On Tuesday, I briefly mentioned the article Ben Lindbergh wrote about the still-first-place Milwaukee Brewers for The Ringer, but I wanted to jump back to highlight the Brewers’ emphasis on fliers. You can count all the Brewers’ homegrown players on one mangled hand -- four, or one fewer than the White Sox -- and yet they’ve been winning sooner than everybody expected, holding a 1 1⁄2-game lead over the Cubs as the halfway point nears.
Surrounding those drafted and developed players are guys who were blocked or stalled in other organizations — Keon Broxton, Travis Shaw, Junior Guerra, Jonathan Villar, Manny Pina, Hernan Perez, Jesus Aguilar — along with the biggest why-not shot of them all, Eric Thames. Not all these players have hit or are good bets to continue doing so, but the Brewers are two wins away from locking in a winning first half, and by using a player acquisition strategy that protected their enviable farm system.
Much of the debate about tanking centers on the value of a specific draft pick, and whether a team is all that more likely to convert on a top-five selection versus a top-10 one, even with the bigger bonus pools higher picks bring. That edge can be overblown, but an underrated aspect of piling up losses early is getting ahead in the waiver priority line. For teams that have the roster space to cycle through talent, having one of the league’s worst records makes it easier to churn more freely.
I’m intrigued by Alen Hanson specifically for this reason, because he was one of those waived players who had fans in the prospect circles:
I said in the offseason that #Pirates 2B Alen Hanson would be my favorite waiver claim of 2017. Now's the chance for some lucky team!— Matt Eddy (@MattEddyBA) June 1, 2017
Beyond the fact that Hanson is a speedy switch-hitter with some prospect pedigree remaining as a 24-year-old, I was more interested in how aggressively the White Sox would deploy him, given his abysmal production at the plate and vague defensive skill set. With Leury Garcia battling a sprained finger, the White Sox are testing his versatility like no one has before:
- June 10: Pinch-ran
- June 11: Sat
- June 12: Sat
- June 13: Second base
- June 14: Pinch-hit
- June 15: Sat
- June 16: Center field
- June 17: Center field
- June 18: Pinch-hit
- June 20: Pinch-hit
- June 21: Right field
Hanson has already set career highs for starts in center field (previous high: one) and right field (previous high: zero). His early results at the plate -- .316/.381/.474 through his first 21 plate appearances, seven runs in eight games — have only encouraged Rick Renteria to continue getting crazy with him.
It might help that Renteria is able to communicate these unprecedented requests directly.
"In the past, it has been a challenge because I didn't have the opportunity to play for a manager who spoke the same language as me and the communication was a little difficult there," Hanson said. "But with Ricky, since the first moment that I came here, we spoke, and we are on the same page. He seems to be a very good guy who takes care of the players, and I like that."
The White Sox are under a little bit of pressure to play Hanson, if only because Garcia’s return will make it a little tougher. He’s played three positions for the White Sox this season, and all of them are occupied by guys who warrant the reps (Garcia, Avisail Garcia, Yolmer Sanchez). But based on Hawk Harrelson’s somber tone, it doesn’t sound as if a Tyler Saladino return is going to gum up the works. If Hanson keeps hitting, I imagine we’ll see him bleed over into the left side of the infield.
The odds say that Hanson won’t keep hitting, and so creating playing time won’t be a pressing issue in a few weeks. Regardless of the result, it’s fun to see adventurous and aggressive investigation of such a player, because the White Sox are going to need a few of these finds in order to speed up a return to relevance.