SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The cynics' perception of Tommy Hanson is that he's like your high school's prom king -- he peaked too early.
Hanson was rated the fourth-best prospect in the game heading into his first season according to Baseball America, and finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2009. He went 31-19 with a 2.99 ERA in his first two and a half seasons, establishing himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game. Then back issues flared up, his shoulder started to hurt and his velocity dropped. In his last 36 starts leading up to his arrival in Anaheim, he posted a 4.96 ERA, making one wonder whether his best days are behind him.
But, then again, Hanson is only 26.
"I'm looking at this season to be a big year for me," the 6-foot-6 right-hander said.
"Obviously, I don't want to pitch like I did last year. I know I'm better than that, and I know I can pitch better than that, so I'm looking forward to doing that this year."
Coming off a season that finished with a career worst in ERA (4.48), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.27) and home runs allowed (27), the Braves practically gave up on Hanson, flipping him for hard-throwing reliever Jordan Walden in a one-for-one deal on Nov. 30. It's not a knock on Walden; you just hardly see teams trade a controllable, talented, young starting pitcher for a late-inning relief pitcher coming off a subpar season.
Unless, perhaps, there are serious concerns about his future.
"I'm not worried about them anymore," said Hanson, who holds no ill will towards the Braves and saw the trade as simply "business."
"I have a lot of great friends over there, and it was nice when I was there. But now, that's the least of my worries of what they thought or what they think about me now. I know I'm here, and I've been busting my [butt] this whole offseason and since I've been here."
Hanson said he feels "100 times" better than he did last spring.
Last offseason -- coming off a year that ended in early August because of shoulder woes that might have stemmed from previous back problems -- Hanson focused mostly on rehab and making it through a year healthy, which he believes was a big reason why he struggled in the second half of 2012.
This offseason, he worked hard on getting in better shape and building strength.
"I think he took this offseason as kind of a wakeup call, and really got after it with the weights and conditioning," said Kris Medlen, Hanson's closest friend on the Braves.
"I think something clicked in his head that he needs to start taking better care of himself. He realizes this doesn't last forever. You need to bust your [butt] for 10 to 15 years and you'll be set for the rest of your life."
Adding strength and explosiveness will help Hanson repeat his mechanics for 100-plus-pitch outings, and will no doubt help him throughout the long grind of a regular season.
Will it help an average fastball velocity that was at 92.7 mph in 2010 and 89.6 mph in 2012?
Probably not. At the time of the trade, Braves general manager Frank Wren said the velocity drop was a byproduct of him "transitioning to a different kind of pitcher" and not a health issue. And for Hanson, who sat mostly at 88 to 89 mph and occasionally touched 90 on Sunday, it isn't a focal point.
"It's nice to have velocity, but as of right now, no, I don't care," he said. "I feel good, and if I command my fastball, I'm not worried about it."
But Hanson had a hard time with his fastball command against the Royals at Surprise Stadium on Sunday, when he gave up five runs on seven hits (one of them a homer) in a three-inning, 55-pitch outing.
"It's not unusual in the spring," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but he's working towards a goal, and we're very comfortable we're going to see him where he needs to be after his next three or four outings."
Spring Training is a time for optimism, but Hanson is navigating through it with plenty of outside skepticism, about whether he can make the transition to the American League and whether he can go back to being who he was -- even though it wasn't that long ago.
"I'm never motivated to prove anybody wrong. Never," said Hanson, part of an Angels rotation that's 60 percent new, with Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton joining Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. "I'm motivated to go out and to help my team, and personally, I want to do well.
"I don't worry about what other people say about me. I know what I have to do, and I know what needs to be done."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. Mark Bowman contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.