Top Performers: Gregory Polanco Quietly Having a Strong Season

Below are the top Runs Created* totals in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm system from the last week. The rankings include every hitter who had an at-bat for a Pirates’ minor league affiliate, not including DSL teams, and with no limitations on whether the hitter has prospect eligibility. Players who spent time at different levels are counted multiple times, once for each level, rather than combining their stats. Notes on the top ten players from the last week can be found below the chart.

*Runs Created is a stat created by Bill James used to estimate how many runs an individual contributes to his team. There are many formulas for runs created. For these purposes the basic formula is used. That formula is ((H + BB) * (1B + (2*2B) + (3*3B) + (4*HR))) / (AB + BB).

Gregory Polanco is quietly having a strong season at the plate.

Gregory Polanco is quietly having a strong season at the plate.

Gregory Polanco had a big breakout season last year, which was over-shadowed most of the year by Alen Hanson’s breakout season. Hanson got off to a hotter start, while Polanco had a steady and good performance the entire year. The result was that Hanson’s hot start got the attention, and Polanco didn’t start getting the same breakout attention until the second half. This year Hanson is getting a lot of attention, although for the wrong reasons. His defense has been horrible and his offense has struggled with the defense. That has overshadowed what has been a great start to the year by Polanco. The outfielder went 11-for-20 in the last week to take the top spot on this list. On the season Polanco has a .361/.429/.475 line in 61 at-bats. He’s not hitting for a lot of power, but he’s definitely hitting. He also is running well on the bases, with 9 stolen bases in 12 attempts. While Hanson is getting the attention for his struggles, Polanco is quietly putting up strong numbers to follow-up his breakout season.

The Pirates drafted Walker Gourley as a prep shortstop in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. They signed him away from a commitment to East Carolina and he spent the last three years in the New York-Penn League. Gourley is very athletic, to the point where he can play almost anywhere in the field. The Pirates have tried him out behind the plate before, and he played 19 games in center field last year. This year he’s mostly been at first base, the corner outfield spots, and as a designated hitter. He’s also putting up some impressive numbers. This week he went 9-for-20 with a double, triple, and a homer. On the season he’s hitting for a .359/.388/.500 line. Gourley has never been a guy who draws a lot of walks, and that’s true this year. The hitting has been impressive, but until he learns to take some free passes his hitting won’t translate to the upper levels.

Carlos Mesa was signed out of Cuba for $490,000 two years ago. When he first came into the system I couldn’t see the appeal. He was already 23 years old at the time, and looked very raw. Mesa has cleaned up his game in the last two years, and is starting to show some promise at the plate. He took the number three spot this week after going 9-for-20 with a double and a homer. He came into the game late on Saturday and went 0-for-1, snapping an eight game hitting streak. He picked back up where he left off on Sunday, going 2-for-4. Mesa has a .350/.409/.625 line in 40 at-bats this year. He’s 25 years old and in high-A ball, but it is good to see what he can do now that he’s a little more polished.

Stetson Allie took the top spot last week, and returned to the top five this week with more strong hitting. Earlier in the week I talked about how encouraging it was to see Allie cut down on the strikeouts. Since that article he’s struck out 8 times in 12 at-bats. He has shown the ability to hit for average and power so far, but the strikeout rates are important. He’s not going to see a lot of good breaking pitches in low-A, and that’s what he struggled with when Tom Bragg saw him on Sunday. As he moves up, the breaking pitches will be a lot better, and more difficult to lay off.

The Pirates are thin at third base prospects in the system, which is why the hitting of Eric Wood has been a great sight. Wood rounded out the top five this week with another week of strong hitting. On the season he has a .323/.368/.597 line in 62 at-bats with four homers. He’s one of the youngest hitters on the roster, which only makes his hot start more encouraging.

The top five was made up entirely of West Virginia and Bradenton hitters. Jordy Mercer was next on the list, and the highest rated upper level hitter. Mercer is having a great season, hitting for a .323/.411/.435 line in 62 at-bats. If he keeps this up, he could step up as a replacement for Clint Barmes. I doubt the Pirates would replace Barmes this year, since they value his defense, but Barmes is a free agent after the year and Mercer is the top option in the system to replace him. He only looks stronger with a good offensive performance this year in Triple-A.

