The World’s Most Important Utility Player In The World
Sorry for the headline. I hate that commercial too.
But, while its kind of hyperbole, with the way the roster is currently setup, the performance of Jack Hannahan is far more vital to the team’s success than an ordinary reserve infielder. As Geoff Baker noted, he’s already in camp, and the team is having him work out as a catcher, which he hasn’t done since high school. The M’s want him to provide as much versatility as possible, and getting some work behind the plate will help if the team ends up needing to use him as an emergency catcher at some point.
But, it isn’t Hannahan’s ability to catch that will matter much to this team. It’s his ability to play shortstop.
As we’ve talked about, Jack Wilson is not exactly Cal Ripken. Over the last three years, he played in 67 percent of the Pirates games, and its only 60 percent if we just look at the last two years. Heading into his age 32 season, coming off a couple of seasons where nagging leg problems have regularly kept him off the field, you have to be pretty conservative with his playing time projections. Even if he’s totally healthy, we probably can’t project him for more than 70 to 75 percent of the team’s starts at shortstop. He’s just not durable enough to handle more than that.
That leaves approximately 40 starts at the position unaccounted for, and Hannahan is the only guy on the roster who can credibly be asked to start those games. Despite only playing three games at the position in his professional career (2 in the majors, 1 in the minors), Hannahan has the physical skills to handle the job. He’s proven to be a quality defender at both second and third, and has enough range and arm to handle the SS spot.
But, while he has flashed SS skills at other positions, he hasn’t yet had to play the position regularly, and the M’s will need him to be able to do so this year. Given Wilson’s health track record, Hannahan is not so much a reserve as he is a part-time player. Between playing ~30 to 40 games at short and the starts he’ll pick up when Figgins or Lopez need a day off, Hannahan’s probably in line for 300+ plate appearances this year.
If he can hit at anything close to a league average rate, he could really be an asset for the M’s. If he hits like he did a year ago, then he’ll be a problem, as a Wilson-like offensive player without the same defensive skills. Given the patience he’s shown and a swing that should generate some power, I think he’s a better hitter than we’ve seen, but it’s certainly a gamble. The M’s are currently counting on a guy who has almost no experience at shortstop and hasn’t hit in a couple of years to play at least a couple of times a week.
How he performs is going to have a pretty significant impact on how the team does this year. If he can hold down SS while Wilson is on the bench, and provide some offensive punch, the team can pinch-hit for Wilson more frequently, and not burn resources trying to fill the hole when he inevitably lands on the DL. If Hannahan flops, though, then SS could become something of a sinkhole, and there just isn’t much depth at the position in the organization, so they may have to expend some resources to fix the problem from the outside.
While his official title of utility infielder makes him sound like a minor part, in reality, Jack Hannahan is a pretty important player for the M’s this year.