walker trade was thoughtful and what was necessary based on where we were as a team… If Hanson makes that look even more thoughtful then great, If Niese on his own makes it look the same then great again…. It was just logical move, to me, (Walker/Niese) and if Walker hits 35 homers and Niese stinks it up and Hanson never sees the beautiful Pgh skyline from PNC then I will still feel the same, though disappointed, of course….

    • The way I heard it, many of his problems in Altoona had a lot to do with his Manager. He did’nt get let go for no reason at all after the 2014 season.

  • I wonder what makes Hanson as streaky as he has been. He got off to strong starts in the GCL and the SAL, only to end the season falling from his early strong start. He reversed this pattern afterwards. Every hitter has slumps. But Hanson oscillates between flying and crashing.

    I’d guess those patterns cannot be attributed to the BABIP God toying with Hanson.

    He has passed by his defensive problems. So, that’s something.

    • I would lay the streakiness on immaturity. When he was making 30-40 E’s a year at SS, he was beating himself up mentally. I think the move back to 2B will help him immensely as he matures. He has all the tools, and again, a very strong job by our scouting and developmental folks.

      • The good thing is he had a quiet year as far as the blowup thing goes last year. Improved base running and defense made him a more complete player so he seemed to really put the work in on everything else but hitting. With his defense and base stealing polished, I really hope he can just relax and hit to start 2016. I wouldn’t push the Util stuff too much after ST. He has already played a bunch of SS. Let Harrison handle the 3B and a little SS every other week early and Hanson play 2B where he is comfortable if he starts the season up.

    • Switching positions does help with his offensive consistency. I think you will see more consistency this year.

    • Tim thinks it will be a sure thing that he will overcome that inconsistency.

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