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Onetime hot Pirates prospect Hanson says 'it's time' to make major leagues

| Sunday, March 19, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Alen Hanson makes a throw from the outfield during a game against the Blue Jays Sunday, March 19, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — It was not terribly unusual Sunday when Alen Hanson started in left field of the Pirates' 11-11 tie against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates are giving Hanson, normally a middle infielder, a shot to make the team as a super-utility player.

Things got interesting in the fourth inning, though, when Hanson threw out Gregorio Petit, who was trying to score from second base on a single.

When Hanson threw out Steve Pearce at home a few minutes later, it was electrifying.

Two big throws to the plate in the same inning by the same guy? Even for veteran outfielders — and even in spring training games — that kind of performance rarely happens.

“I can't remember the last time I saw a left fielder throw out two guys at home,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It might have been 1982 opening day versus the Cubs. The left fielder for the Reds threw out Billy Buckner two times at home. Look it up.”

It's true. A single outfielder did nail Buckner at the plate in the sixth and eighth innings on April 5, 1982, in Cincinnati.

There's a good reason Hurdle's memory was so spot on. He was the Reds left fielder that day.

Pulling off that feat didn't give Hurdle's career a boost, however. He played in just 19 games with the Reds and was released at the end of the season.

Hanson, 24, hopes things work out better for him. He is out of minor league options, so the Pirates could lose Hanson on waivers if he does not make the opening day roster.

“I've been here for a long time,” said Hanson, who signed with the Pirates in 2009. “It's time for me to be in the league. I feel ready to do my job.”

Baseball America rated Hanson among the top 100 prospects before the 2013 and '14 seasons, but he since has fallen off the radar.

He has spent the past two seasons at Triple-A Indianapolis, doing enough for the Pirates to keep him around but nothing flashy enough to warrant a long look in the majors.

“The tools still play. The challenges still exist,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “At times, he'll show you the flashes of the guy we all think he can become. At times, he reminds us that there's still a lot of work left (to do). We still love the upside, but at some point in time there's a transition from prospect to major league player that needs to take place.”

Hanson played second base, third base and left field in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, his first year with the Pirates. He spent 2012 as the everyday shortstop for Low-A Charleston, W.Va. He stayed in the infield as he climbed up the system.

There is no starting job for Hanson with the Pirates this year. However, he has enough speed to be valuable off the bench if he's versatile enough to earn a spot.

“He has some skills on the bases that we don't have a lot of,” Hurdle said. “It's a wonderful asset to have when you can steal a base when everybody knows you need to steal a base. We're looking to see if he can grow into that.”

Hanson spent the offseason at home in the Dominican Republic, focusing on his agility, speed and footwork. He also altered his approach at the plate, trying to become more of a slash hitter and improve is on-base percentage.

“I feel good with it,” Hanson said. “I'm comfortable.”

Hanson has appeared in 13 of the Pirates' 23 games this spring. He went 3 for 6 on Sunday to raise his batting average to .400 with a .405 OBP, five doubles and two stolen bases.

“He's bought in to what he needs to do to still stay aggressive in the strike zone,” Hurdle said. “It's hard contact. Very nice swings. Short to the ball, hitting it line to line, shooting that ball through the four hole. His at-bats have been clean. Dropping down bunts.

“I like what he's doing. He's competing. He's fighting.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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