In the mid 90′s, Hanson “MMMBOP” fever swept the nation as the three brother band reached insane heights of popularity. The Hanson band sensation eventually died down, but for Pittsburgh Pirates fans the fever may soon return in the form of Alen Hanson fever. A year ago, Alen Hanson might not have even been a top 100 prospects in the Pirates farm system. His signing bonus is unknown, which generally means it’s a small, insignificant amount. Signing bonuses are a strong indicator on how highly thought of a signee is and therefore Hanson was buried under several other middle infielders in the Pirates farm system who had signed for bigger bonuses. Low level middle infielders head of Hanson included names include Johnathon Barrios and Jodenali Carvajal and, who got bonuses of 250K and 350K respectively, and Jorge Bishop, who had already found some success playing stateside.
Now, after a breakout year in 2011, Hanson is ahead of all those players on a prospect depth chart. The biggest factor in facilitating Hanson’s upward move was his production last year. As a 19-year old, Hanson put up a .263/.352/.429 line for the Rookie League GCL Pirates in his first year stateside. Looking deeper, Hanson’s average was the only statistic that wasn’t very impressive. Hanson showed solid power, posting an ISO of .162 which included 22 of his 52 hits going for bases. An isolated patience of .89 is also a solid number for any player, but it’s value is amplified for a middle infielder, especially one who’s both young and from Latin America, where good plate discipline seems to be less prevalent. Speaking of middle infield, perhaps more telling is the fact that as soon as he started playing in the GCL, the Pirates chose to start him at shortstop instead of the aforementioned Barrios and Carvajal, who got stuck at second base and third base instead. That’s a strong indicator of how an organization views a prospect or prospects. Therefore, all signs point to the fact that the Pirates consider Alen Hanson a very good prospect and ahead of Barrios or Carvajal.
Looking at Hanson, that might seem surprising. He’s diminutive to say the least. Hanson stands at 5’11, which is a decent height. However, he only weighs about 150 lbs. To detractors, that may be a negative for Hanson, but his small, lean frame allows him to be incredibly quick. That quickness allowed him to steal 24 bases last year in only 52 games and more importantly, it gives Hanson plenty of range as shortstop. Add in quick reactions, a solid glove, and an ample arm, and Hanson should be at least an above-average defensive shortstop, especially since there is little risk of him being forced to move off the position. Referring back to that .162 ISO his put up last year, it looks even more impressive when it becomes evident it’s produced by a guy who only weighs 150 lbs. 5’11 isn’t tall, but Hanson should be able to add muscle and that means he could maintain that level of power as he progresses up the minor league ladder with even a chance to add a bit more pop. Perhaps most impressive was that plate discipline. Hanon walked 22 in 234 plate appearances in the GCL while only striking out 34 times over that same span of plate appearances. That calculates out to a BB rate of 9.0% and K rate of 14.5%, two excellent numbers.
Overall, Hanson has a long way to go to make the majors. He’s only 19 years old and won’t even turn 20 until October. The highest level of baseball he’s played is 3 games at the Pirates Short Season affiliate State College. That’s where he will probably start next season. If Hanson’s able to maintain his plate discipline, continue to prove his glove, and maybe hit the ball more consistently and with more power, he could shoot up prospect rankings and really put his name on the map. For a team such as Pittsburgh, who lacks an elite shortstop prospect and only has mediocre shortstop prospect depth, that would be a welcome development. Pirates fans and Pirates management alike will both be crossing their fingers and hoping for a return of Hanson fever.