Consistency Standing in the Way of Alen Hanson Arriving in the Majors

BRADENTON, Fl. – There is a long-term opening at second base for the Pirates, and while there are several prospect options in Triple-A who could battle for that role, the lead option is Alen Hanson.

Hanson has been a top prospect in the system since his breakout year in West Virginia in 2012. He was on the radar as a guy to watch before that, impressing scouts in 2011 when he was in the GCL. He originally came up as a shortstop, but moved to second base full-time last year to speed his path up to the majors. And right now, the only thing standing between him and the majors is consistency.

Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle both echoed these thoughts yesterday, talking about the type of player Hanson could become if he adds that consistency.

“He’s faced the challenges that a young player faces,” Huntington said. “How do you take those incredible abilities that he has and get them to play on a more consistent basis? Live up to expectations? Sometimes realistic, sometimes unfair. You’ve seen it already in Spring Training here, the things he can do on a baseball field. If we can get those to play more consistently, we’ve got a really good player on our hands.”

Hanson has impressed so far in Spring Training, showing off a lot of his abilities. He has a ton of speed, with the ability to steal 30+ bases a year in the majors, and with that speed helping him beat out infield singles, or stretch for extra base hits. He’s a switch hitter who needs to improve from the right side, but is a solid option from the left side, showing off some power from the middle infield spot. So far his hitting and speed have shown up in his limited experience this spring, and his defense has been good, with a lot of range displayed.

“He can ignite the top of the lineup,” Hurdle said. “There’s real speed. He’s a base stealer. The fact that he can go up to both sides of the plate, move things around offensively. He can put the ball on the ground. He’s got some barrel. He [hit] a ball out to the left-center field corner [Monday]. Defensively there’s some range, there’s some rhythm. There’s some things he’s still working on. He’s an exciting player.”

While Max Moroff and Adam Frazier — two other converted shortstops — are playing multiple positions this spring, the Pirates felt it was best for Hanson to only stick at second base. This will allow him to focus on one thing on the field, and allow him more time to focus on consistency on both sides of the ball.

“Defensive consistency is one thing he’s working on everyday,” Hurdle said. “That’s one of the things, and offensive consistency. More often than not, that’s the challenge for these guys when they get close. That’s why you call them prospects. That’s why you grade tools. The overall game comes together, that’s when they get to the big leagues and that’s when they stay. The one thing that’s out of their control when they’re down is when they get called up, or opportunity. They’ve got to go down and play, show some consistency on both sides of the ball.”

When it comes to consistency on the defensive side of the ball, Hanson always had problems at shortstop, although they weren’t what you’d expect. He made the difficult plays look easy, and often his problems would come on routine plays where he would either boot the grounder, or make a low effort throw that went wild to first base. Those issues weren’t as frequent at second base, but still existed.

The offensive consistency is easier to document by the numbers. He struggled in April last year in Indianapolis, hitting for a .549 OPS. This matches a trend of the last few years, where he has been slow out of the gate and at a new level. The difference last year was that he struggled throughout the year as well, with a sub-.600 OPS in June and August. Part of this might have been him trying to press and get a promotion to the Majors after a big rebound in May. It might also have reflected his age, as it’s easy to forget he was one of the youngest players in Triple-A.

Huntington mentioned that Hanson fits into their plans and their system due to his tools and abilities, but acknowledged he hasn’t always been consistent with those tools.

“He absolutely fits with the athleticism and the tools and the development of the skills,” Huntington said. “The ability is there. Was he where we needed him to be all the time? No. And that’s part of the challenges of maturing. Part of the challenge of the expectations of our development system. And part of that will come through just maturation, part of it will come through a focused consistency, and a consistent ability to lock in and make the routine play routine. Because he can make the spectacular play.”

It may be tempting to think that Max Moroff or Adam Frazier are better options than Hanson. They’re both coming off better offensive seasons, although this comes with the disclaimer that they did it at lower levels, with Frazier actually being a year older than Hanson. But when you look at the tools, Hanson beats both of them out. He’s faster than both, and more of a threat on the bases. His defensive skills are better, with the ability to provide strong defensive value from second base, along with the offense needed from the position. Moroff and Frazier will probably do better at getting on base, but Hanson has more power and a better chance of being an electrifying player in the lineup.

