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Monday, December 5, 2022

Alen Hanson’s First and Last Shot With the Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. – On the first day of Pirates full squad workouts, Alen Hanson was back at a familiar position. He was taking ground balls at shortstop during batting practice, rather than shagging fly balls in the outfield like other players.

Hanson came up through the lower levels as a shortstop, but moved to second base full-time during the 2015 season. He got some work at other positions, and added third base and outfield work in 2016. But he has played just one game at shortstop since the 2014 season, and none in 2016, even though he has still taken occasional grounders at the position.

There isn’t a plan for Hanson to become a shortstop again, at least not full-time. When he was playing the position, he showed the skills needed to stick, with the range to cover grounders in the hole, and enough arm strength to make the throw to first. His issues came with concentration, and were very frustrating to watch. He’d make a highlight reel play, but would boot the very next routine grounder hit to him, or make a low effort throw to first base that would go wide or in the dirt.

Since the move to second base, Hanson’s defense has been better, to the point where he has been named the best defensive second baseman by International League coaches and managers the last two years, per Baseball America. The problem the last two years is that his offense has been inconsistent. He often looks like he is pushing too hard to impress and make the jump to the majors. This was shown last year after his brief MLB debut. He was called up for a weekend in May, and upon returning to Indianapolis, he looked like he was swinging for the fences with every pitch, leading to a lot of strikeouts and pop-ups, and taking him away from the game and approach of hitting to the gaps and utilizing his speed that works so well for him.

Now, Hanson finds himself in a unique situation. He’s getting his first real shot at the big leagues in 2017, with an inside track to make the bench. However, he’s out of options, which means this will also be his last chance with the Pirates. He’s got enough tools and speed that it’s almost certain another team would take a flier on him if he was put through waivers, which is what would happen if he didn’t make the team and was designated for assignment.

That’s where the old position comes in. For Hanson to make the team, he needs to show as much value as he can at as many positions as he can. He can play second, third, and the corner outfield positions. But if you add shortstop back into that mix, it makes him a lot more valuable.

“It’s going to be an interesting spring for Alen,” Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve had Alen forever. Alen has been able to come all the way from the bottom to the top. We had him up last year. We’re going to move him around. We’re going to even ask what might be there at shortstop. There’s an opportunity for him to be the super U that J-Hay was in 2014. There are some things he can do to change the course of a game which are dynamic. The consistency with which he can play coming off the bench. He’s got to go out and play with an energy that’s unique, to make the speed work, to make the defensive versatility a plus.”

Of course, the thing about defensive versatility is that even if you have it, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Hurdle pointed this out in the best way possible.

“I could play a bunch of position, but nobody said I was gifted defensively,” Hurdle joked. “They’d just talk about my versatility. It wasn’t really good versatility, but it was versatility.”

The thing about Hanson is that he provides value. He might be the fastest guy and the best base stealing option off the bench for the Pirates this year. He’s strong defensively at second base, and can handle his own at third and the outfield spots, although you can tell he’s still new in the outfield. And he has the skills to play shortstop, even if it’s only a Sean Rodriguez type role where he’s only used on occasion. Those skills improve if he can find a way to fix his inconsistencies at the position, although the chances of that happening have long been abandoned.

Hanson spent the offseason working on things necessary for his upcoming role off the bench. He’s been focusing on areas like bunting, base running, and feeling comfortable coming into a game cold off the bench. He also spent time working on agility, speed, and footwork.

“Just making sure that I focus on the little things, and not just focus on the little things, but dominate the little things,” Hanson said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “I know that’s not only what they’re looking for, but that’s what is going to help my game the best. But truthfully, another area I’ve been focusing on is becoming a better ballplayer coming off the bench. Being able to offer that to my team, and being able to be the greatest asset that I could be whenever they need me.”

