Let’s rewind ourselves two years, back to the halcyon days of 2015. Not only had the Chicago Cubs not yet won the World Series, but they were still in the midst of their upward turn back to relevancy. Noah Syndergaard and Francisco Lindor were spending their second seasons in Triple-A and starting to show prospect fatigue. Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw were still the best player and pitcher in baseball respectively by light years…well, that’s your constant, I suppose. And Alec Hansen, sophomore pitcher from the University of Oklahoma, was amongst the handful of most likely candidates to go first overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, along with Jason Groome and Riley Pint.
Hansen had never quite pitched up to his stuff (reportedly touching 103 MPH in college) or reputation at Oklahoma, spending most of his freshman year kicking around low-leverage relief and his sophomore year as a good-but-not-great starter. It all fell apart during his junior season, as he was often unable to throw strikes and ended up out of the rotation in the months leading to the draft. The White Sox still took him in the second round and Hansen signed for a slot bonus slightly below $1.3 million. He was fairly impressive throughout the rest of the summer and fall, earning a rare placement on our top 101 prospects as a non-first rounder in his draft year.
This past weekend, Hansen came through Lakewood with Low-A Kannapolis. The pitching matchup ended up being with Phillies sensation Sixto Sanchez, so Hansen was the decided B-side. While Sanchez was every bit the flashy wunderkind he was in my first look at him (Jeffrey Paternostro will have more on that soon), Alec Hansen also placed a stake in the ground as one of the better pitching prospects I’ve seen around the circuit, pitching back to the better reports from his sophomore year of college.
Hansen is a huge, huge dude, at least every bit of his 6-foot-7, 235-pound listing. He’s got long, lanky arms and gets a strong leg drive on the mound from a high-three-quarters arm angle. This creates substantial downward plane on a fastball that’s already coming in from 90-97. At the middle and higher velocities in that band, his fastball shows strong natural cut, which combines with the plane to create a deceptive, almost slider-like movement. He was able to change vertical levels as well, adding just that little extra bit of oomph to the profile. At the lower velocities, he’ll throw a two-seamer with quality dive and arm-side run. These manipulations combined to give him a fastball that projects to be effective against both lefties and righties. The fastballs did become less effective later in the game as Hansen bled velocity; he did make it through six and it’s only April, so this isn’t terribly concerning quite yet.
Of three secondary offerings, I preferred Hansen’s curve to his slider and change. The better ones showed two-plane break, though the shape was less consistent than I would’ve liked. He was at times able to both spot it for strikes and get off-balance chases. The change flashed with quality dive in the low-to-mid-80s, and Hansen’s already able to spot it fairly effectively around the edges of the zone. He wasn’t able to spot the slider quite as well, and there were a few too many hangers at 84-87 that Low-A hitters couldn’t jump on but better hitters would’ve demolished. A few times, the change and the slider were difficult to identify as distinct offerings from behind the plate, which isn’t great praise for either pitch. Given the arm angle and developmental path, I think Hansen’s going to develop one or the other into a MLB-quality pitch as he goes through the minors; I’d bet on the change if forced to pick, though the slider could tighten into the hard slider/cutter that’s currently all the rage in baseball. It is probably worth mentioning that Hansen has already made great gains since joining the White Sox system, and that White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is masterful at matching pitchers with the right pitches.
The worry here is, of course, command and repeatability. It would be an abstract worry even if Hansen had sailed through college into the low-minors, because he’s enormous and enormous pitchers tend to have problems finding and maintaining consistent mechanics. This all went completely sideways for Hansen during his junior year at Oklahoma; he walked 6.8 batters per nine and ended up back in the pen. It is an amazing testament to Hansen’s talent that he was still the 49th-overall pick given that, and a similar testament to both that talent and the strides he made after the draft that he also made our top 101. In my look at him, he repeated stable mechanics—albeit with some crossfire—showing a static release point and consistent arm speed. But that can come and go so quickly, with Hansen himself as a sterling example of the phenomenon. On command more broadly, Hansen had some of your typical A-ball pitcher issues. The fastball command got spottier as the game progressed. The breaking balls both didn’t always seem to end up placed right. Nothing out of the ordinary in terms of command, and given Hansen’s history that’s a pretty good thing.
Overall, Hansen presented as a fairly prototypical potential role 60 pitching prospect, a mid-rotation power starter prospect with potential for higher and a strong short relief fallback. He does have elevated risk because we know he’s capable of losing feel for the strike zone. I do wonder if the matchup with Sanchez had any effect on my look, even just that the game went along at lightning rhythm as both prospects worked fast and mostly cruised. It’s not quite Sixto Sanchez levels of hotness, but it’s always fun to see a legitimate high-end starting pitching prospect come through town.
|Born: 10/10/1994 (Age: 22)|
|Bats: Right||Throws: Right|
|Height: 6' 7"||Weight: 235|
|Long, lanky, enormous fellow. High-3/4 arm slot which presents even higher due to height. Has had trouble with runners in the past, times to the plate mostly 1.38 to 1.45. Athletic for size.|
|Affiliate||Kannapolis Intimidators (Low A, White Sox)|
|Realistic||50 (fourth starter or setup)|
|Pitch Type||Present Grade||Future Grade||Sitting Velocity||Peak Velocity||Report|
|Fastball||60||70||90-95||97||Velocity plays up due to substantial downward plane from height, length of arms, and arm angle. Have reports of him pitching and touching higher in the past. Four-seam at top of velo band has significant natural cut and presents near-slider look. Two-seam effective at lower end of velo band to armside early in game. Bled velocity in the fifth and especially sixth innings, and command within zone wavered late.|
|Curveball||50||60||77-81||82||Better offerings showed two-plane break and great shape between 11-to-5 and 12-to-6. Able to spot effectively for strikes and bury for chases. Harder curves lost shape and started to bleed into less-effective slider. Potential plus, MLB swing-and-miss quality pitch with more consistency.|
|Changeup||40||50||82-86||87||Occasionally flashed hard dive, but often too firm and straight. Effective secondary offering against A-ballers given ability to spot in the zone, but will need to improve consistency and command for the pitch as he moves up levels.|
|Slider||30||45||84-87||87||Showed just enough with sharp bite to be a tantalizing potential offering, but too many flat or hanging, and didn’t present much of a different look than the four-seam fastball except for velocity differential. Sometimes difficult to distinguish from change given similar velocity band and frequent lack of movement. Given flashes and arm slot, can see potential for significant improvement, but not currently a swing-and-miss pitch and clearly the fourth-best weapon.|
A former high-end prep arm that went to college, developed into a 1-1 candidate, and then backslid into a second-rounder, Hansen has put it back together since entering pro ball. Given enormous frame and previous loss of feel for the strike zone, significant questions remain about his ability to repeat and maintain his command over the long haul. Despite that, there’s a pretty good chance for a mid-rotation starter or an impact bullpen arm here, with the possibility for even more if velocity spikes or a more consistent and better third pitch emerges between his change and slider.