Tommy Hanson: Blood, guts and a mighty big arm

On the first pitch of his first spring session throwing to live batters last week, Tommy Hanson tore the nail on his index finger. He looked down and saw blood, which would have served as a signal to most pitchers to stop throwing. Hanson kept throwing.

He felt sheepish – soon the bleeding was apparent to those standing around, Bobby Cox and some of his coaches among them – but he also felt he needed to impress these people. So he kept going. “One of our coaches finally cut it short,” Cox would say afterward. “But [Hanson] almost made his full five minutes.”

This tells us something about the 22-year-old considered the finest Braves pitching prospect since … dare we say Steve Avery? It tells us Hanson, who’s possessed of the requisite big arm, doesn’t mind shedding a little blood for the cause. It tells us he’s a young man in a hurry.

Indeed, the next day Hanson pulled the white bandage from his finger. He wasn’t supposed to throw that morning, but he said, smiling, “I snuck in a few.”

Hanson’s aim this spring is to make it difficult for the decision-makers to ignore what has become increasingly apparent: That he’s as close to being ready for the big leagues as a pitcher could possibly be. Asked for an ETA regarding Hanson’s major-league debut, Cox said three words: “Won’t be long.”

As much as the Braves don’t want to rush Hanson, they’re less hesitant about him than about Charlie Morton, who was promoted to the majors last summer. Morton always seems surprised when he succeeds. Hanson would be surprised only if he failed, which he hasn’t lately. In three minor-league seasons he has risen from 22nd-round pick to the guy who throws the slider Cox likens to John Smoltz’s.

Technically Hanson is a non-roster invitee to camp, which means he dresses on the minor-league side of the clubhouse and is staying at a Fairfield Inn in Lake Buena Vista, as opposed to the palatial Marriott World, which is the official Braves hotel. “I’m not happy where I’m at,” Hanson said, referring not to the Fairfield but to anywhere but the major leagues. But then:

“I want to make the [big-league] team. I won’t be disappointed if I don’t [this spring] – I’ll just try to go through the process and get better.”

He might dress on the wrong side of the room and wear an unsightly high number (73), but everyone in camp recognizes Hanson. He’s 6-foot-6 with blondish/reddish hair and an open Midwestern face – he’s from Tulsa – and he acts as if he’s on a mission, which he is. He knows the Braves ended trade talks for Jake Peavy because the Padres insisted on Hanson in return. He knows he’s already the bloggers’ newest crush on AJC.com

“You hear it, messing around on the Internet,” Hanson said. “It’s cool to hear your name being thrown around.”

The late addition of Tommy G. (as in Glavine) means Tommy H. probably won’t be on the Opening Day roster. Better to have him begin at Class AAA Gwinnett and pitch every fifth day than to work long relief in the bigs. But Gwinnett County isn’t far from 755 Hank Aaron Drive, and surely Hanson will make the commute before the summer’s done.

“I wouldn’t say I’d be disappointed [if he starts this season in the minors],” Hanson said. “Since I signed, my whole mindset has been working on what I need to do to get to Atlanta … I want to get there soon, but I also know I’m in this for the long haul.”

It should be noted that Tommy Hanson doesn’t consider Gwinnett, which we Atlantans see as part of our fair city, as Atlanta. To him, there’s only one true destination. And it won’t be long now.

101 comments Add your comment

matt

February 24th, 2009
10:56 am

There are a few thing to be cautiously excited about. If Jo-Jo can pitch in the bigs like he’s pitched in the minors, if Charlie Morton can do the same, couple that with Hanson, and J.J. and you have yourself a damn fine and extremely young pitching staff!!!!! The Braves have to get back to that. The years they dominated they had great pitching and they did it within. Hopefully that is where Wren is planning on taking this franchise.

cvbraves

February 24th, 2009
11:08 am

Coach (Skip and Pete will be missed)

February 24th, 2009
11:13 am

I’ll say it one more time.

Tommy Hanson has the raw talent and maturity to make the Yankee’s rotation. He will be forced to start the season in triple A. This is Frank Wren’s first big boo boo. He did not leave room in the rotation for any of our young pitchers to make the opening day rotation.

