PHILADELPHIA On a hot, rainy afternoon in late April, I tagged along with Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo to a tryout in the Dominican Republic.
Although more than four dozen hopefuls came to the field, Gayo focused on only a handful of prospects. Of those, only one a 16-year-old infielder named Alen Hanson of La Romana, D.R. really caught his eye.
At the end of the tryout, Gayo arranged a handshake deal with Hanson’s buscon (sort of a trainer/agent) for $80,000. Since MLB’s international signing period did not begin until July 2 and no formal deal was in place with Hanson and the Pirates, Gayo asked that Hanson’s name not be used in my story.
Today, the Pirates made the deal official, signing Hanson and five other Latin American players: outfielder Pedro Lara, 16, and third baseman Roberson Valdez, 16, of the Dominican; left-hander Orlando Castro, 17, of Honduras; shortstop Carlos Esqueda, 17, of Mexico; and righty Richard Montilla, 17, of Panama. That brings the Pirates’ total to nine international amateur free agents signed this month.
Before he signed, Hanson was housed and trained at the Pirates’ new Dominican baseball academy in El Toro, D.R. Under MLB rules, he was allowed to spend one month at the academy, then 15 days back home, then another month at the academy.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was 7, because I always loved it,” Hanson told me the day of his tryout. “My dream is to play baseball (in America).”
Gayo said he expects Hanson to develop “a number of above-average major league tools.” Hanson is a switch-hitter who sprays the ball to all fields and has exceptional speed his time in the 60-yard dash improved the second time he ran it at the tryout.
“He’s a graceful runner,” Gayo said. “This is one of the few times I’ve seen guys get faster. I’ve seen it happen with Willy Tavares (of the Reds) and a few other guys I’ve signed. He’s a switch hitter. He’s got rhythm, he’s got balance, he’s got body control. He uses his hands well from both sides of the plate. That’s pretty good.”
According to Gayo, Lara’s athletic build is “similar to a young Moises Alou.” Lara is an above-average hitter with power potential. Gayo also gushed about Esqueda: “He is quick, smooth and has good instincts on the field. He is aggressive on the basepaths and with physical maturity, should develop above-average speed.”
• According to Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times, Marc DelPiano, a special assistant to general manager Neal Huntington, scouted Thursday’s Rangers-Mariners game. Baker speculated DelPiano is evaluating the Mariners’ relievers with an eye toward a trade.
Earlier this season, Baker reported the Pirates were mulling a deal which would’ve sent shortstop Jack Wilson to the Mariners in exchange for Yuniesky Betancourt.
The M’s likely are still interested in Wilson, but also would covet second baseman Freddy Sanchez.