For the next two weeks, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be drafted in the first round of next Thursday's draft. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next up is Oklahoma right-hander Alec Hansen, who stands 6-foot-7 and hails from Loveland, Colo. Hansen, a power pitcher known for his velocity, came into the season as one of college baseball's premier starters before struggles forced him out of a starting role. Hansen posted a 5.40 ERA in 14 appearances (10 starts) for the Sooners this season, but is touted as a projectable arm who needs to work on his command.
Despite struggling this season, Hansen is still projected as a late first-rounder or early second-rounder by most major outlets. He spoke at length with MLBDD Wednesday:
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realized you loved playing the game?
"I started playing when I was in fourth or fifth grade. I really didn't get into it year-round until I was a junior in high school. I started playing only baseball in high school and during the summer."
Growing up, who was your favorite team? Favorite player?
"Even today, I don't really have a favorite team. No favorite players really, either. Today I like to watch Matt Harvey. I really like him and [Noah] Syndergaard."
When was the moment you realized a long pro career was a possibility?
"I think my senior year of high school. No one really knew about me my junior year, but scouts started looking at me fall of my senior year. I was kind of happy just going to college and trying to get a college scholarship at Oklahoma, and then all of the pro stuff started happening. I realized that those guys really thought I had a lot of potential and I started realizing it too. You know how good you are, traveling all around the country you get to compare yourself to other kids. I think when I was a senior, and then the past three years I've started realizing I can make a living at this."
Three years ago, you were drafted by your hometown team (the Rockies, in the 25th round). Was it a tough decision at that point to go to Oklahoma instead of playing for the Rockies?
"No. I mean going into the draft, I didn't know what I was going to sign for. After the first day, I was going to school. Mark Gustafson, their scouting director at the time, called me and told me to have a good summer and enjoy Oklahoma. That was it."
Why did you end up going to Oklahoma? What other schools were interested?
"I love Oklahoma. If I don't go back next year, which I don't plan on doing, I wouldn't trade those three years at Oklahoma for anything. The relationships I've made, the people I've met...just to experience it, you really can't put a price on it. I had other schools I was looking at; I looked at Oregon and Oregon State. When I came to OU, it was different than the northeast and the northwest. I just liked the feeling, the atmosphere and the culture at OU a lot better."
This year has been a huge sports year for Oklahoma, with both the football team and basketball team making it to national semifinals. What has it been like to be part of that on campus?
"It's awesome. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to the Final Four in Miami. I did get to go to the [College Football Playoff] game in Miami [against Clemson]. That's probably the most fun I've ever had going to watch a football game. Being around great athletes like that everyday makes you want to be better too."
Your dad swam at Iowa State and was the head coach at Wisconsin, your mom was a college swimmer at Wisconsin and your uncle swam at Iowa State and is now the head coach at Arizona. Why did you veer off the family path and pursue a different sport?
"Swimming is a really tough sport. When you've got to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning and jump in the freezing cold water and swim up and down a pool, it gets tiring after a while. I had baseball, football and basketball then too so it was tough swimming at the same time. Swimming is very demanding; if you want to be really good, you have to train a lot. With the other sports, I told my parents I no longer wanted to swim and that was the end of that."
This year has been a tough one (5.40 ERA, losing your rotation spot). What do you attribute those struggles to?
"I think a little bit had to do with the expectations coming into the season. When you're expected to be one in the best in the country and little things don't go your way, you think, 'man, those things shouldn't be happening to me. I should be blowing these guys away.' When that didn't happen, I think it frustrated me a little bit. Then I got taken out of the rotation and there were two ways I could've gone about it: I could just forget about everything and go out there and do my best, or I could continue to go out there and do the same thing and get the same results. I think I changed my approach mentally and my attitude as a teammate and member of the program. I think that showed my last four starts of the season, I got three wins and one loss."
So there aren't physical issues at all? Completely a mental approach thing?
Which major-league pitcher would you say you're most like?
"I've said I'm kind of like Matt Harvey a little bit. I throw hard, I have a good slider. I guess Syndergaard too, but I don't throw as close to as hard as he does consistently. Just power guys, that's who I see myself as and that's who I want to be."
Power arms tend to fluctuate between being starters and relievers in the pros. Long-term, do you see yourself in the rotation, or as a reliever?
"I want to get to the big leagues as fast as I can. I can see myself realistically having two or three years in the minor leagues to get my innings built up and my endurance built up. I want to get to a point where I can throw 200 innings in a season while maintaining my arm strength and velocity. I think I'm very capable of doing that."
As a pitcher, what is your biggest strength?
"Obviously, my fastball. I don't know what it's like in the next level, but in college hitters have to be ready for my fastball and it makes it harder for them to adjust to off-speed. I've also started developing a changeup too, so that's a bonus."
What about your biggest weakness? Command?
"Yeah, command. You can tell, when I'm on and striking guys out and guys aren't getting hits off me it's when I'm getting ahead of the count and pounding the zone. When guys start getting hits off me, it's when I'm falling behind in the count. There's a really high percentage that guys will get a fastball, so that's when I'm getting in trouble."
Scouting reports say your stuff is among the best in the draft, but your command is inconsistent. Teams may think you're a risky pick. Why should teams bet on you and take that risk?
"Like you said, I have some of the best stuff in the entire draft class. There is going to be some risk with anyone. I just know my work ethic. All the people I've been around, I've always outworked them and become better than them. Not to knock on anyone else, I think I can continue doing that at the next level. I've done it in high school, I've done it in college. I don't see why that won't continue at the next level."
You said you only fully dedicated yourself to pitching in your junior year of high school. Does that make you more of a project than some other, more polished prospects?
"I think the biggest thing for me is just going out and playing. I had limited innings this year. I just need to get thrown out there so if I get in trouble I can work through it. That's how I'm going to get better."
Do you have an expectation going into next week on where you're going to get picked? Any specific teams with strong interest?
"I've heard a bunch of different teams. I have no expectation myself. If I am disappointed, that's just going to be motivation for me. I feel like I haven't seen anyone that's better than me. If people think there are other players out there a lot better than me, then that's just going to be motivation for me. Whatever happens, happens."