First Pitch: The Many Options For the Pirates Future at Second Base

Yesterday I did my weekly interview with David Todd on ESPN 970, and in the process we discussed Alen Hanson and his upside with the team. I mentioned that Hanson has the upside as a starter in the majors, and that he could potentially be a leadoff guy, or a strong bottom of the order hitter if a team has a better option as a leadoff guy. Due to the depth and the amount of options the Pirates have at second base, I noted that he isn’t guaranteed to be a starter for the Pirates, and might be an option as a trade chip.

I had two comments since then suggesting I was down on Hanson for mentioning him as a trade possibility. That was kind of surprising, since you don’t usually get accused of being down on a prospect who you just called a potential starter in the majors. But I think it was more directed toward the idea of potentially trading him. Normally you don’t suggest trading a guy you’re high on. Then again, the Pirates’ situation at second base isn’t exactly normal.

Right now, Neil Walker is the guy at second base. He’s also making $8 M this year, and will be due a raise next year in his final year of arbitration. The Pirates could stick with him for one more year, or they could move on, and a lot of that depends on several variables.

The Jung-ho Kang Variable

Jung-ho Kang is currently starting to get everyday playing time, with most of his time coming at the expense of Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Mercer has been struggling this year, and while there has been no official word that he has lost his job, all signs point to Kang taking over for now. With the way Kang has been playing, he has earned a starting role somewhere, to show whether this is legit.

If Kang remains a starter, then the Pirates have three options — shortstop, second base, or third base. Josh Harrison is the long-term guy at third, and has been playing better lately. Kang makes sense at short, unless Mercer rebounds. If that happens, then the Pirates would turn to second base for Kang.

Of course, if Mercer doesn’t bounce back, then Kang would probably stick at shortstop, removing one variable from the second base position.

The 2016 Variable

 

I don’t think that it’s a guarantee Neil Walker will be back in 2016, or at least not at second base. The Pirates would currently be paying Walker and Pedro Alvarez about $18 M combined through arbitration. Walker would most likely be making $10 M.

The Pirates could afford both players, but they could put their resources to better use, especially if a second base option is available. If that isn’t Kang, then Hanson would be the guy.

But it’s not a guarantee that the Pirates would go this route. After all, they value depth heavily, and don’t go with the idea of just having one guy per position. That’s how they are currently in this situation with a lot of different second base options. And eventually, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanson starting for a stretch this year, since Walker has a history of injuries and Kang is currently getting most of his time at short.

If the Pirates have no better use for their funds, then they could go with Walker for one more year. That still wouldn’t rule out Hanson starting in the long-term.

The Max Moroff Variable

This is where the Hanson situation gets complicated, and why I briefly mentioned a trade as a possibility. The Pirates are seeing Max Moroff starting to break out in Altoona this year. Ever since Moroff came into the system, scouts have loved him. He has shown some good tools in the lower levels, and now it appears that things are starting to come together for him.

There could be a scenario where the Pirates have no need for Hanson in the short-term, either due to Kang or Walker starting at second in 2016. And he might also be expendable in the long-term if they think Moroff is the real deal. That would allow them to trade Hanson for help, while still having a second baseman of the future in the minors.

They could also deal Moroff, so this isn’t just about Hanson. It’s about having two prospects in the upper levels of the minors who could be starters in the majors, and only one spot for them, with no defined date on when they would be needed. Who they might trade would just depend on who the Pirates think has the better shot of starting and realizing their upside.

This isn’t a situation like the Pirates are in with Josh Bell, where they have a future opening and one clear prospect who fits the “Player of the Future” title. We don’t know when the Pirates will need a second baseman. We don’t know whether that will be Kang, or one of the two prospects in the upper levels. And if it is one of the prospects, there’s the fact that the Pirates have two of them, which means it’s not clear on which one is the guy of the future.

A decision on this doesn’t need to be made right now. There are a lot of things that could happen this season to make this situation more clear — Mercer’s performance, whether Kang continues looking like a starter, Hanson potentially getting a shot to prove himself in the majors, and/or Moroff continuing his breakout season to name a few. For now, the Pirates have a lot of options and a lot of scenarios, which means Hanson’s role with the team in the future isn’t clear.

**Prospect Watch: Alen Hanson Continues His Strong Month of May

**Breaking Down Max Moroff’s Impressive 30 Game Streak

**Prospect Reports: Heredia, Glasnow, Osuna, Jhang, Tarpley

**Site Updates: Job Openings, Massive Site Upgrades, and Upcoming Coverage

**Stan Savran Podcast: The Depth From Indianapolis, Bell’s Power

**Minor Moves: Jaff Decker Activated From DL, Garcia Returns to Lineup

**Third Mock Draft From Baseball America Has Pirates Going With a Prep Lefty

 

**Morning Report: Romero and Sadler Lead the Way For Indianapolis This Season

 

  • I only consider moving Hanson if the immediate upgrade is enough to warrant it (duh!)…that would be as a centerpiece of a Hamels trade. Hamels is not a one year player or a rental As he has years remaining. Further, added to Frankie he gives us a great stack of LH starters to pair with Cole and potentially Glasnow/Kingham/Taillon. Hamels is a gigantic upgrade over our second lefty and when added to what we have would, I think, give us an incredible rotation in the remainder of Cutch’s contract.

  • Hanson may not be tearing up AAA like Polanco did last year but there is reason to be optimistic about him.

    I remember reading an article here last year (I think John wrote it) about Hanson being one of a select few Pirates minor leaguers to post double digit 2B, 3B, HR, and SB in a season. And he did it in 3 consecutive seasons if I’m not mistaken.