The Pirates see Hanson as a leadoff guy, which doesn’t really match up when you consider his main offensive weakness is a lack of walks and a low OBP. However, this didn’t stop them from putting Starling Marte at leadoff for a few years. Hanson’s speed could be dynamic at the top of the lineup, and while he won’t walk as much, his speed will allow him to get on base through some extra singles. He won’t have the OBP that a top leadoff guy should have, but his speed will give him respectable numbers from the spot.

“It’s a dynamic that plays,” Hurdle said of his speed. “It can impact a game. Pure speed is exciting to watch. You need to get speed on base though. There’s got to be some consistency with getting on base. The pure leadoff hitters that we have in the system, he would be a guy that would probably profile as one of the top.”

There’s a chance that Hanson could make the club out of camp, although that would probably require Jung-ho Kang to miss Opening Day. If Kang is ready, then I could see Cole Figueroa getting a final bench spot over Hanson, with the Pirates sending the second base prospect down to Indianapolis to continue working on his consistency at the position and at the plate. Hanson should arrive as depth at some point in 2016, and it might be best for him to arrive as a bench option first, in order to provide a better adjustment to the majors.

Long-term, he has the upside of a starting second baseman and a leadoff hitter for the Pirates, which would give this team a ton of speed at the top of their lineup when added to the outfield trio of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. But first, he needs to show some consistency on defense, and more importantly, at the plate.

  • Frozenrope11
    March 8, 2016 9:16 pm

    Frazier and Moroff are both better baseball players than Hanson. Frazier is older, has played in front of the big TV crowds 100+ times in the SEC and he looks the most comfortable in camp.

  • All major leaguers go through periods of inconsistency “slumps”, both offensively and defensively. To keep Hanson in Indy makes the overall roster weaker. If Kangaroo can’t start the season, Hanson at second should be a no-brainer.

  • Guess who is batting .500 with one HR in twelve at bats?

    • Guess who has two thumbs and could literally not care less about spring stats?

      • Fair enough – but we were told Lambo was a failure because of his awful ST stats…

        • ArthurDayne
          March 8, 2016 6:28 pm

          Couldn’t stay healthy either.

        • Bruce: .095 and then .183 did not win him any votes of confidence. Could he be a Brandon Moss redux in Oakland? I hope he can pull it off. ST stats are not very meaningful for guys already in the majors, but for prospects, it could be the difference between a major league opportunity or a career of bus rides.

          BTW, I think Hanson hit .400 in ST 2014, so I hope he has proven that he can hit, run, and he fields well at 2B.

  • If Hanson starts the year at AAA then will not see the light of day out of Indy. That’s is a waste of talent. Nobody on the team can steal basses like him.

  • the only way fig hits is if the pitcher hits him with the pitch. Give Hanson a shot, much more upside, but what do I know I am just a fan.

    • But if we bring him north out of spring training AND he becomes an exciting top of the order lineup, we lose a year of control at the end. That is one of the reasons we had to trade Walker….we lost a year of control.

      Do you want that? I’d rather see them play a veteran minor leaguer at 3b for a month.

      • I wouldn’t worry about losing a year of control of Hanson nearly as much as Glasnow, Bell, or Taillon. He’s not a Scott Boras client. If he ends up being an exciting dynamic player hopefully the Bucs will lock him up early.

      • That is 100% *not* one of the reasons Neil Walker was traded.

        • NMR….Well, we could debate that PRNW would still be a Pirate if we had him for 2017 also, but why waste the time?

          But, I believe he’d could still be here and we could’ve signed him to a controllable salary prior to this year.

          But, again, it is all conjecture. But to say it is 100% NOT one of the reasons he was traded is 100% false, IMHO.


      • If he deserve a spot and produces put him on the roster. My hopes and aspirations are that he takes second base over and makes Harrison a utility player.

      • If, as I heard Joe Block say on today’s broadcast, the ETA for Kang is mid to late April, he has to come north. If he handles the 2-3 week “audition” well he stays, if not, he goes down. Personally I think if given a chance, he’ll knock it out of the park. This is the bigs, and there’s such a thing as adreneline.