The flip side to this argument is that you can never have enough pitching. But still, it pains me to know that neither Hanson nor Morton will get the opportunity they deserve right away.

I’m in agreement on Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami. As for Javier Vasquez, the Braves are about to find out what Joe Torre and Ozzie Guillen already know. That Vasquez has ace talent and the inning eating results of a fifth starter. He’s a waste of 11.5 million per season.

Garrett Anderson is a band aid. The Braves outfield is a gaping wound. Enough said.

Mac

February 24th, 2009
11:14 am

Kevin Millwood had more success than Avery and was also a righthander.

OutsideRobber

February 24th, 2009
11:17 am

You can’t have enough pitching. In the Braves’ case as it relates to starters and slots available, they might have too much but it’s a nice problem to have. Particularly when you think about injuries from the 2008 season.

Jonathan

February 24th, 2009
11:43 am

As good as Hanson is, he doesn’t need to be rushed to the Majors. That happened with both Reyes and Morton, and it caused they to be put under lot of pressure and they turned up records that weren’t so hot. Since Glavine has been signed, he should be the #1 starter in Gwinnett’s rotation. After the first real injury to a starter, then you can call him up.

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
11:57 am

Ah, but Kevin Millwood was never as big a prospect as Steve Avery.

Mantuan

February 24th, 2009
12:03 pm

Jonathan is spot on. There is no rush. Glavine as a #5, particularly given, what (?), two appearances in April? Three at most? No rush … let Hanson go to Gwinnett and get into a good rhythm. There will be a need some time in 2009. Count on it.

I did find the “toughness” when talking about what a torn finger nail to be a tad over the top.

I have to think Jorge Campillo is going to be trade-bait for some kind of depth for either the big team or a prospect. The AAA roster for example may NOT include Parr if Jorge is not traded.

Mantra: You can not have too much pitching. Repeat the mantra.

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
12:11 pm

Over the top? Me? The underlord of understatement?

John T

February 24th, 2009
12:15 pm

Let’s not pencil the kid in as our ace quite yet. Wren cannot make decisions about the Atlanta staff based on any sort of projections for the young guys on the farm. It seems like this has been our problem in the outfield. We assumed Frenchy was a perennial all-star after his 2005 results, and now we have a big questions mark in RF. We didn’t seriously consider a major CF pickup because we assumed that Shafer was going to quickly make up for AJ being gone.

Patrick

February 24th, 2009
12:33 pm

Mark, good column. Got a chance to chat with Hanson back in December of 07, and he was as nice as can be. This guy’s gonna be a helluva major league pitcher.

74Dawg

February 24th, 2009
12:37 pm

Avery Dominated lefties until he got hurt. Millwood was a solid number 3. Avery had way more upside.

74Dawg

February 24th, 2009
12:39 pm

Also,in regard to Vasquez, let’s see what Bobby can get out of him. Guillen ain’t no Bobby Cox.

Oasisbraves

February 24th, 2009
12:40 pm

I don’t see the “rush” to bring Hanson to Atlanta. While I bleed Braves red (from out west in California), I think the Braves are still a few pieces away from a real championship. I don’t believe in writing the season off, but we’ve had enough hardbreaks over the years. Let’s do this thing the right way and let our players really mature.

Oasisbraves

February 24th, 2009
12:42 pm

oops I ment heartbreaks.

Sharon

February 24th, 2009
12:49 pm

I dont think Wren made a mistake with the rotation since none of them should have been there anyway. Morton, Parr and even Reyes will do well getting more confidence in AAA Gwinnett. I believe they all have options and they need to be there. Dont rush kids that arent ready and they arent. I think Wren did well to form a rotation that would not consist of the younger starters. When they are ready they will be good. Until then leave them in AAA.

roman88

February 24th, 2009
1:04 pm

start him in gwinett, like they should there’s no rush for him this early, atlanta’s got plenty of depth. jurjens and campillo really impressed last year, let’s hope they stay around awhile in some capacity, Imagine when we have huddy, hansen, lowe, etc. later on.

Mac

February 24th, 2009
1:11 pm

Avery 96-83, 4.19 ERA and retired five years. Millwood 142-111, 4.06 ERA and still going. Unless Avery makes a comeback and Millwood can find some way to lose games he’s already won, this is a dead issue. It’s been proved that Millwood had more upside.

Mac

February 24th, 2009
1:14 pm

What you’re saying here, I think, is that before ever playing, Avery was Darrel Dawkins and Millwood was Caldwell Jones. Only in hindsight do you pick Jones. N’est pas?

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
1:47 pm

What I’m saying is pretty much what I said: That Hanson is the finest Braves’ pitching prospect since … Steve Avery. Who arrived in the big leagues in 1990 and didn’t do too badly in 1991, as I remember.

And I kind of get the Darryl Dawkins/Caldwell Jones comparison, except that Caldwell Jones was essentially a journeyman defender and Dawkins was a massive waste of talent.

Mac

February 24th, 2009
2:02 pm

Yeah, I guess Avery’s case was more his arm dying on him than anything. He had a good head on his shoulders. He looked poised to be what Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux were. I get it.

matt

February 24th, 2009
2:28 pm

Mac- Avery has a career win % of .53 and Millwood a .56. Arguing over whose better between Steve Avery and Kevin Millwood??? I guess it’s a good change of pace from the “whose better” arguments (Pujols/A-Rod) and instead have the “whose the more mediocre” (Millwood/Avery). Must be a slow day at work.

monty

February 24th, 2009
2:37 pm

Somebody will get a sore arm, or get injured and Hanson will be up soon enough. Anderson is more than a band-aid, think in terms of Bobby Abreiu. Solid line-drive hitter with more pop than Diaz amd whoever they put in center. He will be a tough out. Not a homerun every 4th game and a strikeout or a walk the rest of the time like Dunn. But he shoudn’t be the defensive liability of a Dunn either.

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
3:04 pm

I like Garret Anderson, but he has the reputation of being tough on reporters. (Meaning: He doesn’t say much.)

Then again, John Rocker talked a lot, and we saw how that worked out.

proeye

February 24th, 2009
3:08 pm

Come on… There are only so many roster spots in the rotation. If Lowe, Jurrjens, Vasquez, Kawakami, and Glavine all do well why do we need Hanson, Morton, Reyes, or Parr for the fifth spot? Now that we have Glavine, we are assured that if any of the four stumble or get injured, we have someone who can fill the spot, and then one of these guys can get a chance.

Hanson will come up this year, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Believe me, the Braves will find a way to get him some starts or he’ll have to pitch out of the bullpen in long relief. What’s the difference anyway? I’m sure Hanson will be happy to be with the club in any capacity.

Geez, then Hudson comes back in August or next year. Now that’s what you call depth people.

Consider it a luxury. Only a tired, “woe always me” kind of person would see our staff as a negative.

I say, stop complaining.

getnathan

February 24th, 2009
3:27 pm

hOW COME NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT PETE SMITH?

SanAntonio

February 24th, 2009
3:47 pm

I’m willing to bet that if we need a replacement pitcher due to an injury to our current starting 5, it will be Campillo and not Hanson. They are going to let Hanson, Morton, Reyes & Parr pitch together for a whole season for as long as they can. So pencil Campillo as #6. I don’t know about Buddy Carlyle’s options, but if he has any left and starts in the minors, he’ll be #7.

Oh, and Josh Anderson will win the CF position. He is out of options and they don’t want to lose him. When Schaefer is ready next year, Anderson will be trade bait this off season. Schaefer & Brandon Jones will some get some PT this year when someone gets hurt, but will be back down in the minors as soon as the injured player comes back.

My point is the Braves have a legitimate major league roster this year and won’t rush these guys. I’m not saying championship team, but they won’t lose 90 games again and will be in contention throughout.

Jerry

February 24th, 2009
3:59 pm

As best I understood Avery had a poor work ethic.

Dawkins was the choclate thunder for the 76er’s.

Vasquez will win 15 games, wait and see people.

Also, the Bravos make the playoffs and Smoltz doesn’t.

It is all beginning to make sense now. Smoltz left because he knew stud Hansen was coming up and he wouldn’t be the Big Dog anymore.

fieldofdreams

February 24th, 2009
4:01 pm

Even though hope Springs eternal, this team, and this year, are both designated for rebuilding. Either way you cut it, we’re looking at third place; so why not invest innings with the Hansons and Schafers of the organization, instead of wasting them on old mercenary Glavine, or has-been, rent a Brave who could care less about Atlanta, Garret Anderson?

Thatcher

February 24th, 2009
4:13 pm

I personally can’t wait until the Braves have Timmy Hudson back, paired with Lowe, Jurrjens, along with the potentials of Kawakami, Hanson, Morten, and Reyes. That is great to see after the struggles and lack of depth last year. Also, it’s great to have Tommy Glavine around for at least a little longer. I have high hopes for the future of pitching in Atlanta.

Marcus

February 24th, 2009
4:37 pm

I think what no one is talking about here is the fact that if they bring Hanson up too soon it starts his clock on arbitration. They will wait until June to avoid that, wait and see. Oh, and y’all are right about Anderson, there is NO WAY they let him go by giving CF to Schafer who could really stand to get more at bats at AAA after his suspension. One year with the big club for Anderson and at least passable numbers and they could package him with someone for a decent return, why squander it and rush a potential star in Schafer at the same time?

Mantuan

February 24th, 2009
4:54 pm

Let’s look at what Gwinnett looks like at this moment, assuming Spring Training ends as currently forecasted: Lowe, JJ, Vazquez, Kawakami and Glavine. Gwinnett will be: Hanson, Jorge, Morton, Medlen, and a competition between Redmond and Parr for #5 at the AAA level? Wow. So either Parr or Redmond goes back to AA, and that is assuming JoJo goes to AA. If JoJo finds it, then, BOTH Parr and Redmond go to AA.

I have to assume that Lerew passes through waivers and goes to Mississippi in order to recover.

This is riches I think all of us should celebrate.

Lots of “upside” in this.

**

I think the “Young Guns” SI cover piece in 1991 or so featured: JoSmo, TG, Avery and Pete Smith. I think. Mercker may have been in that picture as well …

**

I read something somewhere that agreed with Marcus on getting Hanson into August for call-up. Arbi rules.

**

I am not sure the Braves have all the pieces to make a run on the Phils or the Mets (I think NYM is vulnerable in the BP getting TO KRod/Putz) but they look more complete NOW than they did last July or so … whew, that WAS ugly …

SanAntonio

February 24th, 2009
5:24 pm

The Braves are playing for the wildcard. The Phils are the team to beat. Although their pitching staff is poor after Hamels, they have the lineup to win in that ballpark. If they played in San Diego with that staff they’d be hard pressed to win 84 games. But they don’t play there and they built their lineup to accomodate their ballpark. Plus they have the 2 best players in the division in Howard & Utley.

The Mets have problems. Kudos to them for fixing their late inning bullpen problems with KRod & Putz, but who pitches the 6th & 7th innings when Santana doesn’t start. Their rotation stinks. Plus their lineup includes Church, Murphy, Castillo & Schneider. That’s half their lineup. I realize their other half is very very good, but that’s a problem.

The Braves have far and away the best rotation in the division and a solid bullpen that will benefit from it. Their lineup is pretty decent. They did put up some runs last year despite their dreadful outfield and Chipper’s DL stints.
Plus they have Infante, Diaz & Prado to face those left handed relief pitchers the other 3 teams in our division will roll out.

They’ll battle the Cards for the wildcard. The Cubs win the central and the second place team in the west will be hard pressed to play 500

Andrew

February 24th, 2009
6:00 pm

nice piece Mark.

Shane

February 24th, 2009
7:00 pm

I think the real key to the season are things like Will Kelly Johnson put it together for a full season? Will Escobar? Will Francouer bounce back? What do you get out of CF? Guys like Anderson and Vazquez have been veterans for a long time and have fallen into that stage of their career where pretty much every year is like the last with a little variation. We know what these guys and Chipper, McCann etc are going to do. Question is what do we get from the unknowns?

jon

February 24th, 2009
7:02 pm

Send Jo Jo down to AAA. He hasn’t shown me anything which would resemble a solid big league starter. He had his chance…send him down to AAA and let’s see how Tommy (Hanson) handles the show!

andrew

February 24th, 2009
7:09 pm

To talk about Jojo and Charlie Morton shows you haven’t been watching the bravos enough. How many chances do you keep giving Jojo?

kirkinga

February 24th, 2009
7:11 pm

How quickly they forget “Poison Avery”. The reason why Avery was bette, comes down to playoff performance. When the games mattered the most, Avery met the challenge better than Millwood.

Avery was 5-3 in 77.2 innings, 18 appearances, 12 of them were starts. His playoff ERA is 2.90!

Millwood was 2-4 in 44.1 innings, 9 appearances, 7 starts, with an ERA of 3.92.

Only Smoltz was a better clutch pitcher. It is playoff performance, that separates Avery from Millwood.

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
7:30 pm

Why, thanks, Andrew. And did I mention that my middle name is Andrew?

And I seem to remember Kevin Millwood throwing a one-hitter against the Astros in the NLDS in 1999. But you’re right — Avery was a great postseason pitcher. MVP of the 1991 NLCS, as I recall.

Suicidaire

February 24th, 2009
7:34 pm

If you’ve ever pitched a game in your life you know how debilitating a torn fingernail can be. Pitching is all about finger pressure and having a finger that is dinged causes your pitches to be off. Not to mention it hurts like hell.

I used to chew my nails and would get a bit carried away sometimes (to the quick) and it made pitching a bit torturous. I gave up that habit QUICK!

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
7:37 pm

Proeye, I’d be shocked if the Braves brought Hanson up without knowing he’d have a spot in the rotation. More than shocked, actually.

Chris Broe

February 24th, 2009
7:59 pm

Mark, thanx for tipping off opposing batters about the way Hanson gets his curve to break over the plateletes. Three strokes and you’re out, you know.

Why don’t you blab to the other teams about how Bobby Cox wouldn’t bunt if the score was tied in the bottom of the ninth and the bases were loaded and the infield was playing in shallow outfield, and the outfield was looking at the little birdies or something.

Bubba

February 24th, 2009
8:01 pm

I think it’s a great problem to have, on many levels. It will keep all of their pitchers on their toes. Tommy G is in a great position to pass on the Braves way to the fledglings. Bobby’s got a stable full of stallions. The fan base – in Atlanta and Gwinnett?

Mark Windsor

February 24th, 2009
8:15 pm

If Reporters would ask good questions players wouldnt run when they come around you know yourself you hate it when people ask you dumb questions..but too often you see questions asked to players just to ask a question…

35YearBravesFan

February 24th, 2009
8:33 pm

Interesting blog, Mark. I don’t think they need to be fast bringing up Hanson, but I admit, he is exciting to see pitch and it won’t be long. It’s been great watching him work his way up to the Big Team. I think it will depend on how the starting five pitch. I like Hoss’ idea of a six man rotation.

Bring on the days of summer!

GO BRAVES!

Strikeoutlookin

February 24th, 2009
8:58 pm

“How many chances do JoJo and Charlie get?”

See Kyle Davies……

Kentavo

February 24th, 2009
9:24 pm

Anyone complaining about “too much starting pitching” obviously hasn’t paid attention the last couple of years.

Coach (Skip and Pete will be missed)

February 24th, 2009
9:39 pm

Steve Avery was one of the best left handed pitchers in the game from 1991-1993. And don’t forget, his performance in the 1995 playoff’s was an absolutely critical factor in the Braves WS Championship. Avery also won 18 games in the postseason. Then when considering that he accomplished that feat in just five post season’s, he really was clutch.

Millwood has stayed relatively healthy. Avery blew his arm out. And one more thing, Avery has a WS ring and that 1991 NLCS MVP award. There is little doubt in my mind about one thing. If Avery had stayed healthy, we would be talking about four Braves Hall of Fame starting pitchers instead of three.

JoJoJimJack

February 24th, 2009
9:40 pm

Hanson is from California, not Tulsa ,OK. You AJC guys are on a serious roll!

Mark Bradley

February 24th, 2009
9:46 pm

Tommy Hanson was indeed born in Tulsa, Okla. He attended Riverside (Cal.) Community College. Sorry to confuse you with the facts.