Photo by Jerry Holt /Jerry.Holt@Startribune.com
Prior Lake pitcher Nick Hanson is a comic off the diamond. The moment the overpowering right-hander crosses the chalked lines, his disposition completely changes.
“I like to have fun, keep the mood light,” Hanson said. “When it comes to the field, though. I’m all business.”
Combining that workmanlike attitude with his talent earned Hanson the 2016 Star Tribune Metro Baseball Player of the Year. He is the first Prior Lake player to win the honor.
“Nick is the best pitcher I have ever coached,” Prior Lake coach Greg Nesbitt said. “I have coached Nick since his sophomore year, and in those three years I have seen him grow as an athlete, a leader and as a man.”
Nesbitt also watched him grow into a Major League Baseball prospect. The Cincinnati Reds chose Hanson with the second selection of the third round (79th overall) in the draft last Friday, which also happened to mark his 18th birthday.
“I was truly impressed with how Nick handled himself with all the attention from MLB,” Nesbitt said. “He never let the outside distractions get in the way of his team or his performance.”
The number of scouts grew to take a peek at Hanson as the season progressed. He would take to the mound with 20 to 25 of them scattered in the stands behind home plate.
“It was nerve wracking,” Hanson said. “I felt like I had to be on top of my game every time out.”
He nearly was, going 7-2 with two saves and a 0.57 ERA. The 6-6, 225-pound pitcher only allowed 29 hits while striking out 91 in 61 2/3 innings.
“In the last two years, Nick went from a thrower to a pitcher to an all-around great player,” Nesbitt said.
Hanson lives off his two- and four-seam fastball that usually reaches 92 to 94 mph and periodically touch 96 mph throughout a game. He keeps hitters off stride with his curveball and changeup. Developing his changeup is vital to his future success.
“I need to throw my changeup more often,” Hanson said. “I need to develop more of a feel for that pitch.”
As radar guns popped up behind the backstop, Hanson’s accomplishments at the plate went quietly unnoticed. He hit .420 with three home runs and had an on-base percentage of .506.
“In the beginning, the game came easily to Nick and he was able to get by on pure physical ability,” Nesbitt said. “He has become a tremendously hard worker.”
Hanson signed a letter of intent with the University of Kentucky last fall, but will forgo that opportunity to sign with the Reds.
“I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball,” Hanson said. “I think I will miss hitting a little bit, but pitching is the best thing for my career. It will take me the furthest.”
He became only the third Minnesota high school pitcher to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft in the past 25 years.
“This was a one-time chance to be drafted as a high schooler,” Hanson said. “Not too many players get to say they were drafted out of high school.”
1989: Tom Nevers, SS, Edina
1990: Tom Nevers, SS, Edina
1991: Ryan Kjos, P, Hopkins
1992: Dave Lance, P, Irondale
1993: Chris Schwab, OF, Cretin-Derham Hall
1994: Jake Schaffer, SS, Holy Angels
1995: Justin Dudinsky, P, Brooklyn Center
1996: Ben Birk, OF, Cretin-Derham Hall
1997: Mark Pedersen, P, Mounds View
1998: Ryan Klocksein, P, Minnetonka
1999: Luke Appert, SS, Park of Cottage Grove
2000: T.J. Prunty, P, St. Paul Academy
2001: Joe Mauer, C, Cretin-Derham Hall
2002: Marcus McKenzie, P, Minnetonka
2003: Aaron Jenkins, P, Champlin Park
2004: Tim Radmacher, P, Rosemount
2005: Dan Leslie, P, Henry Sibley
2006: Jed Hanson, P, Forest Lake
2007: Danny Miller, P, Eden Prairie
2008: Brad Hand, P, Chaska
2009: Ryan Abrahamson, SS, Tartan
2010: Tom Windle, P, Osseo
2011: Ryan Busch, P, Roseville
2012: Logan Shore, P, Coon Rapids
2013: Logan Shore, P, Coon Rapids; Max Knutson, P, Mounds View
2014: Sam Hentges, P, Mounds View
2015: Eddie Estrada, SS, Litchfield