The Pittsburgh Pirates, for what seems like an eternity to some of their fan base, have been stockpiling draft picks and prospects with the hopes of assembling a playoff team. That stockpiling has started to come to fruition as names like Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Pedro Alvarez have all been home-grown players that are contributing on a regular basis to a now-winning team. That goes without mentioning their MVP Andrew McCutchen, whom I guess I just mentioned.
One name that should be added to the Homegrown Talent list that the Pirates will be relying on for years to come is left-handed hitting outfielder Gregory Polanco
Gregory Polanco signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic exactly five years ago on April 11. He reported to Rookie ball in 2010 but it wasn’t until he hit A-ball in 2012 that Polanco showed why the Pirates signed him as a teenager.
Polanco spent the entire 2012 season in Class-A with the West Virginia Power. That year, Polanco hit .325 with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases. There were a couple nice things to come out of that season that are always good to see from a prospect: He took his walks (9.1-percent) and didn’t strike out very much (13.2-percent). Guys with speed run into problems when they can’t make contact or get on base. That wasn’t Polanco’s problem in 2012.
Last year, Polanco spent the majority of the season between High-A and Double-A ball. In his 527 plate appearances that year, Polanco managed 12 home runs and 37 steals, a continuation of the power/speed threat he showed in 2012. He maintained a good aggregate batting average (.286) but also maintained a good walk rate (9.9-percent) and a good strikeout rate (13.9-percent). It was just another very solid season, another building block in his development.
In the very young season so far this year, Polanco has come out on a tear in Triple-A, batting .433 in just 32 plate appearances.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Polanco has found so much success in the Minors. Not only did the Pirates see enough in him to sign him as a teenager, but he’s been heralded pretty much every step of the way through his young career:
From Baseball Prospect Nation in August, 2012:
“All-Star… five-tool potential but still very raw and in need of significant development.”
“While Polanco’s numbers took a leap in 2012, so did the maturation of his tools, earning average or better tools across the board in the offseason from the likes of Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America.”
Finally, from Rotoanalysis and author Greg Jewett in January of this year:
“… Polanco will not be a superstar but he will be a great fantasy player for years to come”
That last quote from Mr. Jewett is especially important but I’ll get to that in a second.
A lot of scouts and scouting reports will talk about Polanco’s outfield prowess, namely the strong arm that he possesses. With Travis Snider and Jose Tabata currently occupying right field, part of the conversation will be focused on what Polanco brings on the defensive side of things. Fantasy owners looking to acquire him in the trade market would do well to use the “defense first” argument to those that own him in dynasty and keeper leagues. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But this is a talent worth trying to acquire; by all accounts, Polanco could very well be a 20/30 threat in a few years as his power tool keeps developing.
For those wanting to take a look at him, here’s a good YouTube video from Baseball Instincts. I would fast forward to the 1:50 mark. He seems to get fooled on whatever pitch is coming in, but manages to keep his hands back and make contact. Then watch him dart of the batter box in mere moments. Of course it’s just cherry-picking one pitch, but it’s a good example of what Polanco can bring to the Major League level: even when he’s fooled on a pitch, his hand-eye is elite enough to at least make contact and give himself a chance to get to first.
If the Pirates pirate like they usually pirate, they’ll wait until June to call up Polanco to avoid him being a Super-Two earlier than the end of the 2016 season. What he’ll be able to produce in the second half of the season won’t be season-changing. Even optimistic projections would have him somewhere between 7-9 home runs and 15-18 stolen bases for half a season at this point in his career. He’s probably already owned in keeper/dynasty leagues but for those in re-draft mixed leagues, keep an eye for when Polanco gets the call. He’ll be a solid waiver wire source of speed with a little bit of pop who won’t tank the batting average. He’s not elite to the point where those in 3-OF leagues should concern themselves, but those in anything bigger than 12 teams with five outfielders will want to keep an eye on him. He’ll be better than some fifth outfielders fantasy teams are trotting out.