"I actually haven't played against or with many of these guys before. But those guys are great hitters, good defenders, and I know I'm watching them just like everybody else."
'Those guys' include Rockies prospect Ian Stewart, Jeff Zimmerman from the Nationals, and the Braves' Andy LaRoche, but the list doesn't stop there. In fact there are so many good third baseman at least one, the Royals Alex Gordon, is playing first base in the Arizona Fall League. Regardless, Hanson doesn't worry about who better and who's best, he looks at the competition as a good thing.
"I can learn from all of the guys on my team, and not just them, I can learn from the guys on other squads too. You watch these guys hit, the way they prepare, the angles they take on balls, their footwork. I can learn from everybody out here."
Hanson isn't just watching the third basemen either. Regularly regarded as the best defensive infielder in the Cardinals' system, since being drafted in the ninth round of the 2002 draft he's played shortstop and second base as well. The move to second happened just before the 2004 season, and appeared to be the Cardinals way of fast tracking Hanson, who was blocked at third by Scott Rolen. As good an idea as it might have been, Hanson worked almost exclusively at third in '05, and is seeing all his work in the AFL at third base. With Rolen spending significant time on the disabled list the last two seasons, it suddenly appears that Hanson might not be 'blocked' for too much longer after all.
Of course, the move to second base might also have had something to do with Hanson's bat. In 2003 Hanson had his most productive minor league season, hitting .277, but after hitting just nine home runs and striking out more than 100 times in 527 at bats, his status as a top flight corner infield prospect was hurting. A move to second took figured to take some of the pressure off, but a broken ankle he suffered sliding into second base ended his 2004 season long before the final results were in.
"I don't really have a preference as to whether I play second or third, whichever way is going to move me up faster," Hanson says after taking ground balls at third during warm ups, "I'm probably more comfortable at third, because that's the way I came up. I've only played 57 games at second, but I was making the adjustment, and I think I could still if that's where they want me."
In 2005 Hanson was moved back to third base, and responded with corner infielder offensive production. His .284/20/97 season put to rest questions about his power potential, but where did it come from?
"I got into a real good workout routine when I was rehabbing the ankle. My rehab guy was big into 'core strength' and showing me how I could get to balls quicker. I came back really strong, feeling really good, and I think there's something to be said for simply getting older and getting better."
But don't think for a second that Hanson feels like he's proven himself.
"The Cardinals didn't really give me anything specific to work on [in the AFL], so I'm going to continue doing the things I've been working on all season long. I was kind of shaky in the field this year, and I think my feet just got a little off because of the injury, so I'm working hard on my footwork, and trying to have good at bats."
The problem is, in this league 'good at bats' aren't necessarily enough to get you noticed.
"Yeah, it really seemed like everybody was hot that first week," Hanson smiles, "Brandon Wood, Howie Kendrick and Kendry Morales were all just crushing the ball, everybody seemed to be hitting the ball out every time they came up."
And then Travis Hanson does something so unexpected, he even seems to surprise himself. He admits the hot start of his teammates might have affected him.
"Honestly I might have been over-swinging a little that first week," Hanson says with shrug, "because those guys are hitting so well and you just want to be part of that party. I'm not sure you would call it pressure, but you're down here, and you know the ball carries, you know the air is dry, and I think it was just natural to maybe be trying to do too much."
It's a level of honesty most of the prospects in the AFL rarely show. Or is it? A quick look at the stats doesn't really support Hanson's statements. During the first week of the AFL, Hanson was 10-21 with a double, a triple, and two walks against six strikeouts. If that's trying to do too much, what happens when he relaxes and plays within himself?