Alec Hansen dominating out of the bullpen

Winston-Salem Dash starting pitcher Alec Hansen (13) in action against the Potomac Nationals at BB&T Ballpark on August 5, 2017 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Dash defeated the Nationals 6-0. (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

Alec Hansen had White Sox fans dreaming in 2017. Pitching at three different levels in the minors, Hansen’s strikeout rates increased from Kannapolis (11.39 K/9 IP) to Winston-Salem (12.65) and Birmingham (14.81), resulting in a grand total of 191 strikeouts in 141⅓ innings. There was a thought that the 2016 second-round pick’s prospect status was higher than those of first-round picks Zack Collins and Zack Burdi.

It appeared that Hansen was in range to join the White Sox and make his major league debut late 2018 if he could duplicate his 2017 success. Instead, Hansen suffered a forearm injury during spring training, costing him April and May. When Hansen did rejoin the Birmingham Barons, he wasn’t the same pitcher. Struggling at times to hit 90 mph on his fastball, he lost all command of his pitches and couldn’t get deep into starts. Those troubles led to a demotion, and Hansen finished 2018 with Winston-Salem, a far cry from the progress he made in 2017.

Beginning in 2019, Hansen has been an afterthought when drawing up future White Sox contending rosters during this rebuilding phase. Once penciled in as part of a starting rotation along with Michael Kopech and Dylan Cease, there was just concern that maybe 2017 was the aberration. Hansen was considered to be the top draft prospect before the 2016 season, only to struggle mightily at Oklahoma his junior season.

In response to his struggles, the White Sox made the somewhat shocking decision to move Hansen to the bullpen. Perhaps shorter outings would allow him to discover his rhythm on the mound again, and maybe converting Hansen into a reliever would enable him to find his 2017 form for an inning or two. There’s still great value for the White Sox if Hansen could pull the transition off, and seeing how the current White Sox bullpen is pitching, it might be the faster route to the majors.

After his appearance on April 26 against Frederick Keys, the Baltimore Orioles High-A affiliate, Hansen has pitched in seven games covering ten innings. Over that span, Hansen has struck out 18 hitters to just two walks, and has only allowed one hit. That’s pure domination, and after watching his most recent scoreless two-inning outing, it appears 2017 Hansen has made a return.

Speaking with Winston-Salem Dash pitching coach, Matt Zaleski, he buys into the idea that Hansen is close to his 2017 form.

“I think some of his bad performance had to do with the injury he ended up having in spring training,” said Zaleski.

“Not trusting himself after that injury being able to let the ball go. Delivery got a bit more closed than he usually was to where he is this year. He’s back to where he was in 2017 from a delivery standpoint which is exactly where he needs to be.”

TrackMan was unavailable at Winston-Salem due to technical difficulties that Friday night, but luckily there was Josh Norris from Baseball America watching along with his radar gun.

Getting a view behind home plate, you can see the downward plane that Hansen gets on his fastball, which is vital for a pitcher his size (6’7”). Hansen was able to move the fastball around the zone elevating it when needed and still ready to hit his target on the outside corner.

While the fastball velocity is returning, the curve is Hansen’s out pitch, and that might have been more impressive than his fastball. It has tight spin that funnels well with his fastball, not allowing hitters the opportunity to sit back and wait for the pitch.

It’s a small-sample-size viewing, but speaking with Dash personnel, that Friday night is how Hansen has looked in each outing. That raises the question whether Hansen is ready for more extended outings to see this level of dominance continues. That’s a decision out of Zaleski’s hands, with Chris Getz making the call as part of his director of player development job.

“His mindset works well for starting or relieving. Hansen’s not one that needs to have his scheduled day to pitch, and he’s been handling the reliever spot well mentally,” said Zaleski.

If the White Sox decide that Hansen fits best coming out of the bullpen, it will erase any dreams from 2017 of him helping lead a starting rotation. Instead, it may create a new vision of watching Hansen trotting out of the bullpen to handle high leverage situations in the majors. Keeping up his recent run of dominance may put Hansen back on the fast track to the majors from which he was derailed.

