September 20, 2012
Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco
Evaluating talent on the international market can be even more difficult than it is on the domestic side. Often, prospect writers become enamored with bonus babies and neglect many of the talented players who sign for smaller bonus figures. Every year, a few of these under-the-radar prospects raise their profiles considerably. This season, the Pittsburgh Pirates system saw two Dominican players burst onto the prospect scene: Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco.
After a decent showing (statistically speaking) in the Gulf Coast League, Hanson advanced to full-season ball in 2012. He entered the season as the Pirates’ no. 17 prospect, according to Kevin Goldstein, described as a “young infielder [with] speed and an idea at the plate.” Now, one could make an argument that Hanson is the Pirates’ top position prospect.
The 19-year-old raised some eyebrows when he crushed opposing pitching in April (.410/.441/.695). While he couldn’t keep up that kind of pace, his offensive tools were beginning to materialize. A switch hitter, Hanson is short to the ball from both sides and has above-average power potential. He has the bat speed to be a plus-plus hitter, and the overall offensive package might be good enough to profile at any position on the field. This is where it gets scary: he’s a shortstop.
Hanson is a natural athlete and has all the tools of someone who can stick at the game’s most demanding defensive position. No one expects him to be Brendan Ryan, but his above-average arm and excellent mix of range and quickness give him a chance to be an average defender at short. He needs to log innings at the position and make his defensive development a priority, but the tools are all there. Speed is also a big part of Hanson’s game; he has the makings of an above-average runner, but he needs to refine his baserunning skills to make the most of his physical gifts.
Hanson has a chance to have at least average tools across the board, and with experience and a few refinements, he could become a something special. “Alen Hanson was born to lead off,” said Rick Sofield, who managed him at Low-A West Virginia this season. Sofield described Hanson as an unflappable kid who stays focused and believes in his baseball abilities. In researching Hanson, I couldn’t help but think of Jurickson Profar, who also boasts average-to-plus tools across the board and receives good grades for his makeup. Hanson isn’t quite the prospect that Profar is or was at the same age, but even a poor man’s Profar can be impressive.
Gregory Polanco is another up-the-middle-player who shined in West Virginia this season. Hanson had his fans entering 2012, but Gregory Polanco was a commodity unknown to most prognosticators. Now, the center fielder is also among the most promising position players in Pittsburgh’s system.