Signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Pittsburgh Pirates in July of 2009, Alen Hanson opened the 2011 season with the team’s rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He posted an .830 OPS in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old in 2010.
Playing in 55 GCL games, the majority at shortstop, Hanson put his name on every scout’s radar by batting .263/.352/.429 with 22 extra-base hits, 24 stolen bases and 34/21 K/BB in 52 games. The 18-year-old’s impressive campaign ultimately earned him a promotion to Short-Season State College, though it was for only three games.
After proving to be more advanced than expected, the Pirates offered Hanson an aggressive promotion to open the 2012 season. They opted to bump him to Low-A West Virginia (South Atlantic League) rather than additional Short-Season exposure.
Hanson responded favorably—to say the least—emerging as one of the league’s top prospects by batting .309/.381/.528 with 33 doubles, 13 triples, 16 home runs, 35 stolen bases and 105/55 K/BB in 124 games. While he’s not a slugger, the spike in Hanson’s power numbers was a pleasant surprise as he led the South Atlantic League in triples (13) and total bases (258).
Undersized at 5’11”, 152 pounds, the switch-hitter’s bat is incredibly developed for his age, as he’s already demonstrated potential for above-average power and a plus hit tool by the time he reaches the major leagues.
This past season for Low-A West Virginia, Hanson showcased a consistent, line-drive approach that yielded loud contact to all fields. With loose, whippy wrists and plus bat speed, the ball jumps off Hanson’s bat with ease, as he’s adept to driving to the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate. Furthermore, his long arms and superb hand-eye coordination aid his excellent plate coverage.
Part of what makes Hanson so projectable is his outstanding athleticism, which, when combined with his tools, has made him nearly a unanimous top-50 overall prospect headed into the 2013 season.
Although he’s still a raw, inexperienced base-stealer, Hanson has plus speed that’s both obvious on the base paths as well as at shortstop. The one down tool with the 20-year-old is his arm, which grades out as a 5 and calls his future projection as a big-league shortstop in question.
His lack of left-side arm strength, overall inexperience and the error-prone nature of Low-A shortstop led to a league-leading 40 errors in 2012. However, given his athleticism and ability to make consistent adjustments—as he showed at the plate over the course of the 2012 season—Hanson should gradually cut into that total over the upcoming seasons.
While the Pirates will continue to develop him at shortstop for as long as possible, a move to second base appears imminent. Either way, Hanson’s offensive upside is among the best in the game for a player his age, and will be a premium regardless of his ultimate middle-infield position.
Hanson has the potential to be a special prospect given his athleticism and overall skill set, and it would be foolish for the Pirates to rush him through their system. He’s still years away from contributing, but it’s conceivable that he could reach Double-A Altoona after opening the season at High-A.