Think back to July 29, 2009, the day Jack Wilson was traded to the Mariners. Since that day how many shortstops have you been pumped about having in the lineup? In fact, how many shortstops could you even remember?
Probably not too many, as the mediocre players all seem to blend together. Here is the list of Pirates’ shortstops since the departure of Jack Wilson: Clint Barmes, Brian Bixler, Ronny Cedeno, Bobby Crosby, Luis Cruz, Chase d’Arnaud, Argenis Diaz, Jordy Mercer, Ramon Vazquez, and Brandon Wood.
When Ronny Cedeno is the stud hitter of the list, well that spells trouble. In fact, Cedeno was the only shortstop that batted over .230 during his time as a Pirate (Diaz did as well but only had 33 at-bats).
Offensive shortstops and catchers are by far the hardest positions to fill. The defensive demands of the positions put hitting on the backburner. That is why when one comes up through the system they are highly valued. Free agency is not the answer, as a low-market team such as the Pirates could never afford a stud SS. A shortage of money mixed with poor drafting explains the list of second-rate shortstops above.
The recent acquisition of middle infielder, John McDonald has brought the Pirates’ shortstop inadequacy issue to light. McDonald is 38, and has a lifetime batting average of .239 spanning over 14 seasons. He can fill in if Clint Barmes is injured, but by no means did the trade set the baseball world on fire. Many have grown increasingly impatient, questioning if the Pirates will ever have another hitting shortstop….
Thanks to Alen Hanson, the suspense could soon be over. Hanson is the prospect we have all been waiting and hoping for. Hanson busted into the national spotlight early last season and never looked back. In his first full season of pro-ball, the 20-year-old hit switch-hitter, batted .309 with 33 doubles, 13 triples 16 homeruns, 99 runs, 62 RBIs, 35 stolen bases, and posted a .909 OPS. He led the South Atlantic League (SAL) in runs, triples, and total bases.
He was only one hit away from leading the league in that too. Hanson is considered by MLB.com to be the Pirates’ 3rd best prospect, falling behind Cole and Taillon. In other lists, he will flip-flop with fellow teammate and breakout prospect, Gregory Polanco. Hanson ranks anywhere from 34-70 in best overall prospects in baseball.
Hanson has an excellent bat, developing power, and elite speed. Baseball America ranks Hanson as the fastest base runner in the Pirates’ organization and the SAL’s most exciting player. He combines his speed with quick hands and feet to play the shortstop position effectively. He also has a fairly strong, though somewhat erratic arm.
Defense is Hanson’s major concern, which has some scouts questioning whether he’ll be able to stick at short. However, after last season’s play and his continual development many scouts have changed their tune and see him staying. Keith Law is one of the more famous personalities who has full faith in Hanson’s ability to play the 6.
I too have complete faith in Hanson. I stated in my Alex Dickerson article that I had picked Hanson last year to be my breakout Pirates’ prospect because of the talent in skills he possesses. His speed and hitting ability are undeniable as is his potential. I see Hanson as a very similar prospect to Starlin Castro. Castro too was relatively unknown but after a breakout season in A + ball he came a top 50 prospect. Castro was more advanced in his defense at this point in his career but the hitting and speed sets are very similar. Read what MLB.com wrote about Castro before the 2010 season:
“Castro exploded on the scene in 2009, making his full-season debut as the youngest regular in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. He showed an innate ability to make consistent, hard contact. He hits to all fields and while he hasn’t shown it yet, there’s probably some power in there once he matures. He’s got outstanding speed, which he’ll put to better use as he learns the nuances of baserunning”
Now here is what they have to say this season about Hanson:
“Hanson had put up solid numbers in rookie ball, then surprised some when he made the full-season West Virginia Power out of Spring Training in 2012. All he did there was lead the circuit in total bases while finishing in the top 10 in a host of offensive categories. Hanson makes consistent contact and can drive the ball to all fields and will use an inside-out swing as well. An outstanding bunter, he also has the strength to show occasional home run power. He has very good speed and is still learning how to use it to his benefit on the basepaths.”
As you can see, the two scouting reports are eerily similar. Hanson has all the skills in the world and an unbelievably high ceiling. Him and Polanco progressing through the system together will be one of the most entertaining and biggest storylines of the next few years. Hanson will start in Bradenton this year and try to build on his great season from last year. It might be too soon to tell if Hanson will be the shortstop of the future at PNC but he’s got the ability to do it and I believe he can do it. Hanson is yet another reason for a bright future in Pittsburgh.