INDIANAPOLIS — Alen Hanson can put together a string of games where he plays like an elite prospect.
But there are times when Hanson can frustrate coaches with inconsistent play or mental mistakes.
Nobody doubts the talent possessed by Hanson, who primarily plays second base and left field. But it’s a matter of making his inconsistent stretches shorter in length and more infrequent in occurrence. And that’s the problem with Hanson: You’re not quite sure what you will get.
There’s the Hanson that hit for an .805 OPS in April and looks to use his speed to his advantage, or the Hanson that is in the midst of an 2-for-35 (.057 batting average) stretch over the past 10 games. At times he can look to hit for power too much and let his swing get too long.
You have the Hanson that has stolen 28 bases this season, or the Hanson that made an awful read from second base in the ninth inning of a one-run game last month. He should have easily scored on a hit, but instead only advanced to third as he waited to see if a clear hit was going to be caught. He was later stranded at third and the Indians lost. In a recent game, Hanson popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt that led to a runner getting doubled off first base.
In the end, at least for now, the potential outweighs the frustrating moments.
“There is nobody giving up on this guy because of the tools and because of what he brings,” Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said. “Those are the type of tools you want in the big leagues.”
One key point to remember: Hanson is still just 23 years old. He played the entire 2015 season with Indianapolis. That may create an unintended consequence of people believing he’s been on the brink of reaching the major leagues for a while now.
At his age, mistakes will happen. Treanor can live with the aggressive mistakes, it’s the mental mistakes that will cause the most angst.
“When you are not focusing pitch to pitch those things are going to happen,” Treanor said. “I think his concentration level — and it’s a work in progress — but it has to be there all the time, everyday.”
Hanson had an .805 OPS in April, but only .451 in May. His brief three-day promotion to the Pirates in mid-May was to fill in for Starling Marte during a bereavement. When Hanson returned to Indianapolis, his numbers and productivity plummeted. He changed his approach at the plate, looking to hit for more power than he should.
“It’s that mental side of hitting,” Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “He has just enough pop in his bat to be an enemy to himself. Then he wants to try to swing for that power. Then all of a sudden his whole swing goes to pot.”
Treanor doesn’t think Hanson uses his speed enough, too often getting caught up in trying to hit for power and lifting the ball. Treanor has had that conversation with Hanson numerous times.
The Hanson that was playing in May 2015? That’s the Hanson that Treanor wants to see on a consistent basis. Hanson had a .998 OPS with 42 hits in 28 games that month.
“He was a very, very exciting player and I think he got away from that,” Treanor said. “You have to keep the ball out of the air. He has just enough power to [mess] him up. He needs to hit the ball on the ground. He can’t be a guy that hits the ball in the air. He has to hit the ball on the ground and hit line drives. He has to bunt for a base hit. He has to run more on the bases.”
Few players at the Triple-A level can look as good as Hanson can for a stretch of time, and then look the exact opposite for a similar stretch of time just a few weeks later. Coaches want to see more of the Hanson from May 2015 and April 2016.
“I saw him for a month last year and he was just on fire,” Indianapolis hitting coach Butch Wynegar said. “And this kid was a major league hitter. I mean, really good. Then all of a sudden he lost it.”
Wynegar puts some of Hanson’s problems onto the mental side of hitting. But he does point out Hanson’s young age for the level. Wynegar also feels that Hanson needs to make his swing shorter because his hands are good at the plate.
“Right now, it’s shortening that swing up and with him it’s the mental side of understanding what am I doing up here and what am I looking for,” Wynegar said. “It takes a while for some guys. [Hanson] is still young, still young mentally as a hitter. … the talent is there, we just have to get it in one package.”
One good aspect of the struggles Hanson has at times is he recognizes the problems himself. So, it’s just a matter of turning that recognition into solutions.
“At times I see pitches so well that I wants to hit it so hard that it actually gets me in trouble,” Hanson said through translator Miguel Perez. “That’s one thing I’m working on and fighting with. Part of the game is ups and downs. We’re going to continue to work hard to get back up there. That’s what I can control — work hard to get through this slump.”
Mistakes are going to happen with any player, especially one that is just 23 years old. The aggressive mistakes — such as trying to take an extra base — the team can live with in moderation. But it’s the mental mistakes — popping up a bunt or not knowing where outfielders are — that can test their patience. If Hanson can cut down those types of mistakes — and avoid trying to hit for power too often — he can become the elite talent many expect.