NEW YORK – It was a bit funny listening to part of Clint Hurdle’s response to my question about why Alen Hanson didn’t get much playing time while he was in the majors.
“There’s been challenges for his game throughout the minor leagues,” Hurdle said. “If you’ve followed them you’re aware of them. We tried to help him make some marginal gains to become a more consistent player here in the two months we were here. We didn’t see enough right now to continue in the vein we were in with him.”
The “if you’ve followed him” part was a bit amusing, because I am definitely aware of Hanson’s challenges, specifically the biggest one dealing with his consistency. We’ve been following that on this site for years now, dating back to when Hanson burst on the scene as a top prospect.
It was overlooked in 2012 during his breakout season, since he was so young at the time, and most of his evaluation was based on upside, rather than where he was at the time. I got to see a lot of him in 2013 in Bradenton, and one consistent trend kept re-emerging. Hanson would make a difficult play, then totally boot a routine play. He would show skills at the plate for a stretch, then look completely lost for another stretch.
Those trends continued as he moved up. The Pirates eventually moved him to second base, where the defense was more consistent than it was at shortstop, and even tried moving him around the diamond to third base and the outfield to add versatility. But his bat never gained consistency, and the live views showed that he was often swinging for the fences, and trying to crush the ball. It was the classic “trying to do too much” situation, where Hanson was trying to crush every pitch as if the result of that at-bat would get him to the big leagues.
And so this quote from Hurdle yesterday was fitting for Hanson in 2017, but really could have been applied at any step of the way in his development, minus the part about playing time.
“We still haven’t seen the tools that he had come together,” Hurdle said on the decision to designate Hanson for assignment. “You see a tool here, you see a tool there. The challenges have been putting them all together. And the playing time hasn’t been probably conducive for him and what he’s experienced in the past.”
If you went through and looked at our rankings for Hanson in each Prospect Guide, you’d see a steady decline in his upside grade. I can only imagine the same thing was happening with the Pirates, as they continued pushing players ahead of him, such as Adam Frazier and Jose Osuna recently at the major league level.
From our end, Hanson only saw a slow and steady decline, rather than a rapid decline, because the tools were still there. He still had speed. He still had some pop in his bat. He still had some good defensive tools. He just didn’t have consistency. Year after year that factor would lower his potential rating, but the tools would keep him alive in the prospect rankings.
But there comes a time when you ignore the tools, because you just don’t think the player can ever be consistent enough to put things together. The player then becomes waiver wire fodder, possibly attractive to teams in desperate situations willing to see if something will finally click, but easily replaced with one of the many guys in baseball who has tools but also has something that holds them back.
I wrote earlier in the season that I felt it was time for the Pirates to move on from Hanson. That wasn’t because I didn’t think he had any shot at ever reaching his upside — although that seems like a very low probability outcome right now. It was mostly because I felt if Hanson was ever going to reach his upside, it would have to be with another team, since he was getting no chance with the Pirates. And if the Pirates weren’t giving him a chance, there was no use keeping him on the bench and wasting a spot.
We’ll see how it plays out for Hanson going forward. I’d be surprised if he did clear waivers, just because those tools are attractive enough for some team to take a chance, and then try and stash him away in the minors to get some additional work. It would certainly look bad for the Pirates if he did figure it out and they never gave him a shot to see what he could do in Pittsburgh. But there’s a reason they didn’t play him, and it’s the same reason they just designated him for assignment. He had the tools, lacked consistency, and it finally hit a breaking point with the consistency.