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karkovice squad

Even if Hansen struggles to get stretched out for a full starter load, he’s a prime candidate to continue the evolution of multi-inning high-leverage guys like peak Miller, Hader, and what Arizona’s now doing with 3 inning saves.

tommytwonines

Really? He’s more likely to slide again like 2016 and 2018 at some point in the next two years – not a prime candidate to peak at a Miller-level, although we’d all love to see it.  

asinwreck

To be fair, Andrew Miller looked pretty bad until his late 20s. I see the parallel between highly talented big guys with iffy command and mechanics. Some figure it out eventually.

tommytwonines

That’s true, but Miller was in the majors at 21. It took him three, maybe four different teams to “find it.” Hansen’s 24 in high-A ball. Our Sox are going to cure him? Some of his troubles seem beyond physical and likely reoccurring. 

Trooper Galactus

Yes, he’s 24 in High-A, but if he’s really back to his 2017 form then it isn’t unreasonable for him to be in Charlotte next season. That might feel like a disappointing timeline, but there’s only two Knights pitchers younger than him right now: Cease and Adams. Two position players are one day (Nolan) and a few months (Collins) younger. He needs to return to form, but he can still get back to a reasonable timetable for his career.

karkovice squad

Every pitcher’s a prime candidate to flame out. That goes double for ones who’ve already been hurt. It’s not a distinguishing feature.

What makes him novel is how his profile (mid-90s heat with a good curve) makes him a candidate for more than just being a 3-out specialist while his potential stamina issues and work-in-progress additional secondary pitches might cap him at only 1-2 times through an order.

Marty34

Good stuff Nelson. I’ve considered Hansen a lottery ticket since he completely lost it his Jr. year in college. Better chance of cashing in on that ticket in one or two inning stints. A Jon Rauch type career would be useful.

tommytwonines

Now we’re talking. 

PauliePaulie

I have tough time getting excited about what 24 year olds accomplish at A+. At least he’s throwing strikes.

jorgefabregas

Striking out 53% of the batters you face is nothing to sneeze at.

lil jimmy

you act like 24 is old.

karkovice squad

Kind of is for A+. But better to see him dominating that level, as he should, than not.

It’s basically functioning as a rehab/extended Spring Training/instructional stint to get him on track for a more appropriate assignment. And that’s fine.

jorgefabregas

So he used to be 93-97 touching 99 as a starter and currently he’s 93-94 touching 96 out of the pen. I wonder if he’s dialed back the effort/velocity in order to have better command.

karkovice squad

That’s what a 2080 evaluator thought last year.

Elena

You can all say what you will; I, for one, am still very excited about what Alec Hansen may be able to offer the Sox.

jorgefabregas

Is that picture from this year? He looks heavier than I remember, although it’s hard to say for sure.

ImmortalTimeTravelMan

Just getting something out of him at this point would be nice, White Sox can’t keep blowing high picks. And it’s not like our current bullpen is kicking ass anyway…

PauliePaulie

Fangraphs updated their draft board again.

lil jimmy

I see they moved Bobby Witt Jr. right up next to Vaughn.
What Fangraphs is doing this year is far and away the best draft coverage. I tip my hat.

PauliePaulie

Totally agree. They seem really plugged-in. Those 2 surpassed BA as my most trusted source for draft knowledge last year.
Regarding Witt Jr- If it were any other team, I’d love him at 3. But I just don’t trust the Sox to fix a 45 hit tool.
Still prefer Abrams. Interesting to see Lodolo up there after 3 progrssively worse outings.

lil jimmy

The one thing we were told was College hitting is the strength of this draft. Now we see Fangraphs, Perfect Game and BA showing more HS hitters than College in the top 50.

PauliePaulie

Maybe they’ll surprise us and do the right thing?
But if the Sox stick to drafting College players, what would you think of Greg Jones at #45? I see up the middle, speedy, left handed bench bat floor with huge upside.

lil jimmy

I wrote him up out of High school, so I’ve kept an eye on him. The tools are top line, but he’s never put it together.
A player a bit like him, but who plays to the top of his abilities is David Hamilton. Same class. Lost for the year to a scooter mishap. Plus speed, rocket arm, very good up the middle defense. Excellent base runner. Left handed lead off type. 4th or 5th round. Healthy, he would be pick 40-60 guy. He would be our second best middle infield prospect after Madrigal. Great make up.

As Cirensica

In response to his struggles, the White Sox made the somewhat shocking decision to move Hansen to the bullpen.

I have posted here in the past that Hansen’s value to the Sox would be to become our Josh Hader.