        He’s not enough of a superstar to worry this much about service time. And since it’s likely he’ll be sent down for at least a couple weeks, at least they’ll get the extra year, even if he becomes a Super 2.

      • This years of control crap is idiotic…

        Win a World Series – put the best 25 players on the roster – quit wasting money and at bats on crap like Sean Hurdle and Pedro Floriman and Joyce and Rogers.

  • 90% of the game is half mental.

    There’s been tons (to use a favorite ‘Tim word’….smile) of prospects who had the ability but not the consistency.

    It’s a grind out there, so I’ve been told. If you don’t have the ability to stay focused, you can lose your way at the MLB level quite easily.

    One of the classic inconsistent players was Ronny Cedeno. He had the talent to be a Gold Glove SS with some pop in his bat. He did NOT, however, have the ability to stay focused. We Bucco fans know how HE worked out. 😉

    • The thing about prospects is that 100% of them lack consistency while they’re prospects. If they had that with their tools, they’d no longer be prospects and would be in the majors.

      I liked Hurdle’s thoughts on the same subject.

      • ….and, to get back to what I wrote (or at least what I meant), that consistency is what separates those prospects WITH the tools from either succeeding or not.

        Tools will get you on Top 10 lists. After that, it is pretty much mental.

        I know…I have been mental my whole life. (oh wait…………………)

        🙂 🙂

      • The only things Alen Hanson has done consistently this Spring is hit, run, field, and have a great attitude. And, his success so far in ST may be a reason why he gets the 2 month “additional experience” assignment to AAA. The Pirates could open the season with Harrison at 2B and either Rogers or Rodriguez at 3B, if Kang cannot start the season.

        Gotta give a nod to AD and his “Sean Hurdle” mention earlier – have to admit, it took me a few minutes to get that one.

    • Rey Quinones

  • Very well could be a case of Kang being out of the opening day lineup resulting in a better major league roster for the season as a whole. Really hope Hanson continues to showcase well this Spring and earn the 2nd base job while JHay covers 3rd in Kang’s absence. Once Kang is back, hopefully Hanson still performing at 2nd so JHay can move back to his 2014 super utility roll with lots of opportunity to play… and, more importantly, pushing Sean Rod out of that roll.

    • ArthurDayne
      March 8, 2016 1:06 pm

      Barring injury, its Cole Figueroa. The Pirates aren’t starting a guys service clock to have him sit behind Sean Hurdle.

      • Didn’t come close to saying or implying that Hanson would make the roster as a bench guy, as he certainly would not be wasted that way. I said I hope for him to win the starting 2nd base role.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 8, 2016 1:26 pm

          As I’ve read here, he struggles every time he makes a move up the ladder. Heck, the article mentions consistency. Not a guy you hand a job as a contender.

          Not that Figueroa or SRod are better options. Just more experienced.

          • Again, never said hand the job to him, but if he earns the job then he makes the team much better due to the ripple effect.

            • ArthurDayne
              March 8, 2016 1:41 pm

              I just don’t put much stock in March ABs.

              • Fair enough, I don’t either… but i’m including the major league coaching staff seeing him firsthand during workouts and gametime as they evaluate his readiness.

          • We need to get him in the majors eventually, I like the sound of him coming up on opening day and being given a shot at the starting role. If he can’t produce send him down and if he produces keep him up. While I agree he’s gonna need time to adjust; for the long term it’ll be better for this team if Hanson is starting at second over Sean Hurdle if Kang isn’t ready.

            • ArthurDayne
              March 8, 2016 2:16 pm

              I just don’t think Hanson is the caliber of a prospect who starts opening day. But, SRod and Cole Figueroa aren’t exactly worldbeaters either, I’m more than willing to admit.

              This gets into, “Maybe they should have hung on to Walker”.

              We’ll see. I think they will start slow again offensively, so I’m trying not to get too worked up.

      • Service clock wouldnt be the primary issue if you plan on him being the guy sent down once Kang is healthy. You’d have him start or play for 1-2 weeks and go down once Kang arrives.

        Issue would be if they feel he is the best option to bridge that gap to Kang, or if a guy like Rogers is good enough at 3B to let his bat play.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 8, 2016 2:39 pm

          I heard May 1st with Kang.

          And I think in this case they would go with D first at 2nd, with JHay at 3rd.

          I don’t know. Just don’t see NH going with a rookie. And sure as heck dont see Hurdle playing one over his son, or any vet. Hence, have him play everyday at Indy.

          • I dont think May 1st is in any way confirmed nor accurate, since all of spring training you’ve heard “he’s doing well” from literally every report.

            Him going from “he’s doing really well” to sitting a month doesnt mesh. He’s swinging, playing defense, etc. If he runs the bases by the end of spring training, idk how he misses a month. 2 weeks i get, 4 weeks means something went wrong.

            • Perhaps you missed when an ailment as simple as knee soreness turned the best hitter in the National League into replacement level for the first six weeks of 2015.

              The “hype” surrounding Kang’s progress is silly.

              • I didnt miss it, but i cant predict the future so i cant randomly say “well Kang would be still hurt a bit so he’d be not ready to produce well”.

                This isnt him getting to 80%, or 90%. Its him getting fully healthy, and then likely going on a weeklong rehab stint before playing in ML games. He’s hitting now, he’s fielding now. If he’s running the bases by the end of spring training, he’d need weeks of getting reps before being ready.

                Its not hype, its trying to discern where he truly is health wise. Its more silly to go “well since Cutch was hurt a bit last year, Kang clearly wont be ready for a month into the season” than it is to rely on reports that his body is close to being healthy.

                Kang isnt ready right now, but he’s running the bases away from being fully able to do all activities needed to play. At that point, its reps. Thats not hype, its following what he’s able to do in a logical timeframe.

                • You can’t predict the future, but that’s exactly what you’re doing “logically”. LOL

                  • Yes, im using the available data to follow a timeline that is fair to the player and his health. Thats somewhat like what you did, but one instance used his current health and reported activities and the other used a comparison to a player a year ago.

                    That logic means that thou shalt not comment either for or against any timeline of a player since you are commenting on the future. Relevant information be damned.

                    Maybe Kang does suffer a setback or cant go from performing all activities to performing them in a ML capacity, but what we know right now is that he’s running the bases away from doing all baseball activities. One might be able to map out a timeline for him to be ML ready if we are allowed to do that like the rest of the media does for a living.

                    • When “one” has the medical training to make such judgments then “one” may have a point.

                      Considering the 6-8 month original timeline, Kang is obviously at the good end of that and it’s easy to be excited.

                      But until anyone knows what running bases means in the grand scheme of player health I find it understandably premature to predict an extremely fast return, which is what you’ve done.

                    • You and i dont have a medical degree, arent employed to scout athletes, arent front office GMs, and have never played professional baseball. If we cant discuss anything related to those jobs on a blog, what are we doing here? Lazy argument.

                      Im not discussing the details of anything inherently scientific, im looking at where he’s at and where nearly all reports say he’s headed sans a setback. Im not even being rose colored and saying OD or bust, but i do have enough faith in reporters to trust when they all say a player has progressed to a stage of likely meeting a certain timeline.

                    • …and hitting against real competition

            • i think 2 weeks is about what id think barring a setback

      • I think Cole already has the team made with or without Kang. The extra guy would be Hanson…..or Florimon/Frazier/Moroff/etc.

      • In all fairness, 2B, and in this case Hanson, are not the position, nor the player you really worry that much about a service clock on. I mean that as in, Hanson will never put together the type of years that are going to bankrupt a team in arbitration, and if he is that good, it is likely that the team will be able to extend him before it reaches that point. Also, 2B is not a position that sees huge salaries handed out through the arbitration process, except for a very select few.

        • ArthurDayne
          March 8, 2016 7:36 pm

          Maybe that’s fair, considering the sheer number of guys behind them. But this is the Pirates, Huntington and Nutting. They are going to lean towards the business side of things, no?

          And they just dealt a 2nd baseman they didn’t want to pay.

    • There is no way Kang is ready for opening day when he couldn’t really even play a spring training game for another 2 weeks at earliest. It just isn’t realistic