Alec Hansen

After disastrous 2018, White Sox pitching prospect Alec Hansen earns promotion to Double-A


After disastrous 2018, White Sox pitching prospect Alec Hansen earns promotion to Double-A

Alec Hansen has had quite the topsy-turvy past few years, but the latest turn in his professional career is a positive one.

After leading minor league baseball in strikeouts in 2017 (191 in 141 1/3 innings), Hansen looked more like Nuke Laloosh than a key prospect in the White Sox rebuild in 2018. He walked 42 batters in 35 2/3 innings in Double-A Birmingham and didn’t fare much better after getting demoted to Single-A Winston-Salem.

The White Sox tried a different method with Hansen in 2019 and so far the results are encouraging. Coming out of the bullpen for Winston-Salem, the 24-year-old was nearly unhittable. As a result, he got promoted back to Birmingham on Saturday.

Hansen made nine relief appearances for the Dash and gave up just one hit in 12 2/3 innings. He struck out 21 (out of 47 batters faced) while walking seven. The strikeouts and the lone hit allowed show that he was overpowering Carolina League batters, although the walks are still on the high side.

During a recent White Sox broadcast, Winston-Salem manager Justin Jirschele called in as an interview guest. He said Hansen is “genuinely enjoying coming to the ballpark.” That’s a drastic difference from his 2018, which he said “just kind of spiraled.”

Jirschele used one word to describe Hansen’s stuff: powerful. The numbers back that up.

“He’s coming right at guys,” Jirschele said. “He’s coming at them with authority and he’s getting ahead with his fastball. Then he’s got the breaking ball to go with it. He’s been tremendous. He’s been able to duplicate pitches. He’s been able to keep his delivery where he wants it and command the fastball first and foremost and go from there. We’ve been happy with what he’s shown this year and the strides he’s made.”

As Hansen returns to Birmingham and the Southern League, it will be interesting to see how the White Sox use him. He missed months of action in 2018 due to a forearm injury. Couple that with his erratic command and the White Sox are taking things cautiously with Hansen this season. If he can show consistent command for Birmingham, he could be once again be a key piece for the future of the White Sox, even if that is as an impact reliever.


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White Sox pitching prospect Alec Hansen reflects on lost season: 'It just kind of spiraled'


White Sox pitching prospect Alec Hansen reflects on lost season: 'It just kind of spiraled'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a perfect dream scenario, every top prospect in the White Sox organization will hit. All of them will excel in the minors, go straight to the majors and dominate there as well.

But as we know, life isn’t perfect. There’s a big gap between a dream and reality, especially when it comes to baseball. Everyone must deal with failure along the way, some more than others.

Which brings us to Alec Hansen and his lost season of 2018.

“Everything last spring training was perfect. I was in really good shape. I was almost looking for something to go wrong. Then something did go wrong and it just kind of spiraled,” Hansen said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “It was a struggle the whole year, honestly.”

Coming into last season, the 6-foot-7 fireballer was the No. 46 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. His name was right up there with Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dane Dunning as future members of the White Sox starting rotation. In his first full professional season in 2017, the White Sox second-round draft pick from 2016 backed up his sky-high potential, leading the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts in 141.1 innings.

He spoke confidently about where his career was headed. He even talked about making it to the majors by the end of the 2018 season. He also had a specific plan to make it happen.

“It’s a bummer that it backfired,” Hansen said.

Hansen revealed that he dropped a ton of weight last offseason, around 40 pounds. He thought it would make him more athletic and explosive, especially late in games. He wanted to maintain his velocity in the later innings and pointed to a fellow White Sox pitching prospect who seemed to be doing it with ease.

“You see Cease, he’s a perfect example of what I was trying to be. Throwing 98 in the last inning when you’re at 90 pitches. That’s what I was trying to do. Where as in 2017, I would be throwing 93, 92 in the sixth or seventh inning. I’d be in the first inning throwing 97. I was trying to maintain that velo, and I felt that losing weight and getting more athletic was the key. I was feeling really good,” Hansen said. “It would have been interesting to see how I would have performed last year if I had not gotten hurt and I stayed strong throughout the season.”

