Grant Paulsen catches up with a prospect every week on “Minors and Majors,” a weekly baseball talk show on Sirius XM Radio. The show also frequently features Baseball America writers and editors. Now you can read excerpts from these interviews here at BaseballAmerica.com, in case you can’t tune in each Saturday at 8 a.m. Eastern on Sirius channel 210 and XM channel 175.
This installment features righthander Tommy Hanson, the top prospect in the Braves organization. Hanson dominated at two levels in the Braves system last year, leading the minors with a .175 opponent average, then won the pitching triple crown in the Arizona Fall League by going 5-0, 0.63 with 49 strikeouts in 29 innings. He also became the first pitcher to win the Arizona Fall League Player of the Year award.
Grant Paulsen: Your offseason is almost over. How did it go, and are you ready to go back?
Tommy Hanson: It’s been going good. I’m just trying to relax a little bit right now. It was a little shorter this time around because I played out in Arizona for the fall league. I took a couple of weeks off from throwing and then I started trying to get back into shape. Then I was working out and throwing and tried to get my body going again.”
Paulsen: Did playing fall baseball help or hurt how your arm felt when you started throwing?
Hanson: This time around I had a shorter period to throw and get ready. The first couple times I went out to throw, my arm felt like I didn’t take any time off. In past offseasons I would go out and throw and it felt like I never threw a baseball before. It was just a long time off and my arm just felt really weird. But once I get home now I just take a couple of weeks off and then it’s back to the gym to try to stay in shape and get in better shape. Once the holidays roll around it’s time to start throwing and getting ready for spring training again.
Paulsen: Tell me more about the workouts and throwing sessions you’re talking about
Hanson: Right now I’ve been working in some bullpen and some side sessions like every other day. I take two days off in between sometimes depending on how my arm feels. I’m just trying to get off the mound, you know. When I’m at home it’s a lot more long toss and playing catch, but once I got out here (in Atlanta) it’s more throwing to catchers and getting off the mound. As far as workout stuff goes, it’s just a lot of sprints and your basic weight training and your shoulder maintenance program and all that stuff that helps you try to stay strong.
Paulsen: What will we notice that’s different about Tommy Hanson come day one of spring training?
Hanson: I just feel like I’m ready to go. I’m very, very eager to get going. I’m excited to face big league hitters and to be around all the big leaguers in camp. I’m just very excited to get going. As far as pitching stuff goes, I’ve been working on my changeup a lot in the fall league and in the offseason. I think I’ve come a long way with that. That’s probably the biggest difference with me. Just trying to throw it more and get a better feel for it. I think I’m coming along in that area. Other than that it’s going to be same thing I’ve always tried to do. I’m going to attack the hitters and go after them with my best stuff.
Paulsen: You went 5-0 with a 0.63 ERA out in Arizona. Did people forget to tell you that the AFL is a hitter-friendly league?
Hanson: (Laughs) That’s what everybody said going out there. That the ground is real hard so the ground balls will get through a little easier, and the air is thinner so the ball will carry and all that. When it comes down to it, that’s the last thing on your mind when you are facing hitters. The Braves told me to go out there and work on my changeup and throw it a lot more. I was trying to balance that in, but at the same time be competitive and work on everything else. I just wanted to go out there and compete and work on some stuff. It was one of those things where everything felt good. I could throw all my pitches when I needed them and that’s pretty much what happened.
Paulsen: What were the Braves instructions as far as working on your changeup?
Hanson: They said they just wanted me to throw it more. During the season I was throwing it, maybe, six to eight times a game. They wanted me to throw it 10 to 12 times. The just wanted me to focus on it even between starts and in side sessions. They said that’s the one area I’m lacking and I needed to get that going a little bit. I felt like I did that. When I was out there I got a lot more comfortable throwing it to hitters and I’m happy where it’s at right now.
Paulsen: Hitters always talk about seeing the ball bigger when they are grooving. Did it seem like home plate was growing as you were working your way through the AFL schedule?
Hanson: When I was out there I had Tyler Flowers catching me and he’s a huge guy. Whenever he was catching it felt like he was super close. It definitely felt like the plate was closer. Basically it felt like I could do whatever I wanted when I was out there. It was just one of those things where everything was going good and having Tyler catch me every game, we were always on the same page. Everything just kind of went together.
Paulsen: You were the talk of the league. (Giants righthander) Kevin Pucetas said guys were calling you Jesus. How do you respond to that type of praise from your peers?
Hanson: I just think it’s funny. I don’t see myself that way. I’ve got stuff to work on and I still have a long ways to go. But to hear comments like that, I just think that’s cool . . . A lot of the guys were joking around and telling me to ‘take it easy, it’s a hitter’s league’ or to slow down because it’s the end of the year. But I never heard the Jesus one (laughs). That’s a new one for me.
Paulsen: You threw a no-hitter last year (on June 25 for Double-A Mississippi). You dominated the AFL. You have players calling you Jesus. What are you most proud of from 2008?
Hanson: I just think the progression I made. Every time I go out I want to get better. I want to learn. I want to pitch in the big leagues for a long time. Pretty much everything I’ve done up to this point I’m proud of. I take my job seriously. I want to do good and I want to go out and dominate when I pitch. If I had to pick a couple things, the no-hitter is an obvious one. That was an unbelievable time, probably the funnest time I’ve had pitching. And then I’d say getting the MVP award out in Arizona, being the first one to do that was pretty neat. I’d put those two right at the top of the list. But I’m just proud of the steady progression. I just want to keep working hard and keep going along this path.
Paulsen: For people not familiar with you, talk about the mentality and the repertoire you use out on the mound.
Hanson: Basically I’m just a calm, laid-back guy, but once I go out on the mound I get that competitiveness going and I get aggressive. I like to attack hitters and go right at them with my stuff. I pitch off my fastball. I throw my fastball a lot. Then I have my slider, my curveball and my changeup. Basically all I try to do is go right after hitters and try to keep them off balance as best I can. I like to get outs quick, but my favorite part about pitching is striking someone out, hopefully by making them miss three times.
Paulsen: Is it difficult to keep yourself from falling in love with the strikeout?
Hanson: You know, when I do get in trouble it’s because I am pitching to contact a little bit too much. I’ve always struck out a lot of guys as I pitched. That mode has helped me up to this point. Maybe down the road I may need to switch up how I think and how I go about getting outs.
Paulsen: Yeah, let’s not tinker with anything right now . . .
Hanson: Definitely not. If I need to make an adjustment I will, but as of right now it’s the same thing. Just go right after guys, and I like to strike guys out so hopefully that will happen.
Paulsen: What major leaguer pitcher do you pattern yourself after?
Hanson: That’s kind of a tough one for me because I don’t get to watch a lot of baseball because we’re always playing. Maybe a guy like Smoltz. I don’t like to compare myself just because they are so far along in their career, and I’m just trying to make my way up. I’ll just say that whoever tries to go out and attack hitters and be aggressive is who I try to pattern myself after.
Paulsen: Goals and game-plan for spring training?
Hanson: I’m just going to go down there and be in shape when I show up. I want to keep working hard and try to get ready for the season, whether I start off in Atlanta or in Gwinnett in Triple-A. Obviously the goal is to be Atlanta as soon as possible, and I want to go down there and show them what I can do. Hopefully I can make that choice of where to send me a tough one. I’m just looking forward to going down there and getting ready for the season, and hopefully stay healthy and get ready for the season so I can go get after it.