Hanson in mix for roster spot in Kang's absence

Second base prospect could break camp with Pirates

March 11th, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The spotlight has shined brightly this spring on a group of prospects who won't begin the season in Pittsburgh: Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell and a host of others. They may be future stars, but their time has not yet arrived.
So turn your attention for a moment to a prospect with a real chance to crack the Pirates' Opening Day roster: second baseman Alen Hanson.
If Jung Ho Kang (surgically repaired left knee) isn't ready for Opening Day, the Pirates will need another infielder. It's entirely possible they'll simply bump Sean Rodriguez into a starting role at third base and keep Josh Harrison at second.
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But if Hanson shows he's ready, general manager Neal Huntington has said, he can earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
"It's good," Hanson said. "They say I've got a chance to help the team, so I'll be ready for the opportunity."
The Pirates could slide Harrison over to third and install Hanson at second until Kang returns. Hanson is competing for a roster spot with utility infielders like Pedro Florimon, Cole Figueroa and Gift Ngoepe.
But Hanson offers a high ceiling and game-changing speed. He hit .309/.381/.528 with 16 homers, 13 triples, 33 doubles and 35 steals for Class A West Virginia in 2012. The following spring, he was MLB.com's No. 54 overall prospect.

His stock has fallen in recent years -- he's no longer on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list -- but he's still the Pirates' No. 10 prospect and the game's sixth-best second-base prospect. The 23-year-old switch-hitter batted .263/.313/.387 for Triple-A Indianapolis last season and stole 35 bases in 117 games.
"He's faced the challenges young players face. How do you take those incredible abilities that he has and get them to play on a more consistent basis and live up to expectations, sometimes unrealistic, sometimes unfair?" Huntington said. "You've seen it already in Spring Training, the things he can do on a baseball field. If we can get him to do that more consistently, we've got a really good player on our hands."
After spending most of his Minor League career as a shortstop, Hanson moved to second base last year. In 2014, he made 29 errors in 100 games at shortstop. He possesses the athleticism and instincts to handle second base, but the Pirates want him to focus on making the routine plays.
"Part of that will come through maturation," Huntington said. "Part of that will come through a focused consistency and a consistent ability to lock in and make the routine play routine, because he can make that spectacular play."
So far this spring, Hanson has hit .467 with a double and three stolen bases. He was in the starting lineup Friday, batting leadoff and playing second base, and went 0-for-1 with two walks in the Pirates' 4-3 win over the Rays. Most of the Pirates' Opening Day lineup hit behind him: Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, John Jaso and Francisco Cervelli.
If Kang returns in April, as expected, the Pirates might only need an extra infielder for a few weeks, perhaps even less. They don't necessarily need Hanson to prove he's ready for a full-time, everyday job in the Majors. But if he shows he's ready now, they're not going to wait longer than they have to.
"Just be in the game, make every day a good day and be ready for everything," Hanson said. "Every day I come in to learn something."