By Justin McIlwee/Indianapolis Indians
Alen Hanson, ironically, needed to adjust to the speed of the Triple-A level during his rookie season with the Indians.
The speedster entered the year ranked by Baseball America as the top infield prospect in the Pirates organization and hit just .203 with 17 strikeouts in his first 15 games with the Tribe.
His recent turnaround, however, came just as quick as Hanson.
And much of that is through the help of Indians hitting coach Butch Wynegar, whose first year of instruction in the Pittsburgh organization has featured a heavy dose of Hanson. Especially over the last few weeks.
“Coming from Double-A, each level you go up, the game gets a little bit faster,” the 20-year coaching veteran said. “Hanson struggled early in the year to slow the game down a little bit, but about two and a half weeks into the season, he just seemed to turn it on.”
Which is an understatement, to say the least.
Since April 28, the 22-year-old Hanson is hitting .346 with seven extra-base hits – including one homer – 13 runs scored, 10 RBIs and six stolen bases.
And it’s not just his offensive numbers that are picking up; his impressive range paired with his improved defense has led to highlight reel plays at second base. After making two errors in his first 10 games, he’s committed just one miscue over his last 26.
So what does Hanson himself accredit for his early success?
Work ethic and attention to detail.
“I try to focus and take in a good at-bat and really work hard in practice,” Hanson said. “I work on the little things that help me out during games. Defensively (fielding) ground balls, and offensively, just bunts and trying to get on base however I can.”
And when he’s on base that work doesn’t stop – Hanson is ranked 4th in the IL with 11 stolen bases and has scored 20 runs on the season.
That type of all-around productivity has Wynegar making some lofty comparisons.
“I asked him the other day if he understood the word ‘superstar,’” Wynegar said. “I told him he’s got a chance to be a superstar in this game; you could be Jose Reyes and even Robinson Cano.”
In the meantime, Hanson is making a name for himself with hits in eight of his last nine games and 13 of 16 overall in May. He’s paced his .338 average during the current month with seven multi-hit efforts, and as of Tuesday, is tied for fourth in the IL in base knocks and tied for fifth in runs scored after April.
Says Hanson,“I thank my faith and all the hard work I’ve been putting in this season (is the reason for his success).”
For his hitting coach, the recent turnaround is only just the beginning. There’s still more power in Hanson’s developing bat.
“He’s still young, he’s still growing, he’s still maturing,” Wynegar said. “Once he starts getting on a roll a little bit, (his power) will show up.”