    Considering he’s always been significantly younger than the average age at each level, he is still developing which gives confidence that he will reach his ceiling.

    I think Hanson is the clear choice for “2B of the future” but the one factor that hasn’t been mentioned is his super 2 status. I can’t see him starting in Pittsburgh next year for that reason so if Walker is gone or at first, someone will have to play second for half the year.

  • Could Moroff be moved back to SS? I’m assuming the only reason he was taken off SS is because of his struggles since becoming a pro and Gift was at short. Moroff doesn’t really have any defensive issues at short does he? Mercer wasn’t looked at as a shortstop until he got called up. He was playing 2B in AAA and d’Arnaud was playing SS

  • Harrison is not a 3rd basemen. He looks lost over there right now. He’s getting exposed. He belongs in the super utility role. Play him almost every day at a different position. . Kang should be at 3rd and Mercer at SS if he can handle it but this team can’t afford to have him be this bad for the first two months of every season. Hansen has a lot of upside and should be the next 2nd basemen here very soon/ As soon as Walker is gone which will be no later than mid season next year. Josh Bell eventually takes 1st base. So you have this tto look forward to. C Diaz 1B Bell 2B Hansen SS Mercer 3B Kang Lf Marte CF Cutch RF Polanco

  • Couple of thoughts on this matter. First, I think they would be crazy to trade Hanson away after moving Herrera for Byrd. At the time, they chose Hanson to be the future 2B, and he has only solidified this position since then.

    Next, I believe the Pirates are comfortable with Hanson from an attitude standpoint in Pittsburgh in part due to the strong Dominican presence on the team. Having guys like Marte and Polanco acting as his mentors will hasten his adjustment to the big leagues.

    • Scott, I would agree with you if I had not seem Max Moroff play for the past month and a half.

      • Scott Kliesen
        May 23, 2015 2:33 pm

        Be interesting to see how Moroff moves up the rankings chart in the middle of the season.

        • Yes it will SK. Of course he will have to sustain his level of play, but it isn’t difficult to see why so many scouts were high on him once you see him play for a while.

  • Michael Sanders
    May 23, 2015 7:38 am

    Is it too early to consider a fire sale of the team to get some sweet prospects? For example, dealing Walker and Alvarez and focusing on a future of Kang, Moroff, Harrison, and once again a perpetual search of the obscure first baseman?

    • You do realize just last year they made the playoffs with a start to the season just as bad as this one?

      The days of “fire sales” are over in Pittsburgh.

    • A Pirate ” fire sale ” with them 7 1/2 games out of the Division lead in the third week of May ? C’mon man, you can’t be serious …..can you ?

  • Between hanson and moroff I would take moroff, less baggage. And as an afterthought it is possible though not likely to happen that the pirates could put together a nice package to dangle in front of the phils without selling the farm for a certain pitcher folks are talking about, just a thought.

  • What throws me for a loop is when they put Harrison at 2B and Kang at 3B. It has happened more than once recently. Does that make Harrison a possible heir apparent at 2B? (That would have to assume that Mercer is the SS, of course, which isn’t a certainty.)

    For what it’s worth, I’m overly optimistic about Hanson and would love to see him take over 2B next year, with Walker traded, Harrison at 3B and Kang or Mercer at SS (with the other being the utility).

    • Jason: There is much reason to be high on Hanson – he has been a steady performer for at least the past 3 seasons at the plate, and now that he is back at 2B, he has been an excellent fielder as well.

      Tim: I was surprised at your podcast comments, but not simply because you mentioned “trade”. Looking at the Pirate lineup I see a true need for a leadoff hitter. Hanson, still only in his age 22 season, has been an excellent switchhitting leadoff hitter at Lo A, Hi A, AA, and now at AAA with an uncanny knack for piling up extra base hits and RBI’s from the leadoff spot in the order. He hits equally well from both sides of the plate, has a good sense of the zone, has developed into a successful base stealer, and plays + defense at 2B. Should we need more?

      • Not sure someone with a .320 OBP (below Eastern League average) over 670 plate appearances is a excellent lead off hitter.

        • In 2015, in AAA, where he is now playing, he has a slash line of .292/.341/.422/.763 overall. He started slow but in the month of May he is .345/.387/.571/.959. There may be better leadoff hitter options, but none that have been developed by the Pirates, or are still in the organization.

          • Why do the Pirates need a leadoff hitter from inside the organization? I’m not trying to rip Hansen, if the Pirates get league average hitting from him combined with some speed and plus defense at 2B that is a very valuable player.

            But even at AAA, his walk rate is below league average, and he hasn’t consistently shown he makes above average contact, in order to think that he can run a high OBP because of a high BABIP.

            His early season returns look promising and he could get his debut in his age 22 season which is big.

      • Andrew said it. He doesn’t walk enough.

  • Paul Newmeyer
    May 23, 2015 12:16 am

    I still see Walker wearing a first baseman’s mitt. Pedro could be traded at the deadline or in the offseason. Lambo and Rodriguez could handle the spot the rest of the year with Walker taking over in ’16. I can’t see Bell being ready until later next season, if his power does show itself. Walker would lose trade value with a move to first. This trade deadline or offseason would be the time to trade him if that is their thinking. I don’t think NH has the will or stomach to make that move. I can see letting him play out his contract and extending a qualifying offer.

    • Maybe a Walker for Strasburg deal, with some other bits to even it out, makes sense this year. Strasburg has one more year of arbitration and then is a free agent, like Walker. Nationals are missing Rendon. Risky, yes, but less so if both Mercer and Kang are solid this year.

      At any rate, I do think trading either Alvarez or Walker makes sense. Can’t see paying both of them next year.

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