Alan Henson. Alen Henson. Alan Hanson … ALEN HANSON! You are excused if you are never able to spell his name quite right. I am pretty sure his name is meant as one of those mental twister games. Google has completely given up on me. They do not even ask me, “did you mean Alen Hanson,” anymore, they just know what I meant. But you are not excused for forgetting about Hanson in your upcoming prospect, or keeper league drafts.
Hanson broke out for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, as a 19-year-old in Single-A. He triple-slashed, .309/.381/.528, with 16 homers and 35 steals. MLB.com ranked him the 54th best prospect in baseball the following season. But Hanson’s numbers have been far less eye-popping the last three years, as he continued to climb the minor league ladder. His position has also been downgraded from SS, to 2B. He fell in MLB.com’s prospect rankings to #67 in 2014, and then #92 in 2015. Which makes now the perfect time to buy.
The opportunity is there for Hanson to secure the starting 2B job right out of the gate. The Pirates starting 2B for the last six years, Neil Walker, was traded to the New York Mets earlier this month. Jung Ho Kang’s availability for the start of next season is uncertain, as he is still recovering from surgery, after tearing his meniscus and breaking his tibia last season. This leaves Josh Harrison to play 3B, Jordy Mercer to play SS, and Hanson to play 2B to begin the 2016 season.
Even when Kang returns, there will be plenty of at-bats to go around. Last season, Kang played 77 games at 3B and 60 games at SS. Harrison played 72 games at 3B, 37 games at 2B, and 22 games in the OF. In the minors, Hanson played 111 games at 2B and 7 games at 3B. He also played 370 games at SS in his minor league career. In other words, the Pirates will find ways to keep Hanson in the line-up if he is playing well. There is even a small chance he plays enough at SS, or 3B, to gain eligibility there during the season. (Update: Despite a strong Spring, Pittsburgh decided to send Hanson back down to the minors for more seasoning.)
So, what kind of numbers can we expect from Hanson in 2016 and beyond? His huge 2012 season shows his considerable potential and raw talent. Taking a deeper look at those “down” seasons from 2013-2015, things really don’t look that bad. His walk and strikeout rates remained relatively stable (about 7% and 17%, respectively), even as his competition improved each year. He has been younger than his competition at every level. He also played in leagues, and home ballparks, that favor the pitcher. Last season was his best in terms of steals, as he stole 35 bases at Triple-A, being caught only 12 times.
At his peak, all of this points to a player who projects to hit about .280, with 12-14 homers and 25 steals. Easily a top 10 2B option for fantasy. I would not expect Hanson to reach those lofty goals in 2016, but if he even comes close, nobody will forget how to spell his name again.
By Michael Halpern