Back in June the Dodgers made a splash selection for the third consecutive pick, taking the seemingly tough sign in Mitch Hansen in the second round of the 2015 draft. Six months later, the luster of that draft night has worn off, and Hansen was the only pick of the first three to see time on the field in the Dodgers organization in 2015. While Hansen’s tool set helped make him an upper tier prospect, his professional debut now has us pumping the brakes on his potential, and like the return on the two picks ahead of him (Walker Buehler, out with Tommy John surgery; and Kyle Funkhouser, unsigned with a 2016 compensation pick coming), the Dodgers will need patience to realize a return on their investment.
If you’ve read my prospect reviews over the past year, you probably know that I don’t put much stock in players hitting well at the short season/rookie league level. The inverse, however, isn’t quite true, and offensive struggles at these levels can be a bit of a red flag. Given Hansen’s physical tools, and his reputation for hitting at the amateur level, his struggles in Arizona were quite surprising and enough of a reason to justify ranking him at the bottom of the Dodgers’ top 15 prospects.
Hansen’s physical tools are quite immense, and a better offensive output would have likely had him in the top 10 on this list. Hansen is a highly projectable 6’4 and 195 lbs. with above-average speed and a plus outfield arm. He’s likely to fill out and lose some speed, making right field his likely future destination, and he spent most of his time in left field in Arizona, but I think he can still be developed as a center fielder going forward. He has enough speed to steal 15-20 bases annually and was successful on six of seven attempts last year.
Hansen’s best present offensive tool was supposed to be his hit tool. Hansen’s swing is geared for contact, he has little noise in his set-up, no timing leg lift or toe tap, and good bat speed. His load can look exaggerated, and I could see him barring his lead arm because of this, but nothing from his showcase videos suggested to me he would struggle for contact.
Hansen’s power is expected to come as he gains strength and takes advantage of the leverage in his frame. his swing is fairly level now but as he develops, he could add loft while also learning when to turn on balls. Like base stealing, 15-20 home runs could be in his future at his peak, but 20-30 isn’t out of the question depending on how he physically develops.
Unfortunately, there is no video from Hansen’s summer to analyze just where his struggles came from. Statistically, contact was the biggest issue, as Hansen struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances, and put the ball on the ground almost 65 percent of the time he put it in play. Pitch recognition, confidence, experience… all three could have had a hand in his struggles. It’s also important to remember that rookie league is also the first major life adjustment in most high school draftees lives, so external factors can also play a role in a player’s struggles.
To Hansen’s credit, he showed more signs of life in the second half, hitting .250/.331/.361 thanks to a bump in BABIP. His whiff rate held firm, but it’s still worth noting that his play didn’t completely crater and collapse due to a lack of confidence or mounting frustration over his struggles. What this means for Hansen’s development now is that the Dodgers will likely have to take it slow with him until he gets his offensive footing. As was the case with Jacob Scavuzzo, sometimes toolsy teens just need more time to figure it out before they let their natural tools take over.
For 2016, I expect Hansen to either repeat in Arizona or head to Ogden, in either case being held back in extended spring Training to continue working on the shortcomings that plagued him in his debut. The hope then is that he can reach Low A by the end of the season, and be on target for a full year of full season ball in 2017. Time is on Hansen’s side, but it’s worth noting that he’s an older high school prospect, and Alex Verdugo is ten days younger.
While I’m certainly concerned, I’m far from panicked on Hansen’s future potential. I’m still going to bet on the tools winning out at some point, but tempered expectations might be warranted. If contact continues to be a question mark but he can grow into his power, I could see him developing into a Jake Marisnick-type role player with above average outfield defense and modest offensive value. It’s also possible that 2015 was just a mere hiccup in the eventual development of a five tool outfield prospect capable of being one of the better talents in this system. Being ranked No. 15 is almost a symbol of the fence riding I’m doing on Hansen as a prospect: if he hits in 2016, I could shove him 10 places higher, and if he doesn’t, he might fall out of the Top 30. That makes it sound like he’s already facing a make-or-break season, but to uphold his potential elite status, that might just be the case.
Note: Juan Jaime and Daniel Corcino were removed, and Andrew Toles (signed to a minor league deal in November) was added, at No. 44