A single word has been the secret to success for one of the Phillies’ breakout prospects this year. Confidence is what leads the way for Lakewood’s Nic Hanson.
The right-hander began his 2013 in the bullpen for the Class A BlueClaws. As a reliever, Hanson had little impact. But since he was moved into the team’s starting rotation, the Phillies’ 16th round draft choice from last year has been quite dominant and is primed to be a major highlight of the club’s season.
On May 2nd, Hanson replaced right-hander Jordan Guth in the ‘Claws group of starters and since then has shown great amounts of improvement with his output. Out of the bullpen, the six-foot-seven 210-pounder tallied a 5.74 ERA and a .333 batting average against. Since the change of roles, Hanson has become Lakewood’s most dependable hurler, posting a 1.55 ERA and a .243 batting average against through nine starts.
According to Lakewood manager Mickey Morandini, the opportunity to work on all of his pitches in heavier doses has triggered a growing level of confidence inside Hanson.
“He’s been pitching well all year really, once we put him in the starting rotation,” Morandini stated. “He’s a strike thrower, has a good sinker, slider’s getting better, change up’s getting better. He’s a very confident young man.”
BlueClaws pitching coach Aaron Fultz, an eight-year big league veteran and one-time Phillies lefty specialist, describes the same key in Hanson’s game. According to Fultz, Hanson, has stuff that is enhanced by the fearlessness that has come with being a guy the team really relies on every five days.
“He was a reliever and he did okay, he did pretty good, but as a starter, he used his sinker a little more than trying to trick the guys. His confidence makes a big difference. That’s all the difference in the world,” Fultz asserted.
Confidence was the major lesson Hanson picked up from a luck-of-the-draw mentor, Triple-A starter Adam Morgan, who was on the disabled list and rehabbing in Florida at the same time that Hanson was sidelined with an ailment that was described as a right groin issue. Morgan, the Phils’ 3rd round pick in 2011, who was out with a shoulder strain, stressed the importance of tenacity and self-reliance.
“I just kind of talked with him and that was awesome. To get ideas from a guy that was in big league camp and just talk over the game with him was big,” Hanson said of his time in Clearwater beside one of the Phils’ top prospects.
“The main thing (he spoke of) was keeping the confidence. He said that was real big. Some people made fun of me for being confident…but, he was always like, ‘You gotta have confidence.’ Yeah, just confidence and talking (about) each level and what they’re like and just kind of getting an idea and he was real knowledgeable and it helped a lot.”
It’s not often that an injury helps a player in the short-term, but seemingly his five weeks of down time have been a positive factor for the the Huntington Beach, CA native.. The lessons from the elder Morgan, who is 23 to Hanson’s 21, have proven crucial. Hanson has posted a magnificent 0.72 ERA in four starts since returning from the disabled list.
After signing his first pro contract last summer, Hanson went 2-3 with a 7.00 ERA in 19 outings over 45 innings with the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters.
His approach hasn’t exactly changed, but the attitude behind it has sparked the professional career of a hurler that might have been an afterthought just a couple months back.
“As far as change, I haven’t tried to do anything specifically. I just try to do same thing as before the DL, throw strikes, you know, get ahead of guys and it’s been working, I guess. Nothing as far as anything specific. Just trying to attack guys, that’s pretty much it,” Hanson said.
And attack he has done. Armed with a fastball that typically peaks in the low 90′s, Hanson uses his secondary pitches to keep batters guessing and has a 7.54 K/9 mark while issuing only 1.59 BB/9 in 15 total games with Lakewood this season.
Looking unbeatable of late in the South Atlantic League, a promotion to Class A Advanced Clearwater before season’s end may not be out of the question.
With lefty Nick Hernandez struggling for the Threshers (6.03 ERA since April) and left-hander Ethan Stewart having a similarly rough time in the FSL (0-4 record, 7.07 ERA in 16 starts), the team could use someone who is displaying some consistency in their rotation for the stretch run, as they are in striking distance for a postseason spot.
“I’d love to (go up),” Hanson said with a hint of hope. “Everyone wants to move up. That’s our goal. That’s how you get to the big leagues. As far as worrying about it, I can’t. I have no control over it. I have to just go out there and pitch. If they want to move me up, that’d be awesome. I’d love to go up there and compete and show what I’ve got in the Florida State League.”
NOT UPSET OVER PHILS TV ERROR:
Last week, following the announcement that he was honored as the Phillies’ minor league pitcher of the week, the big league club ran a brief graphic on their prime time game broadcast, but displayed the incorrect picture for Hanson (image here), showing infielder Tyler Henson instead.
“I actually thought it was funny,” Hanson said with a smile. “A couple of the guys made fun of me. I finally got some love or whatever and I think it was, like (Tyler) Henson or somebody, I’m not even sure who it was, but it was funny. Whatever, it’s just a picture. Hopefully, people will just remember the name.”
Henson, however, has seemed to gain some luck from the erroneous exposure. The 25-year-old, who was signed last off-season as a minor league free agent, went 5-for-13 with Double-A Reading in the days that followed the mistake, then was promoted to Triple-A and quickly slugged three home runs in six at bats in his first two games with Lehigh Valley.