Hanson will almost certainly make the team this year. I don’t think the Pirates will risk losing him without giving him one real shot in the majors. I don’t know if he’ll get over his consistency issues right away with the bat. I do know that he has enough speed and defense to provide value off the bench. If he can occasionally play shortstop, that would make him more valuable, as it would allow the Pirates an extra spot without needing a true backup shortstop. These skills will allow him to stick in the majors long enough to try and improve on his consistency issues in other areas.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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jason d

I for one am highly rooting for Hanson to show the consistency to take 2nd base from jay hay, making jay hay the super utilty guy, a role he thrived in.

michael schalke

I’m thinking that having Joey Cora on the staff could really help Hanson.

leowalter

I watched him in every home game he played in Altoona in 2014 and he can be a lot better than you think.

BuccosFanStuckinMD

I don’t know if Hanson ever really got a shot with the Pirates, so the next will be his first. Its a shame how far his star has fallen, in just 2-3 years. He obviously played a role in that, by not producing at a consistent level at the AAA level. The Pirates also mismanaged his development – and you have to wonder how a player is impacted when they know they have very little opportunity to advance to the parent club.

He may just need a change of scenery, as does Diaz – another asset and player with great natural ability who the Pirates have squandered. Yes, he had injury issues last year, but he would have been an upgrade over Chris Stewart 2-3 years ago. Stewart can’t hit, throw, or field – but the Pirates keep him like he’s some great backup catcher…

BigB2323

Love how it’s always the front office problem when player a, b or c doesn’t work out. Please let the players take responsibility for themselves.

brilemon

Serious question: How did they mismanage Hanson’s development?

leowalter

I agree with you for the most part, but I do think Carlos Garcia was exactly the wrong Manager for Hanson in 2014. And Garcia’s termination after that season was a clue.

st1300b

Aanyone know where to find results on the game today some sort of stat book

Roberrto21

Hopefully they will give him a real shot. I suspect that he’s a talented player who could be a lot better than people think!

michael t

This time last year Hanson was our number 5 prospect and Frazier was ranked 28th. Gosselin has options and they can’t give up on Hanson’s athleticism. Harrison is expensive so it makes sense to find out what he can do this spring and in the majors at multiple positions.

rich

Tim … I had assumed that since we traded for Gosselin (who played in 122 MLB games last year) that he would join Stewart, Jaso, Freese, and Frazier on the bench. And that Hanson’s only shot was if Kang was suspended (or worse) or someone was injured.

Is that what you are thinking? Or are you assuming he has an inside track over Gosselin and/or Frazier?

Mblee24

I don’t see how Frazier doesn’t make opening day roster. If Kang is available opening day it’s has to be Gosselin going to triple A unless they trade harrison.

jimmyz

He does have an inside track because he has no options left but gosselin and frazier do.

Eric Marshall

I love the idea of giving him a chance at SS. I think he will succeed this year and be potential starter at three infield spots. Hit bat will come around and will force more playing time going into 18. Being with Marte and Polanco will help bring out the best in Hanson.

flackts

If he is a potential starter at three spots in the infield just imagine how much better our outfield will be having two extra guys roaming around!

Joe Nastasi

It’s a shame Hurdle didn’t take advantage of being out of it & get him some valuable playing time last year instead of padding his favorite pet SRod’s stats.

Mblee24

If Hanson makes the team does that mean Gosselin gets sent to triple A? If so does Gosselin have any options left? Does anyone think there’s a chance we trade Harrison before season starts?

llegratS

Yes he has 2 options remaining. (Gosselin)

Mblee24

I thought so. That’s good depth better than florimon, figueroa or Martinez kind of guys in the past.

Andrew Smalley

I respect the opinion, but I find it hard to believe that his issues last year can simply be attributed to ‘trying to do too much’. That’s often the cliche and excuse that many use when they don’t know what the problem is. It’s similar to Tyler Glasnow being ‘nervous’ and ‘anxious’ in his debuts at the ‘next level’. This type of intangible critique is convenient, but often just BS. Sometimes a guy doesn’t have the impact bat (Hanson) and sometimes the guy doesn’t have the requisite control (yet), as in Glasnow.