After one spring training appearance, Hansen went down with a forearm injury. That began a snowball effect that only intensified as the 2018 season wore on. He returned to the mound in June at Double-A Birmingham and struggled mightily. The pitcher who had a 2.80 ERA in 2017, mostly at Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem, saw his ERA balloon to 6.56 at Birmingham with 42 walks and 35 strikeouts in 35.2 innings.

He wasn’t just struggling physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

“I’d be down to like 88 (mph) in the third inning because the mental frustration turned into anxiety. When you have a lot of anxiety and stress, your body doesn’t recover as well. That probably affected my velocity, because I’m kind of a power pitcher, so when I don’t have that, I don’t really feel like I’m myself, and become frustrated,” Hansen said.

In August, the White Sox sent Hansen back down to Winston-Salem, but his problems only worsened. He couldn’t make it to the fifth inning in any of his five starts and finished with a 5.74 ERA.

This was the same league that Hansen dominated the year before, but this clearly wasn’t the same Hansen.

His problems had reached such an abyss, he admits that the last place that he wanted to be was on a pitcher’s mound.

“You get to a point where you really don’t want to be out there, even though you should never be that like that, but that’s really how I was last year,” Hansen said. “Combining the mental thing magnified the physical aspects of my body at the time, not being as strong, not recovering as much because probably not sleeping as well because of all of the stress and everything. A combination of all those things probably affected my command.”

Hansen said he knows what White Sox fans might be thinking: Why did he lose all that weight after having such a great season the year before? His answer reveals the competitor inside him that doesn’t strive to be a good major league pitcher. He wants to be great.

“I don’t want to be just a back-of-the-rotation guy. I want to be like a Chris Sale, a Max Scherzer, a Justin Verlander. I want to be like one of those guys. In anything I do I want to be the best. I don’t want to settle for just being average. I really wanted to see what I could do. To get to that next level I feel like you always have to change something. That’s what I did, but it didn’t really work out so I’m back to where I was,” he said.

Hansen has gained back the 40 pounds. He came to Arizona on Jan. 10 to work with the White Sox training staff, which revamped his training methods and put him on a shoulder program.

“I feel like my shoulders are really strong and that’s a big key to throwing a baseball hard, so I’m excited to see what happens this year because that’s something I’ve never done before. I’d like to see the results of that. Just experimenting a little with everything and finding out what works best,” Hansen said.

He said he is scheduled to throw a live bullpen session Thursday, and then throw in a minor league game Monday.

Unlike last spring, when he openly aimed for reaching the major leagues, Hansen has lowered those expectations.

“Getting to Triple-A by the end of the year would be great for me,” he said.

But more than anything, it’s his mindset that Hansen wants to change. In the end, this is baseball. It’s a kid’s game. Last year, it felt like a job, and one he’d rather not be at.

“That’s one thing I really didn’t do last year was have a lot of fun. I didn’t really talk that much like I had in the past. It was kind of depressing honestly. I’m having a blast here in spring training, even though it’s the minor league side,” Hansen said. “I’m feeling strong. I’ve been throwing the ball well in my bullpens. I’m in a good place right now.”

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Struggling pitching prospect Alec Hansen goes from Double-A to Class A in White Sox system


Struggling pitching prospect Alec Hansen goes from Double-A to Class A in White Sox system

Alec Hansen has had a rough go of things in 2018, and he's heading the opposite way of many of his fellow prospects in the White Sox farm system.

After missing months due to a springtime forearm injury, Hansen posted a 6.56 ERA in nine starts with Double-A Birmingham, and he was moved back to Class A Winston-Salem on Thursday.

Hansen, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, has had a lot of trouble with walks, which have piled up in a hurry despite just a handful of outings. He's walked 42 batters in 35.2 innings. That's compared to 35 strikeouts, a surprising ratio considering he led all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts a season ago, when he walked only 51 batters in 141.1 innings.

After walking a season-high nine batters two starts ago, he followed that up with his shortest outing of the year, a 1.1-inning start that featured three runs and seven more walks. Hansen has issued 22 walks in his last three starts, which have lasted just 10.1 innings.

Not long ago, Hansen was the White Sox second-ranked pitching prospect, behind only Michael Kopech. But his struggles, as well as the strong performances by Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning, have dropped him in MLB Pipeline's rankings. Once a top-100 prospect, he currently ranks outside the top 100 and as the No. 10 prospect in the White Sox (loaded) system.