When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at an easier position, and only focusing on his bat. Hanson was optioned to Indianapolis last week, and the Pirates are hoping he can provide depth at some point this year.
“That’s the goal,” Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington said. “We’ve got some work to do with Alen. There’s a ton that we like about him as a player. He’s continued to grow and evolve. But we’ve got some work left. He may not be the first guy called up right now, but the beautiful part about baseball is that six weeks into the season he can change our opinion, he can change our minds.”
The key for Hanson is consistency. That has been an issue for him in the past, both at the plate and on the field. The field issues were the biggest concern, as he saw a lot of struggles at shortstop. The strange thing is that he would make difficult plays look easy, and then would make poor throws or other fielding mistakes on routine plays. The move to second base should be easier for him, although no position in the infield will help solve the throwing problems he had.
“It’s still a work in process,” Huntington said of his defense. “He has the athletic ability to be a really good defensive second baseman. It’s just the consistency and the reps. The ability to make it become second nature, and not have to think about positioning, or think about what play he’s making, or how he’s going to make the pivot, or how he’s going to start a double play, or his positioning. That takes time.”
Hanson said he talked a lot with the veteran players during his time in big league camp, getting tips on his position and what he needs to do in order to be ready to play there. The move isn’t going to be a big adjustment for him, as he has experience at the position from the past.
“I was ready to play second,” Hanson said of the move. “That was my position when I started my career. I feel comfortable there.”
Today, Hanson was participating in an interesting drill at second base with infield coordinator Gary Green. He was receiving throws from third base, then making the turn and throwing to first while Green rolled a bucket at the base. The goal was to get him used to making that double play turn and throwing the ball while avoiding a sliding runner.
Hanson has a bit of work to do at second base, but it should be easier than the work he had to do at shortstop. The consistency issues at the plate weren’t as big as the defensive issues, but they were also there, usually carrying over from his problems on the field.
“Offensively, it’s just consistency, and understanding what type of hitter he can be, and understanding that he can be incredibly disruptive when he gets on base, and helping him do that on a more consistent basis,” Huntington said.
Hanson said that he feels good from the left side, but that he’s working more on his approach from the right side, specifically trying to use the opposite field, which is a big focus in the Pirates’ system. At his best, he’s a line drive hitter who uses his speed to pick up extra singles, extra bases, and steal a few when he gets on base.
“He can be electric in the batter’s box,” Huntington said. “He can do some things defensively in the field. We’ve just got to help him do them more consistently.”
The Pirates have plenty of depth in Pittsburgh. Neil Walker is the starter at second base. Other options on the big league squad include Josh Harrison, Jung-ho Kang, and Sean Rodriguez. But Alen Hanson could fit in the mix later in the year, especially if the Pirates see a combination of injuries or poor performance. He could eventually be a starter in the majors. But he’ll need to be more consistent on both sides of the ball before that can happen.