Hanson first hurler named AFL MVP
Braves right-hander garners Joe Black Award at Winter Meetings
LAS VEGAS -- There was little doubt who the most dominant player in the Arizona Fall League was this past season, but it was unclear until Tuesday whether or not that player would be given the league's Joe Black Most Valuable Player Award.
For the first time in the league's history, a pitcher was the recipient of the award and it would be hard to argue that anyone other than Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson should have gotten it.
"It's definitely an honor especially with the other guys in the running," said Hanson, who was at the Winter Meetings to accept the award, "and especially being the first pitcher. It's pretty neat to be the first one."
Other players who picked up MVP votes were catcher Tyler Flowers, recently traded from the Braves to the White Sox, Rays first baseman Rhyne Hughes, Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison, Angels outfielder Chris Pettit and Rockies outfielder Eric Young Jr.
But if there was ever a time to pick a pitcher in the league's seven-year history, this was it. Hanson led the league in wins with five, ERA with a miniscule 0.63 and strikeouts with 49 (vs. only seven walks) in 28 2/3 innings pitched. He held batters in a very hitting-friendly league to a .105 average-against. And that doesn't include his three hitless innings in the Rising Stars Showcase or five strong frames in the AFL championship game. Hanson was scored upon in just two outings, allowing one run in each appearance, and never gave up more than three hits in any start.
"Tommy Hanson dominated some of the finest young hitters in the game," AFL executive director Steve Cobb said. "His performance was truly remarkable. He accomplished what once seemed improbable -- a pitcher winning the Joe Black Award. We congratulate him for seven remarkable weeks in Arizona."
One of the more amazing things about his performance was putting up those numbers while working on his third pitch, a changeup. Often, pitchers will get hit hard in the AFL while they develop secondary pitches. Hanson managed to find the perfect balance between working on that offspeed stuff while keeping hitters at bay.
"I was happy with the way I threw my changeup," Hanson said. "I cut down on my walks a little bit. Everything just seemed to work out there."
It worked so well, the big right-hander may have pitched his way out of being part of a major trade. As the AFL unfolded, the 22-year-old heard his name mentioned prominently in rumors regarding the Braves and Padres ace Jake Peavy. After an outstanding 2008 season that saw him pitch at two levels, his continuing excellence in Arizona may have made the Braves take his name off the table.
"That was never my goal," Hanson said. "I just wanted to pitch well. I want to stay with the Braves."
It appears he'll do just that. Just how soon he'll get a chance to show what he can do in Atlanta remains to be seen. He's got a grand total of 98 innings above A ball. The AFL probably shortened his learning curve, but the Braves would probably like for him to start the season in Triple-A. Hanson, of course, wants to make that decision as difficult as possible.
"Hopefully, I'll go to Spring Training and make them consider me for a spot," Hanson said.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.