An interview with Alen Hanson

Elsa

This weekend is the first time that I've seen Alen Hanson play in person. Based on the scouting reports that I'd read, I expected to see a relatively mature approach at the plate (with the occasional wild swing at a pitch out of the strike zone), some pop, and speed on the bases. Defensively, I expected to see a player who was still a little raw, but with an exciting glove, good range, and an arm that was borderline for a major league shortstop.

In the two and a half games I saw him play (he was removed early from the third game after tripping over a baserunner in a rundown), I didn't see him work a lot of deep counts, but otherwise he was pretty much as advertised.

Of course, I saw a very small sample of games and I'm not a scout, but here are the notes I jotted down while watching him during both pregame warmups and game action the past two evenings:

  • Really quick glove, perhaps too fast at times ... fumbles around on routine grounders occasionally.
  • Maybe it is his physique, but sometimes he really reminds me of a young Deivi Cruz. Same quick hands and quiet body. (Note: When I mentioned this comparison to Altoona manager Carlos Garcia, he gave me comparison to another shortstop, which I'll post tomorrow.)
  • I see what people mean when they talk about his borderline arm. Probably a big-league second baseman.
  • Made really nice stop on a sharp grounder going to his right, and in one motion, smoothly transitioned to making a strong, accurate throw to first from deep in the hole. Maybe a big-league shortstop?
  • Slaps the ball to the opposite field a lot, both in batting practice and in the game.
  • Fast, but not explosively quick, if that makes sense.
  • Plays the game with a certain joy. Lots of laughing, interacting with teammates, fans etc.

When I met with Hanson before Sunday's doubleheader, the first topic that came up was his relationship with fellow countrymen Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco. He said that Marte and Polanco have told him that they expect him to join them on the big-league club soon.

Hanson is particularly close with Polanco. The two came up through the minors and played on the same team each year between 2010-2013. This is the first year they haven't been on the same roster. When I brought up Polanco's promotion, Hanson broke into a wide grin:

"Me and Gregory talk every night. I was so excited when he got called up. He is my best friend. He is my big brother."

Hanson is originally from the city of La Romana, in the Domincan Republic. Major Leaguers Andujar Cedeno, Pedro Florimon, Freddy Garcia  and Felix Pie, to name a few, are also from the same city. As one would expect, Hanson grew up in a rich baseball environment,  with a lot of good ballplayers to compete against.

"Yes, a lot of good players from my hometown. We played and practiced together a lot before [coming to the United States]."

The one player he most patterned his game after and looked up to was current Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. "We lived close, same city, same place," Hanson said.

Hanson's timetable for joining Polanco, Marte and Encarncion in the majors probably depends on his defensive development more than anything else. As we've learned over the past few seasons, the Pirates are willing to sacrifice a lot of offense for good defense at shortstop. Hanson has some work to do in this area. The raw range and quick hands are there, but the sure-handedness is not. He has already committed 21 errors this season, and his fielding percentage is not much improved over his career rate, .936 (.931 career at shortstop).

"I know I'm better now," Hanson said. "I'm working hard every day. And I want to do a good job in the games. Some mistakes happen, and I want to eliminate that so I'll be ready for the big leagues."

Hanson said that the organization is emphasizing to him the importance of "focus," something we've heard the Pirates talk about in regards to Marte recently.

"In every situation, at bat, in the field, in the dugout, they want me to be focused on the game. My teammates are helping me with that, always being into the game."

Presumably, the Pirates feel that his occasional problems on routine plays stem from not always being fully engaged in the game while in the field.

When I asked him if it was important for him to stay at shortstop, as there has been some talk of him eventually moving to second, Hanson shook his head and said resolutely that wants to stay put. "I want to play shortstop. That is where I want to play the most."

Offensively, I caught Hanson in the middle of a hot stretch. In the last 28 days, he's hit .306/.333/.439, striking out only three times in his last 40 plate appearances. I didn't see a lot of power in batting practice or in the games, but Hanson explained to me that the Pirates are having him work on hitting to the opposite field. (That explains why his opposite field slap hitting stood out to me.)

"I was working hard on hitting to the opposite field right-handed, now I'm working from the left side. I work a lot on that" he said.

Overall, Hanson didn't necessarily leap off the field as an obvious soon-to-be-MLB-ready player like, say, Jackie Bradley did when I saw him in this same park in 2012. Part of that might be because he is working on things offensively, so I didn't really get to see him attack at the plate. But it is the defense that still makes me think it'll be a while before we see Hanson at PNC Park. This is especially true if sticks at short. He'll have to become a much more consistent defender fairly quickly if he wants to pressure Jordy Mercer for the starting job anytime soon.

My guess, based partly on talking with Carlos Garcia, is that Hanson will eventually move to second. This is just my impression, as Garcia did not explicitly suggest a move was imminent. (I'll post Garcia's full comments Monday afternoon.)

For his part, Hanson thinks he'll be ready sooner rather than later:

"Pretty soon, I know that. I don't control that [when the organization makes the decision].  It's coming soon, though. I want it to be this year! This year or next year, I'll be there."

Hanson is also aware that a lot of Pirates' fans are excited to see him play in the major leagues are following his progress.

"Yeah, I'm working for that. When [the organization] gives me the opportunity, I'll do my job."

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