Attributing struggles to things we cannot quantify may sound nice, but they’re often wrong (if not always). Plus, even if some of it’s true, we have no way of determining how much can be blamed on such an issue. So, it’s usually better off not said or dismissed.

Randy W

Absolutely false. This wasn’t analysis by a guy who just saw him swing the bat a few times. I’m not even going to guess how many ABs from Hanson John has seen over the years, but I’m certain it’s enough that we should trust him when he says he seemed to be trying to do too much.

Scott K

We’re talking about human beings, not stats on a spreadsheet. To totally dismiss human emotion from sports performance is the equivalent of booting a routine grounder.

Ron Zorn

Scott, here, here. Well said. The stats phenomenon is like many things in our society. We realize something is wrong, or needs adjusted, and almost without fail, we over-adjust. We never used stats for years, or used the wrong stats, i.e. ERA, RBI’s etc., Now everything is broken down to statistical minutiae. Stats can’t factor in whether someone fought with there wife, were up all night with their newborn, couldn’t sleep after a long trip back from the West Coast. These are human beings, not robots. And if it were robots, what fun would that be?

Andrew Smalley

To say that I ‘totally dismiss human emotion from sports performance’ is a straw man and not worth responding to. I’m simply saying it cannot be quantified, even if it’s significant – which it isn’t.

Scott Kliesen

Sounds like you’re backtracking to me. Not everything can be quantified, and not everything that can be quantified is all that matters.

AlbanyPirate

Andrew, while I do appreciate your inclination towards focusing on analytics and statistics, I think there is something that is missed when you exclusively do that, and there is something to be gained by considering immeasurable subjective views about a person’s character, or effort, or lack of effort. As an example, if Pitcher X and Pitcher Y get called up to the majors and are both jittery and perform poorly in their first few outings, you could look only at the results and send both back to AAA. But if Pitcher X has had good control in AAA but has a history of being nervous at each new level, and Pitcher Y has had mediocre control in AAA but has no such history, then you may want to look beyond just the analytical tools and leave Pitcher X up to work through his jitters, and send Pitcher Y down to work on his changeup and control or whatever else isnt translating into success at the majors. The numbers might not tell you that, but looking at the pitchers as people and not just numbers can give you an indicator of what to do, in my opinion.

John W

Look, we have 1000 at bats in Triple A telling us Hanson is a pretty meh hitter at the end of the day. So he swung for the fence after his callup…

Maybe he turns it on at the MLB and clicks to justify some of the hype of the years but I view that as a low probability event.

Andrew Smalley

Please quantify how much of his struggles were related to ‘swinging for the fences’ and how much of his struggles were related to him simply not being good enough to hit at the MLB level.

Jrazzi

Idk, but when I played baseball growing up, I couldn’t hit anything when I was trying to crush the ball. You pull your head, your swing is not in the zone for as long as it needs or usually is, the list goes on. Now obviously we have different skill levels and I can’t even fathom whathitting off a pitcher in AAA or the the show, or that I was skilled enough to even approach a professional park, but if this is true from pinto league to high school, I’m going to have to assume that it would be in AAA, no matter the skill level of the athlete batting

Andrew Smalley

Laughable.

joe s

Besides Glasnow, Hanson has been the whipping boy of Pirate management and the fans on this sight. Another organization would be singing his praises and the fans would be clamoring for his promotion but not here, here you only read about the negative. Lets hope the Pirates give him a chance to prove himself and I do not mean 20 odd games spread over the year, where his inconsistencies can be pounced upon and his good games are just ignored. If he is set free, he can produce. He has the glove and speed no question about that and he can hit, so give the man a chance to succeed and stop expecting him to be a god, like is done with Glasnow.

freddylang

Yeah, because other teams’ fans are so positive about things.

st1300b

Joe that may be a bit to the extreme for me but I agree with that thought in general Hanson is a valuable player he’s going to be a good player for this team he’s a replacement for Rodriguez which we desperately need and he’s young and he’s got fire this is going to be a big year for Hanson always been a fan.

