In yesterday’s meeting with the media, Neal Huntington talked about Alen Hanson and the chances he has of coming up to Pittsburgh.
“Part of it is opportunity, and part of it is continued refinement of his skills and his tool package,” Huntington said. “I know the Indianapolis club missed him when he was out with the injury. He’s come right back in and has been dynamic offensively, and he is learning second base and continuing to get better there. He’s a threat on the base path, as well. He is making great progress. Consistency will be a key for him; he has the ability to work through some struggles and stay hot when he is hot.”
You have to wonder if the opportunity part of that might have changed with the recent injury to Josh Harrison. The Pirates placed him on the 15-day disabled list today with a left thumb injury. They can replace Harrison by giving regular playing time to Jung-ho Kang at third base and Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Mercer has been hitting well lately, so that shouldn’t hurt them much with the loss of Harrison. However, this loss does hurt their chance to be flexible and give days off when needed.
I’m not sure if Alen Hanson could help in that regard. He can play shortstop in a pinch, but has looked much better and more consistent at second base this year. I doubt the Pirates would trust him at shortstop. Therefore, he could give Neil Walker a break at second, but wouldn’t provide help at third or shortstop. I think the real opportunity for Hanson would come with an injury to Neil Walker, especially with Harrison out. That would make Hanson the everyday guy at the position. Without that injury, he looks to be a guy who is doing well in Triple-A, but is blocked from making the jump to the majors in the short-term.
Don’t Expect an Aggressive Push For Bell
Josh Bell has been hitting the ball well in Altoona, including an increase in power lately. Despite that, don’t expect the Pirates to get aggressive and rush him up to try and fill the short-term need at first base in Pittsburgh.
“You never want to make a call on September call ups in July,” Huntington said. “Josh is making great progress. There are a few more home runs which will make some people in this group happy. He’ll continue to work on driving the baseball and getting good at bats as well as continue to learn defensively at first base. He is making good progress. The next step would be Triple-A, and when and how does that happen is the next question for us.”
As Sean McCool wrote a few weeks ago, the jump to Indianapolis would be warranted from the hitting side, but the defense has been a big focus for him, and remains a big focus in Altoona. Moving him up might give his bat a new challenge, but that might not be a good thing with the defense currently challenging him.
“He is making quality progress [at first base],” Huntington said. “When you take a guy that has played almost his whole life very far from the baseball, and you put him much closer to the baseball at a high level, it is unsettling for some guys, and Josh dealt with that. There are some games when Josh shows that he needs a lot more work, and there are other games where he shows that he’s made great progress. It’s just a matter of experience and repetition at first base, and he is getting that now.”
Don’t be surprised if Bell stays at a lower level a bit longer while he works on the defense. The Pirates have no plans to call him up this year, and he probably wouldn’t be up anyway in the first half of 2016. They could keep him in Altoona all year, and it probably wouldn’t impact his timeline to the majors.
Strong Defense From the Minor League Catchers
The Pirates stress defense at the catching position, and that is clear through their prospects at each level. Elias Diaz has shown some of the best defense in the system in Triple-A, and is still looking to regain his offensive consistency from last year. Reese McGuire is the best defensive catcher in the system, and one of the best in the game, although he’s dealt with some offensive struggles in Bradenton this year. The Pirates have also seen Jacob Stallings emerge as a potential future MLB backup, with continued strong defense and much better hitting this year. Huntington offered a lot of praise for his minor league catchers at the top three levels.
“We have some guys that are continuing to do some great things defensively,” Huntington said. “Elias Diaz is progressing in game calling, blocks, throws, energy, and leadership. Jacob [Stallings] has done the same in Double-A as had Valle. Reese McGuire is learning. He is in his second full season as a catcher, and we sometimes forget how taxing that can be. He continues to make progress. We have a handful of guys who can really catch a throw as well as handle the bat.”
Great Start For Ke’Bryan Hayes
The Pirates took prep hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes in the compensation round of the 2015 draft, and sent the third baseman to the GCL. He’s off to a great start so far, reaching base safely in his first seven games, and going 10-for-22 in his pro debut. He has also shown some smooth fielding skills and a strong arm at third base, living up to his defensive hype on draft day.
“It’s always better to get off to a good start, and we wish all of our guys would get off to a good start,” Huntington said on Hayes. “Some of our guys are going to go through adversity early, and they will learn how to deal with it and cope with it. The game is relentless and never let’s up. There is another game tomorrow. It’s a good experience, but in Ke’Bryan’s case, getting off to a good start is helpful. He’s shown up and played with energy and done the things we’ve like of him out of the draft. Our goal is to have that for many years to come”
I’ll have more on Hayes in tonight’s Prospect Watch.