Sunday, April 22, 2012

Breakout Star - Alen Hanson

Without question, the breakout star of the nascent minor league season so far has been Alen Hanson. Hanson is the starting shortstop for the Low A West Virginia Power in the South Atlantic League. The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic is off to a .420/.459/.783 (1242 OPS) start this season, complete with 4 HR (leads the SAL) and 5 SB's.

If you're like many who follow the Pirates, you may be wondering where Hanson came from. He is a 2009 international free agent signee that played in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. Hanson came stateside in 2011 and played primarily in the Gulf Coast Rookie League, with a 3 game cameo for the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League at the end of the year. His overall numbers for the year were a solid .260/.349/.418 (767 OPS), which led to him being voted the 14th best prospect in the GCL by Baseball America last fall. Hanson's numbers would have been even better, but he tailed off at the end of the year.

The Pirates have enacted an interesting philosophy this year with their middle infielders. At 3 of the 4 affiliates, they have decided to flip-flop the shortstop and second baseman in terms of defensive ability. By that I mean the starting shortstop is actually weaker defensively than the second baseman; this is being done in order to give the current shortstop more exposure to the position in order to refine his skills. The only affiliate where this is not the case is at Double A Altoona, where even though Brock Holt does not have the arm for shortstop, his range is far superior to Jarek Cunningham's.

Here's a quote from the 2012 Pirates Prospects Guide Book about Hanson:
Hanson is very athletic and projects to have a number of above-average major league tools. He’s a line drive hitter who can hit to all fields with some extra base power. He also shows good speed on the bases, with 24 stolen bases in 2011. Defensively he ranks below Carvajal at shortstop, but ahead of Barrios. He profiles better as a strong defensive second baseman.
His hands are not as smooth as you would like to see from a prototypical shortstop. His range is very good and his arm is plenty, but ultimately he may wind up on the other side of the bag. But the great thing about being 19 and in Low A is that you have a lot of time to work on things to refine your game.

The natural urge is to want to promote Hanson up to High A Bradenton, but caution should be exercised. For one thing, the Pirates have set each full season affiliate up with a prospect at the SS-2B position:
AAA -- d'Arnaud (SS), Mercer (2B)
AA -- Holt (SS), Cunningham (2B)
A+ -- Ngeope (SS), Maggi (2B)
A -- Hanson (SS), Carvajal (2B)

Unless there is some movement due to a callup at the major league level, coupled with continued good work from others above him to warrant a promotion, Hanson will most likely be at West Virginia all year. And that's probably a good thing, for as much as a 19-year-old at High A makes prospect watchers salivate, it will be important to monitor Hanson to ensure he doesn't fade down the stretch like he did last year. Hanson does have some swing and miss to his game, as he has 15 K's in 69 AB's so far, but that's relatively inline with his 17.3% K/AB rate from 2011.

The one caveat to a promotion is if the Pirates move a player mid-season to third base (or into the outfield), which would then free up a space in the chain shown above. However, that is fairly unlikely to happen.

Hanson is part of a very exciting and young team at Low A West Virginia. It will be fun to watch his progression this year as teams start to adjust to his hot start and to monitor his stamina throughout the year.

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