Bobby L

Hanson has been a guy who I don’t know what to think about. He’s been good defensively and an okay hitter for his position, with more pop than might be expected. He has some of the best speed in the org. Due to his inconsistencies I would think he has to be an everyday player to even that aspect out. Therefore I wouldn’t expect him to be successful in a bench role.

But, I certainly like him as insurance as a backup SS. If he were to get a super utility role to keep him active things might work out. He needs near everyday work, not a late inning pinch hitter or pinch runner. It’s make or break, put up or shut up.

freddylang

I think if he uses his skills the right way and becomes more of a small ball player the rest will come with experience. I hope he can become a .700 OPS guy that plays good defense multiple places and shows good speed and some occasional pop. Pretty much what Harrison does. But I like that Hanson has a little HR pop and I think that could play well in PNC in the near future.

emjayinTN

I have always felt that Alen Hanson could help the Pirates if given the chance. He came up in Sep last year and was the designated pinch runner and pinch hitter. He did not get a start until 9/17 when he was 1 for 2, 2 BB, scored a run and drove in a run. Next start was 9/23 where he was 2 for 3 and scored 2. Next start was 9/30 where he was 1 for 3. Mind games.

Over the last 2 years in AAA he has batted .263 and .266, with 69 BB, 71 SB, and has been selected as the Best Defensive 2B by Baseball America both years. Check his ST stats the past 3 years. He is a ballplayer and needs to play, but, IMHO, that will have to happen elsewhere.

piraterican21

This is a funny comment! Love how ridiculous it is!

wvpirate

I would rather take chance of a possible 5 years of developing Hanson into a good player who has speed and play mutiple positions, then 1 year of Jaso. Just seems like a better choice to me.

Doug W

You need to play whoever the better player now is. Can’t afford 200 at-bats of mediocre hitting from Hanson.

Joe Nastasi

You had that for 3 months from Jaso last year.

st1300b

Why not both they both can be good players for this team

John W

That sounds good in theory but 2017 matters and the Pirates need someone on the bench who is left handed and handles righties well… especially if Josh Bell isn’t ready be opening day. If the choice actually came down to Hanson or Jaso(I don’t think it does) they have to go with Jaso.

piraterican21

Don’t overlook Jaso’s improvement the last couple of months of the year, he was hitting the ball harder and elevating it more which has been a recipe for success for a few players lately.

piraddict

I agree. Jaso is an okay ballplayer, but doesn’t have a long term future with the Bucs.

John W

Damn… wish we would have cashed out on Hanson in 2013

leowalter

” Cashed out ” how ? Do you really think an MLB Orginization would give up much for a player who hadn’t appeared at a level higher than A+ ?

John W

LEO! Well as the 61st ranked prospect in the BA top 100 in 2013 he would have been valued around a 2 surplus WAR- somewhere in the ballpark. So yes, that is real value if we would have cashed out at his peak.

That’s when some still thought he might have a future as a SS.

piraterican21

That’s has been my thought for the last few years, prospects seldom workout. But it looks bad when they get traded and realized their potential somewhere else.

IC Bob

I will root for Hansan but not really showing much with the bat since low A suggest more lack of skill then consistency.

John Dreker

He had a .768 OPS in Altoona in 2014, which is 50 points above league average, from someone who was four years younger than the average player. That was a good season at the plate.

He clearly shows inconsistency, which is why he is such a streaky player. He gets out of his game too often. His struggles don’t come from being over-matched, it comes from someone trying to do to much and not playing to his strengths. He is not a power hitter, but you wouldn’t know that by some of the swings he takes when he’s not on his game. I saw him daily after he was sent down last May, it looked like he was trying to get back to the majors with every swing he took and that went on for awhile.

st1300b

I think he has a little Brandon Phillips
In his game

dr dng

John, do you live in Indy?

Andrew Smalley

This is tenuous logic. All of it.

John W

Don’t forget the 1000 at bats in Triple A where he was barely a league average hitter.

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