Andrew Lambo came in at number seven this week, but more impressive is the streak he’s currently riding. Lambo has played 17 games in Altoona this year, and has reached base safely in all 17 games. Eventually he should get a shot in Indianapolis. Lambo was pushed back to Altoona when the Pirates sent Alex Presley and Felix Pie down to Triple-A. Presley is in the majors right now, but might return to the minors when Brandon Inge comes off the disabled list this week. With Starling Marte and Travis Snider off to hot starts, there wouldn’t be as big of a need for immediate backup options in Triple-A, which means the Pirates could eventually promote Lambo and have him start over a veteran like Felix Pie.

Despite the defensive struggles mentioned earlier, Alen Hanson has started to come around offensively. He was given three days off at the start of the week to work on his fielding and to clear his head. That seems to have worked on the hitting side, as he returned and went 6-for-15 with a double and a triple. Both of the extra base hits resulted in walk off victories for the Marauders. The defense is still struggling, but it’s good to see the offense coming back around.

Josh Bell made the top ten for the second week in a row after going 9-for-32 with two doubles and a homer. In the article about the West Virginia hitters, I noted that Bell has been striking out too much, and not drawing a lot of walks. He’s done a better job with the strikeouts lately, with only two in his last four games, spanning 18 at-bats. However, he only has two walks in his last ten games, spanning 47 at-bats. The power is starting to show up, which is a positive sign, but Bell had the reputation of a pure hitter, and not a guy who would strike out too much while struggling to draw walks. It’s still early, so he could show improvements in both areas.

Rounding out the top ten is Matt Hague. Last year Hague struggled in Triple-A, hitting for a .283/.332/.351 line. He’s still hitting for average this year, and doing a better job of getting on base, but the power hasn’t been there. He added two doubles this week, which is usually where his power comes from, but the overall power results aren’t what you want to see from a corner guy.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • leadoff

    You can’t get walks if you swing at the ball, in the minors high averages, power and strikeouts will get you to the majors faster than walks will. Walks are great for OBP, but I like guys that swing the bat. Alvarez is in Pittsburgh to swing the bat, not get walks, McCutchen is there to swing the bat, not get walks. Walks are something you take when they won’t pitch to you and you create that scenario by being a hitter they fear, it all starts with swinging the bat.
    I hope the Pirates are not, do not hold guys to levels because they don’t get enough walks, if that is their theory, they will never have any hitting show up in the majors.
    So much was made of Marte not taking enough pitches to walk more, but the type of player that gets walks is different than the type that does not. Marte is not the kind of hitter you want behind in counts. Martin is the kind of guy that can get behind in counts an end up taking walks.
    The type of player has so much to do with those walk totals.
    Watching Allie, it would appear to me that he is going to strike out a lot, it is hard to do both, strike out and get walks and as I said striking out requires swinging the bat.
    If you get a guy that strikes out a lot and gets a lot of walks, you get a Grossman, would you rather have him or a guy like Marte. I think the Pirates answered that question, they kept Marte and shipped Grossman off.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fred.langford.9 Fred Langford

    leadoff, I greatly disagree with what you are saying. The idea is too have a good eye at the plate and don’t swing at bad pitches, get ahead in the count, and see better pitches, and hit them hard somewhere…and if you get behind, alter your approach and battle…regardless of your talent level. If you are a strong guy getting ahead leads to HRs, and if not it leads to singles and doubles. If you tell a guy like Alvarez who swings and misses a lot to not be patient and try to take some walks you end up with a mess. Alvarez does this on his own a lot and gets into funks…which we have see for 80% of his career. Rare are the players that can just hack all the time like a Vlad Guerrero or Kirby Puckett to an extent…HOFers. Russell Martin has gotten him to the point where he may be too passive at times, and that can happen too…his walk #s are very good and he gets his pitch and hits HRs, but often he gets himself out to the tune of a .220 AVG the last 3 year or so. I understand, you do need to be aggressive at times, but it all fits within the approach.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fred.langford.9 Fred Langford

    Sorry, I completely messed that up…I meant “If you tell a guy like Alvarez to swing at everything”