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Matthew Avery: What to expect from Tommy Hanson in 2009

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Here's a guestpost from Braves fan Matthew Avery, who posts on various blogs as mraver. This will also serve as the game thread for today's 1 pm game against the Pirates, where Kenshin Kawakami will make his North American debut. I can't wait!

I was reading a post over at minorleagueball.com, and in the comments of a fan post, John Sickels asked if people thought Hanson was getting a bit overrated, perhaps because of his AFL performance. This is a reasonable question, especially considering how much he's moved up prospect lists from last year (BA rated him as the #4 prospect in baseball after having him nowhere near the top 100 list in 2007). Anyhow, here's basically what I said:

I frankly thought he was being underrated significantly until the AFL. He crushed that league. Something like a 40% K-rate with RH batters going 6/67 or something insane like that. I'm not sure how much we should all care about AFL numbers, but that's what finally got Hanson the attention his 2008 season IMO deserved. On that season: seven games of dominating High-A, 1 month of getting knocked around in AA, then the Braves let him use his slider, which he hasn't thrown in a game since prep ball, and Hanson throws a no-no and dominates the rest of the way in AA. He was probably a top-100 prospect with just his fastball, curve, and change up. And then he added a plus-plus slider that's drawn comps to John Smoltz's. I've heard all of his pitches described as plus pitches in one scouting report or another, and none have been described as worse than average. If there's a knock, it's the fly ball rate, but I think that is an overblown concern. If he doesn't walk the ballpark, he'll have success at the major league level.
So I think he'll have success in the majors. But how much and how soon are quite different questions. This off-season, the Braves have signed or re-signed four starters, and they've already got two incumbents from last year that were good enough to warrant a spot (and a couple incumbents that were awful but still have upside). So, to start the year at least, he'd not only have to have a fantastic spring (which wouldn't surprise many) and have at least one, probably two starters get hurt.

More realistically, we'll start the year with a rotation of Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Kenshin Kawakami, Jair Jurrjens, and Tom Glavine, with Jorge Campillo as the first choice to fill in for Glavine when he gets hurt and/or sucks enough for Cox or Wren to dump him.

Considering how good Tommy Hanson is against RH hitters, you could argue that Hanson could help the team in the bullpen to start the year, and you'd probably be right. But I think the Braves will want to maximize Hanson's innings and start stretching him out as a starter.

That leaves AAA. In what should be one of the best AAA rotations around, Hanson will head the bill with Morton and Jo Jo helping to fill out the rotation. I'd expect him to stay there for at least half the year, even if he excels. If there's a minor injury, Hanson might come up to make a spot start. But I don't think you'll see him replacing, say, Glavine for a long period of time in the early months. More likely, he'll spend some time in AAA making adjustments, trying to get his walk rate down a bit.

He'll have some rough patches, but the numbers will look too good to ignore, and by mid-season, he'll be with the big club. I'd say July at the latest. When he does make it, don't expect ace-type numbers. I'd be perfectly pleased with an ERA around 4.00. If there's not room in the rotation, he could help out in the 'pen, but again, this is only after he throws in the minors. So don't expect him to set the world on fire this year. Hanson might very well help the team this year, but I think 2010 will be his real coming out party.

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