Sunday, November 17, 2013

Alen Hanson

Alen Hanson was signed at age 16 in 2009 for $90K, weeks after the Bucs lost out on Miguel Sano. The shortstop prospect may not have Sano's pedigree or hype, but has panned out to be a pretty strong Plan B fallback for the Bucs.

A native of La Romana in the Dominican Republic, he's now the top (and maybe only, other than then the hitting challenged Gift Ngoepe) SS prospect in the Pirate organization. After hitting .324 in the Dominican league in 2010, he came north in the following season. In the GCL rookie league, he batted .262 with a .352 OBP and got a cup of coffee with State College. He went to Sally League (Low Class A) West Virginia next as an 19 year old and had a breakout year in 2012.

Hansen hit .309 with a .909 OPS, and surprisingly banged out 16 homers and 33 doubles during the campaign. It was surprising because the switch hitter is all of 5' 11", 155 pounds with an offensive game based more on speed than power, as his 13 triples and 35 stolen bases showed.

He began 2013 at High A Bradenton, where he hit .281 in 92 games, with 23 doubles, eight triples, seven home runs and stole 23 bases. But it wasn't all roses and cream; he got off to to a dismal start both in the field and at the plate and earned a time-out (as Clint Hurdle likes to say, the Bucs hit his reset button). The break was to give him a rest mentally; he's never been a problem child, and is said to be one of the Buccos' hardest workers.

His head cleared, his glove and stickwork improved and earned him a promotion Altoona in July, where he hit .255 during his first taste of upper level pitching. The Bucs continued to push him, sending Hansen to the Arizona Fall league. After another slow start, he was named to the Fall Stars game, with a line of .253/.294/.329 and six stolen sacks.

Hanson should start 2014 at Altoona again as the Bucs look to polish his skill set. He was just outside the Top Fifty going into last season (#54; #61 Baseball America), but his future is still unsettled.

The biggest debate is whether he can develop into a pro SS; he's shown some problems with range and an average arm. The range could be countered with some coaching up on positioning and angles, as he's got the physical ability to cover some ground, but it's hard to hide a so-so arm from the hole. So the smart money has him shifting to second when he arrives, with some murmurs of moving him to the OF. Second seems much more likely; the Bucs are loaded in the pasture. But the brass will keep him at short for as long as possible, where he holds more value and the Pirates have greater need.

The switch hitter also needs work on his stick. He's never stolen fewer than 24 bases in a season during his pro career, even though he's still unpolished as a base larcenist, and the Pirates would love to plug him into the top of the order. But he's not terribly patient at the plate, and in his brief stay in the upper levels, his walk rate was 5.3% for the Curve and 4.7% with the AFL Scottsdale Scorpions, with respective OBP of .299 and .294, not the numbers associated with a lead off guy.

We wouldn't be too judgmental on those numbers yet; he's only had 236 plate appearances in AA and the AFL, hardly a fair sample size considering that he's now looking at quality off speed stuff. But he does need to sharpen his eye.

Another problem that may be on the horizon is his splits. Hansen was pretty neutral until this past season, when his splits began to widen; like Neil Walker, he's become much more a threat from the left side. His pro K rate is 17%+, but he hasn't faced much top level pitching yet, so we'll see how that trends as he moves up.

No prospect comes up without a red flag or two, and the Pirates have been moving him along at a fair pace, but not overly aggressively. He's a kid that's athletic, with plus speed, quick hands, a little pop and a solid work ethic who projects well as a MLB middle infielder.

At 21 next season, he'll be age appropriate for Altoona where he'll begin to polish his rough edges at the top levels. We don't expect Hanson to be a piece of the 2014 Pirate puzzle, but a Pittsburgh landing date of mid-2015 isn't a stretch.

No comments: