Jack Hannahan, Middle Infielder
Adrian Beltre is set to come off the disabled list and join the team in Kansas City today. That means that the M’s are going to have to send out one of their infielders, and since Jack Hannahan has options left, he’s the obvious candidate. Chris Woodward is certainly not as good as Hannahan, but he offers Wak experience at shortstop, and coupled with Hannahan’s ability to go to Triple-A for a month, it makes this a fairly easy call.
However, the M’s have Matt Tuiasosopo playing third base regularly down in Tacoma, and after missing most of the season due to an elbow injury, he needs the reps over there. They could play him at first base, but that’s currently being manned by Mike Carp, Brad Nelson, and Bryan LaHair, so it’s a little crowded as well. So, where should Hannahan play in Tacoma while waiting for the rosters to expand in September?
I vote for second base and shortstop. Hannahan has been extremely impressive defensively at third base, showing off terrific range at the hot corner. UZR agrees with what we’ve seen, too – he’s +5 runs in just 151 inning as a Mariner, which is a +38.2 UZR/150 pace. His career UZR at third base is +22.8 in 1,831 innings, which works out to about +16.5 runs over a full season. For comparison, his defensive numbers are almost exactly a match to Evan Longria. Hannahan can really pick it at third.
Last winter, I did a couple different posts showing that players who can play third base are quite likely to be able to play second base as well. There’s very little shift in defensive performance if a player moves from 2nd to 3rd or vice versa, suggesting that the two positions are fairly equal in terms of relative defensive ability and importance.
We can infer, from Hannahan’s defensive excellence at third base, that he should be able to be above average defensively at second base as well. Not surprisingly, he actually has a decent amount of experience there, having played 97 games at second base in Triple-A in 2006 and 2007. Getting him work at second base down in Tacoma would give him the chance to get re-adjusted to turning the double play and getting the middle infielder’s footwork down, and give the M’s more flexibility in how to use him when he comes back to the majors.
But I wouldn’t stop at using him at second base. I’m fairly sure he could play there without any real problems. His defensive skills make that an easy move. I’d challenge him a bit by sticking him at shortstop as well, and taking some time to evaluate whether or not he has the range to stick at the most demanding defensive position on the field. I think he just might.
It’s not as crazy as it might sound. Marco Scutaro was a 2B/3B when he came up through the minors – the A’s didn’t shift him to shortstop until he was 29. Ryan Theriot spent most of his time playing second base in the high minors and got to the big leagues as a 2B, but moved over to shortstop when the Cubs had a need and has solidified himself there. Neither of these guys are flashy, Omar Vizquel type defenders, but they were solid fundamentally and had enough range to convince their teams to let them slide over, and it’s worked out exceedingly well.
Hannahan has that kind of ability, I think, and I’d like to see the M’s evaluate his ability to play shortstop. As you know, the M’s have nothing in terms of depth of middle infield in the upper minors, and they’re running out a bad player if either Wilson or Lopez get hurt. If Hannahan shows he can handle the middle infield, he just got a lot more valuable to the M’s.
As a left-handed bat with patience and gap power, Hannahan is a significantly better hitter than your typical reserve infielder. If the M’s grow him into a guy who can cover all four infield spots, they could have a left-handed Mark DeRosa, the kind of versatile play-everywhere-and-hit guy that managers dream about and makes the team quite a bit better. As a super-reserve, Hannahan would become one of the better bench players in the game, and be a significant asset to the 2010 Mariners squad.
The M’s have an opportunity here, with Beltre’s return buying them some time to experiment in Tacoma. Send Hannahan down and try him out at 2B/SS. If you like what you see, you’ve just added another real nice piece to the 2010 team.
Update: Or, they could just keep Hannahan around as the team’s only backup infielder and have him work on his 2B/SS skills at the big league level. Which is apparently the plan.