The Situation: With Starling Marte relishing the joys of fatherhood and a few days on the paternity list, the Pirates braintrust has turned to Alen Hanson. With capable bench bats Matt Joyce and Sean Rodríguez vying for starts, it’s unclear exactly what role Hanson will play in the short term, but it’s certainly possible that Hanson will get significant playing time against the struggling Braves.
Background: In 2009, Pittsburgh signed Hanson out of La Romana, a town in the Dominican Republic made famous by its coral beaches and the famous shipwreck of fellow pirate William Kidd. Hanson quickly built a reputation as a promising young shortstop, boasting a developing hit tool and plus speed. Like many a shortstop prospect before him, Hanson made a splash in Low-A in his 2012 stint, where he slashed .309/.381/.528 with 35 steals as a 19 year-old. While buzz quickly arose in prospect circles, Hanson failed to make similar strides defensively, revealing an ineffective arm and committing 40 errors. The rosy luster faded away as he climbed through the minors; the power never truly reappeared, the strikeouts continued to climb, and the walk rate plummeted. A move to second base in late 2014 felt inevitable, and some opined that it came too late. Hanson handled the keystone well in his 2015 campaign, and it appears to be his long-term position.
Scouting Report: Hansen checks all the boxes of a prototypical speedy infielder: wiry frame, twitchy instincts, quick hands. While not an elite speed threat, he still poses a danger whenever he’s on base, taking aggressive leads and trying regularly for the extra bag. Hanson is still struggling to master the art of the stolen base, but his reads and jumps are improving, and his raw speed alone should make up for the occasional baserunning gaffe. His range is aided by his speed grading out as solid average. Unfortunately, the rest of Hansen’s defensive profile is left wanting. Substandard footwork has been the downfall of Hansen in the past, and he often puts himself in poor positions to make plays. His arm, which lacks the speed and accuracy for shortstop, should be serviceable at second base, but ultimately hinders his ability to play multiple positions comfortably.
Hanson looks stronger at the plate, carrying a solid-average hit tool but lacking the discipline to maximize its efficiency. Hanson seems a capable switch-hitter, though he clearly favors batting righty, where he utilizes a longer, more violent swing. Due to his slightly above-average bat speed and loft, he should manage a handful of home runs over a full season. His speed should help leg out some extra base hits but power is ultimately lacking in his game. More than anything, his overly-aggressive approach and poor discipline hold him back at the plate, and he has only four walks to 29 strikeouts thus far in his Triple-A campaign. Hansen will need to improve this aspect of his game to win a starting job, and despite his youth, he’ll need to make those adjustments sooner rather than later.
Immediate Big League Future: While it appears unlikely that this call-up will be anything more than a cup of coffee until Marte returns, this is a good opportunity for Hanson to establish his ability to provide value in a utility role. He has been getting starts exclusively in left field for the past two weeks, a possible indication as to where Clint Hurdle will deploy him during this series against the Braves. Hanson could also provide value off the bench in a pinch-running role. Even if he finds himself back in Triple-A by the end of the week, expect him to return before too long to replace an injured infielder or serve as the 26th man of a doubleheader. —Will Haines
Fantasy Take: Hanson’s dynasty league stock has taken a hit in recent years. In 2014, Hanson ranked no. 63 on Bret Sayre’s Top 101 Fantasy Prospects List after hitting .281/.339/.444 with 24 steals in High-A as a 21-year-old, reaching Double-A late in the season. Then still a shortstop, Hanson was a fast-rising MI prospect who theoretically could’ve debuted late in 2014 or early in 2015, using a plus hit tool, plus speed and enough pop to matter to carve his way into many a fantasy lineup. That didn’t happen, of course, and Hanson has seen his value decline steadily since. He ranked down at no. 86 on Bret’s 2015 iteration of his prospect ranking and at no. 80 on his 2016 list in what I would argue is a much weaker class.
What can Hanson offer dynasty league owners today? Well, he still has the hit tool and speed to be relevant, and he’s added multi-position versatility as well. It’s doubtful Hanson gets enough playing time at shortstop to be eligible there with much frequency, but we could be looking at a 2B/MI/OF-eligible player who can pitch in with 20 steals, 5-10 homers and a tolerable average; sort of a poor man’s Jose Peraza, from a dynasty prospect POV. There’s very little star power here, but the probability of Hanson being usable in moderately deep leagues for a few seasons in the prime of his career is high.
The picture is less rosy for those of you in redraft leagues, as barring an injury to one of Pittsburgh’s middle infielders, Hanson doesn’t figure to add much in 2016. The 23-year-old walked in a paltry 3.2 percent of his PA in Triple-A this season, and while he already has seven steals he’s also already been thrown out three times, which paints an accurate picture of Hanson’s unrefined game as a base-runner. As pointed out above, Hanson is likely just up for a few days until Starling Marte returns, and given the other outfield options the Pirates have on their MLB roster, Hanson might not play much during what I’d expect to be a brief MLB stint.
With Jordy Mercer somehow reaching base at a high clip, Josh Harrison doing Josh Harrison things and Jung-Ho Kang back from the DL, it’s tough to see Hanson finding many PA in the majors. He could stick around as a utility player, sure — he’s better than Cole Figueroa — but if bet the under on 100 MLB PA from Hanson this season. In fact, odds are he’ll find himself near the bottom of Bret’s Top 101 Dynasty Ranking in 2017, unless his baserunning acumen and approach at the plate both take steps forward. —Ben Carsley
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