What is Preventing Alen Hanson From Reaching His Upside?

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.

  • Another possibility for Hanson’s slow progress to the majors that this article fails to mention is the possibility that Hanson doesn’t respond as effectively to the “Pirates way” as some other players. I’ve seen players like him turn around quickly and dramatically when traded to another team with another coaching style. Maybe it’s time to give the kid a chance by trading him to another team.

  • Jordy Mercer at the same age had a .702 OPS at Altoona. Too early to give up on the kid.

  • Chris Thomas
    July 27, 2016 6:11 pm

    Guys has to feel a bit hopeless or frustrated. Looking at the major league club there is no room for him….

  • Reminds me prospect wise of Gary Sanchez from Yanks been around for long time, but he is still young enough to turn it around next year.

  • Hanson is still quite young for this level, even though it seems like he’s been around forever. I think leaving him in triple A for 2016 can only help him get better. If there is an opening on the Pirates and he is playing winning baseball at the time, I’m sure he’ll be brought up. The circumstances just haven’t lined up for him yet. In the meantime, continuing to learn in Triple A will do him good.

    Cutch toiled a long time in Triple A but then he exceeded all expectations once he had a decent sampling of major league games under his belt.

  • Let’s trade Melancon and get more prospects.Especially can’t miss prospects. Let’ trade MLB players and fill our stomachs to the brim!

  • I remember hearing similar things about Ronny Cedeno. We laugh about him now, but when he came up, he was this young, exciting SS who had the potential to be a Gold Glover.

    What held Ronny back from ever achieving that? Focus, concentration, etc. The same things keeping Hanson back. We have used his age as an excuse, but at some point there has to be signs of improvement in that area.

    There are many very talented washouts home on couches who had the talent, but would lose focus.

    As Yogi Berra would say……..(we all know what he said).

    • It’s true. Baseball graveyard littered with high ceiling players who ended up having floor in basement.

  • Im honestly tired of hearing the Hanson name and the woe is me reports about his lack of consistency. At a glance, the newly updated prospect report has him all the way down at #19. We have CF & 1B talent in Indianapolis, SS, C, and OF talent in Altoona, and more SS talent in Bradenton all listed as higher prospects. He turns 24 in October and is getting washed out. It doesnt concern me if he stays or goes in a trade. Pirates need to move on and focus on some prospects trending upward.

    • michael schalke
      July 27, 2016 1:43 pm

      I’d definitely include him in a package deal for a pitching upgrade.

      • I imagine his trade value minimal. Time to trade him was 3 years ago . At this point i would hold onto him as super utility, late inning guy in 2017.

        • Could you imagine the outrage if we had traded Hanson three years ago? Just by the nature of this site we love our prospects and always want more. Hanson will probably be one of those players that the moment you give up on him he will relax and suddenly get it.

  • You are knocking him for popping up a bunt attempt, which means he is so good that it should never happen to him, and you know, it happens to all players, all the time. No one is perfect but I guess he has to be in order to get to the Show. When he puts it together he will be marvelous. Until that time, I guess he will be the whipping boy of the organization.

    • Lou Brown: Well, you can run like Hays, but you hit like shit. With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and be legging them out. Everytime I see you hit one in the air, you owe me 20 push-ups.

    • At these levels, everyone should be able to get down a sac bunt.

      • piraterican21
        July 27, 2016 1:07 pm

        I hope you are kidding, if not name major leaguers that are good at it!

        • Oh no, I know that there are a lot of guys that are horrible at bunting. But I’m just saying, it’s not that hard.

    • Good point, Joe. If the runner gets doubled up because he left too soon, it is on him, not the batter. The batter should be able to get down a bunt, but it is always on the runner not to give himself up.

      Very little if anything about the defensive play last year at AAA that earned him the honor from Baseball America as the Best Defensive 2B in the International League. He had 7 total errors at 2B last year. This year he has only 3 at 2B.

      The knock is correct because I think he can be a better hitter, but 35 SB’s last year while hitting .263 and 29 so far this year while hitting .251 is damn good and would give the Pirates something they do not have this year at leadoff. I prefer perfection just as much or more as any Pirate Coach, but keeping him at AAA is ridiculous. Promote him or include him in a deal while he has some value.