Continuing our move around the horn in our profile of a prospect at each position, we land on shortstop. Our subject today was a relative unknown entering the 2012 season and did more than just place himself on the prospect map - he's cracked the the FakeTeams Consensus Rankings as a top 5 shortstop for fantasy. Alen Hanson began the year buried in the rankings (was Baseball America's #27) for the Pirates system behind such luminaries as the since converted Stetson Allie, the since traded Robbie Grossman and the since awful Jeff Locke. While he'll surely rank behind the pitching power couple of Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon - Hanson will be battling with his West Virginia Power teammate and fellow discovery Gregory Polanco and the oft injured Josh Bell for the third spot on the Pirates' list this offseason. Let's take a look at what he did in 2012 that earned him such attention, and more importantly how he accomplished such a feat. To get that closer look, I reached out to Chris Blessing, who is currently in the midst of a series focusing on the top 50 prospects he's seen this season over at Bullpen Banter His numbers 40-31 posted today, and the entire series is well worth your time.
Hanson lashed an eye opening 62 extra base hits in 2012, notable not due to the sheer number but because standing 5'11/152 lbs, you would think he was more slap hitter than power bat. The Pirates were aggressive with Hanson, pushing him directly to full season ball in Lo-A after he accrued only 10 at-bats outside of rookie ball. Hanson responded with aplomb, recording a .307/.379/.526 slash line, spending a full-season at Lo-A West Virginia. Additionally, despite the escalation in level of play, Hanson upped his walk rate to just under 10%. His strikeout rate did jump to just under 19%, but given his proficiency for extra base hits, it's a perfectly acceptable rate. Power isn't his only asset, as Hanson is also the owner of plus speed, swiping 35 bases in 2012, though he could improve his technique after getting caught 19 times. A switch hitting middle infielder with power and speed should draw anyone's attention, so it's no surprise the Hanson has rocketed up prospect rankings this offseason.
While defense might not be of the utmost importance to fantasy owners, it is highly relevant to Hanson's outlook as a prospect. While he has the plus speed to give him range at shortstop, he did commit 40 errors in 430 chances last season. I asked Chris whether he had enough ability to stick at SS and if not, where he might end up:
Despite a high error total, I believe Hanson can stick at short. He certainly has the range to stay there, as well as the arm. Right now, the game needs to slow down for him. He is in a hurry on most throws. If he was unable to handle short, I would make him an outfielder due to his athleticism. 5 years from now, with McCutchen entrenched in center and Polanco likely moving over to right (if he makes it), a spot would be likely open in left for Hanson.
Opinions tend to be mixed on whether he will have to move off of the position for the long haul, but there's enough optimism that we can assume he'll stay there for the foreseeable future. If he does have to move, outfield is certainly an option as well as second and third base. At the plate, there is a lot to like for Hanson, starting with his switch hitting. He is short to the ball from both sides, and has shown plus power potential. Hanson has excellent hands that allow him to control the bat head all the way through the swing and give him plus bat speed. While Hanson has an aggressive approach at the plate, it's not without nuance as he's learned to be patient and draw walks as well. Hanson has the potential for above-average tools across the board (with an ultimate ceiling of a plus-plus bat) but there's a substantial gap between his present tools and where they could end up. When queried as to what it was that led to Hanson's breakout, Chris cited Hanson's superb hand/eye coordination, noting that only Byron Buxton was better in that regard among people that he saw in person. Chris also remarked that when you "combine his hand/eye coordination with his quick hands and patience, you've got a player with tools and skill that [is] more advanced than the competition" while also acknowledging that he couldn't accurately comment if that was what led to his breakout as he did not see him in 2011.
A big part of prospecting for fantasy owners, is understanding the risk involved with drafting/owning a prospect as far away as Hanson. To that end I pressed Chris for the one particular aspect of Hanson's game that could prevent him from reaching the majors. His response:
It's always an adjustment for hitters when better off speed pitches becomes a consistent reality in the upper levels of the minors. For Hanson, being a switch hitter with drastically different swings and stances from each side of the plate, double that concern. I feel he is better equipped from the right side to deal with off speed pitches due to having a more fluid stance and approach. Watching him, I would say he's still learning to hit left handed.
For a deeper look at Hanson, including a breakdown of the different swings and stances from each side of the plate, take a look at Chris' scouting report at Bullpen Banter. Handling higher quality pitches and more refined offspeed offerings have been the death of many a promising prospect, but given Hanson's ability to draw a walk, I'm optimistic that he can avoid the pitfalls that lay in front of him. Taking a walk and having a good approach at the plate certainly don't have to mean the same thing - but I'd rather he have that ability than not, given the situation.
Hanson should begin and spend the entire year at Hi-A in 2013, and while I wouldn't expect him to replicate his stellar 2012, I'd keep an eye on what the scouting reports dig up regarding his progression toward the full utility of his tools. Where he can stick on defense will be a key to his ultimate value, as his bat becomes a lot less special as he moves down the defensive spectrum. At the shortstop position however, Hanson could be an allstar in the mold of Starlin Castro if it all breaks right. Keep in mind, that is the optimistic projection and there's a lot of room for him to fall short of that and still be a useful player or even more. Hanson took us all by surprise in 2012, but don't be caught sleeping on him this offseason.
Chris Blessing/Bullpen Banter
Baseball Prospect Nation