Alen Hanson's Breakout Season At The Plate Has Him Focused On Glovework

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See also: Polanco Emerges As One To Watch (subscribers)

If Gregory Polanco is one of the most surprising pop-up prospects of the 2012 season, his West Virginia teammate Alen Hanson's emergence isn't far behind.

Unlike Polanco, Hanson did make the Pirates Top 30 Prospects list coming into the season (he was No. 27), and unlike Polanco, Hanson had a pretty strong track record of hitting success in his first two minor league seasons.

But even with all that, Hanson's 2012 season has exceeded expectations. The Power's leadoff hitter has shown the ability to hit for average and serve as the perfect table-setter while also showing solid power. He leads the South Atlantic League in hits (123), extra-base hits (51), total bases (213) and triples (9) and is second in runs scored (82).

"Hanson is my opinion is the MVP of the league," West Virginia manager Rick Sofield said. "He's a triple-threat."

A switch-hitter, Hanson, 19, has looked equally comfortable from either side of the plate—he's hitting an identical .326 from either side with a higher on-base percentage from the right side and better power numbers from the left. His power has been a revelation, but Sofield thinks that he'll remain at the top of the order as he matures.

"Everybody tries to create a leadoff guy because they are so hard to find," Sofield said. "Hanson is a legitimate, bar-none leadoff guy. He can walk, take pitches and bunt."

And when Hanson lays down a bunt, he's pretty likely to reach base. Sofield says he's been timed in under four seconds from home to first from the left side.

When projecting Hanson's future chances of big league success, the questions revolve much more around his defense than his hitting. Hanson played both shortstop and second base last year, but he's stayed at shortstop this season. It's been a tough road for him. Hanson's .898 fielding percentage is the worst of any regular South Atlantic League shortstop. Many of his 34 errors have come when he's tried to be too aggressive on a tough play, but he's also botched multiple easy chances as well.

"It's a hard position—not a lot of guys survive shortstop," Sofield said. "He has the tools to play shortstop. Our number one priority is to make him a better shortstop. That's my job right now."

Sofield said that he is seeing more consistency from Hanson now than he did when the season began. After making 11 errors in April, 11 more in May and eight in June, Hanson has only committed four errors in July.

"I've seen him at times where you say, yes, he can absolutely play shortstop in the major leagues," Sofield said. "Can he maintain that? We'll see. He's 10 times better now than he was in April."

Whatever position Hanson ends up playing, he looks to have a major league bat. As Sofield sees it, he's been blessed to have two potential up-the-middle everyday big leaguers in his lineup everyday this year in Hanson and Gregory Polanco.

"These two, I think two or three years from now will be everyday regulars for the Pirates," Sofield said. "It's exciting to see the possibilities."