Not since “Mmmm…Bop” has there been this much excitement about a Hanson. Alen Hanson, the 19 year old shortstop of the West Virginia Power, has been the breakout star for the Pirates’ minor league system in 2012. He is also garnering national attention from prospect pundits such as Keith Law, Jim Callis, John Sickels, and Kevin Goldstein.
When you start the year off batting .400/.434/.700 (1134 OPS) with 8 stolen bases and 4 home runs, some plaudits will come your way. Now the question that many people are starting to ask is — “When will Hanson get moved up?”
The short answer is that there is no rush to move him up at the start of May. Last year, Hanson started off hot in the Gulf Coast League, only to fade in the second half of the season — presumably from wearing down physically. Hanson is listed as 5′-11″ and 152 pounds, so the grind of a long season will affect him differently than a larger player, especially one that is not playing as active a position as shortstop.
Last year, Matt Curry laid waste to the South Atlantic League in a way that had not been seen since Steve Pearce and Brad Eldred were putting up crazy stats in their minor league careers. Curry did not get promoted, albeit a 2 level jump to Altoona, until May 30th. And this was while putting up a .361/.477/.671 (1148 OPS) line with more walks than strikeouts (35 to 29). For all of his fantastic stats to start the year, Hanson is currently sporting a 6 BB/22 K line in 100 AB’s. I’ll allow you to do the complicated math to figure out those current percentages.
The majority on non-need based promotions within a system are not made until around or after the June draft. The reasons are two fold: First, there is more of a representative sample of work to warrant a promotion or not. Second, new college players will fill the short-season leagues or in some cases allow for placement at one of the A-ball levels, thus creating the need for advancements throughout the system to compensate.
Something else to consider is that there is no obvious room for advancement throughout the system, due to the fact that the Pirates have set each middle infield position at the four full-season affiliates up with interesting or semi-interesting prospects.
AAA — d’Arnaud (SS)/Mercer (2B) *
AA — Holt (SS)/Cunningham (2B) *
A+ — Ngeope (SS)/Maggi (2B)
A — Hanson (SS)/Carvajal (2B)
* — Both d’Arnaud (concussion) and Cunningham (wrist) are injured, but it is unclear the extent of the respective injuries.
All of the players shown above need to be vetted carefully by the Pirates in 2012. There are no organizational soldiers holding a placeholder spot to allow upward advancement of Hanson.
There are a series of caveats, though, as there commonly are in life. The first is the asterisk shown above with the d’Arnaud and Cunningham injuries. Say for instance that d’Arnaud is determined to need a significant portion of the season to recover from his concussion. In that scenario, Brock Holt would get moved up as he statistically deserved to be in AAA in 2012. He was simply caught up in a numbers game at the outset of this season. The same holds true for Cunningham — Maggi is hitting well at the start of the year and could be moved up and challenged. These injury scenarios present an opportunity to create space for Hanson to advance.
Another scenario would be a position change for one of these players. For instance, Jordy Mercer has seen some time in his career at 3B. He has been determined already to be more advanced defensively at SS than d’Arnaud, so there may be a possibility that he could be moved to 3B in the second half of the year to create space for Holt to advance to AAA, thus causing a chain reaction of promotions.
The final method of advancement is a trade of one of the players above Hanson. None of the players are centerpieces of deals, but all could be considered as the 2nd or 3rd piece of a trade potentially. A trade would then free up a spot for players to be bumped up and Hanson get promoted.
There is nothing wrong with allowing a 19 year old to learn the tools of his trade in one place for a full year. Hanson is well ahead of the curve in terms of performance age relative to the league. Not only will this be his first year in a full-season league, but he is also playing shortstop full-time, which is a position that most national scouts do not think he can handle long term. The most likely outcome is that Alen Hanson will get a taste of High A in August for the last month of the season.