On Monday night, Alec Hansen made his first appearance for Double-A Birmingham. Depending on your perspective, Hansen’s timetable could be construed as aggressive or conservative. After all, Hansen was drafted after three college seasons in the Big 12. Sure, the quality of opponents isn’t quite as consistent, but if you have dominated against the best college competition then it roughly translates that you should beat up on Low-A. Then again, although Hansen pitched well his sophomore year, he fell apart in his junior year, so comparisons to the timetables of those who thrived heading into the draft may not be apt.
Hansen has alluded to a crisis of confidence, a sort of feedback loop wherein he struggled with his command, which meant Oklahoma downgraded his role on the pitching staff, which meant Hansen doubted himself further, rinse and repeat. The lost season meant the former 1-1 candidate fell to the White Sox at pick number 49 instead, as the White Sox were banking on their pitching development, and that perhaps rival organizations were overvaluing recent performance.
Since the goal was to rebuild Hansen’s mechanics—even setting the disaster season aside, the guy was a 6’7” amateur pitcher anyway—as well as his confidence, the organization started him all the way down at Rookie Ball and let him annihilate it for 43 innings before promoting him to Low-A to conclude 2016.
The stuff was certainly there, and he was throwing it over the plate enough to obliterate less experienced hitters, but in an abundance of caution, the White Sox started Hansen in Low-A Kannapolis again in 2017, and did not promote him to Winston-Salem until he had thrown over 70 more innings of 4.00 K:BB ball there. He continued to post similar impressive rate stats to go along with his imposing size and stuff—you can read more about how he does what he does in this excellent writeup from our prospect team’s Jarrett Seidler–in High-A, but even so, the White Sox let him throw another 58 innings before finally getting him to Double-A at the very end of August, and basically the end of the minor league season.
Because there’s so little time left, the promotion serves largely as a reward for good performance and hard work more so than any extensive look he’ll get at the higher level–it’s likely he’ll only get one more start. Even so, in his first Double-A appearance on Monday, he looked pretty incredible out of the gate. Indeed, through five shutout innings, Hansen had struck out 8. Then he lost it, failing to record an out in the 6th and walking in a run before being pulled.
And that’s fine—pitchers sometimes lose their control in the 6th inning, and even mega aces like Chris Sale have games where they get shelled. Granted, with Hansen instances of him losing it can be a bit scarier given his junior year at Oklahoma, but the more data piles up, the more that season is looking like an outlier.
As it stands, Hansen has thrown 136 innings this year, and has posted a K:BB of 182:51 with an ERA of 2.78 across three levels. He’s positioned to start next season in Double-A, landed himself on our midseason Top 50 prospects list, and if all goes well, should earn a September call-up in 2018 and potentially challenge for the rotation as soon as 2019.
The White Sox look to have cannily scooped up a lot of value with this pick, based on patience, and confidence that their pitching development staff could get the most out of an immensely talented amateur. So far so good.
Lead Image Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports