First Pitch

First Pitch: Gregory Polanco Should Be Untouchable

First Pitch: Gregory Polanco Should Be Untouchable

Gregory Polanco should be untouchable.

Gregory Polanco should be untouchable.

I’m pretty sure I built the Gregory Polanco bandwagon. I was calling him a sleeper and one of the most promising international prospects on the Pirates back at the start of the 2011 season. That’s one year before his big breakout in West Virginia. I called that breakout season in March 2012 after seeing Polanco in Spring Training for about two weeks. Fast forward past his breakout season and I put him on the cover of the 2013 Prospect Guide. When the recent mid-season rankings were being made, I had Polanco ahead of Jameson Taillon as the top prospect in the system, and asked everyone else to explain why they had Taillon ahead. Ultimately I went with the majority and Taillon was named number one, but Polanco is still the top prospect in the system for me.

Having said all of that, it’s probably no surprise to hear this from me: Gregory Polanco should be untouchable.

I’ll be honest and say there’s a personal bias with Polanco. I saw him in 2011 when his numbers were horrible, and pegged him as a breakout guy. It’s easy to say that first round pick Gerrit Cole will make the majors. It’s somewhat easy to say that Starling Marte is going to be a future major leaguer after only having success in West Virginia. But looking at a guy with no numbers and raw tools and saying he’s got potential to be something, and then watching him turn into something is totally different. I haven’t been doing this long enough to have a list of players who I’ve watched from the point they made the jump to the US to the point where they made the jump to a top prospect list. Polanco is pretty much the first of hopefully many players that I’ll notice. And for that, his breakout and current national attention is special to me.

But even without that, Polanco should be special to anyone. He’s 6′ 4″, 206 pounds. He’s got plus speed, plus range in center field, a strong arm, good base running instincts, and at the plate he makes strong contact, can hit for power, has great plate patience skills, and still has the ability to add more power. I think he could be better than Starling Marte. I’ve said this a few times, but I also think he could be better than Andrew McCutchen. And I think Polanco will be playing with those two in Pittsburgh this time next season.

So when I see fake trade ideas on ESPN about how the Pirates should trade Polanco, Nick Kingham, and Jordy Mercer for Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez, I laugh. Not in a way where something is hilarious, but in a nervous way that is followed by you saying out loud “God, I hope not”, even if no one else is in the room.

James Santelli wrote about Polanco this afternoon, highlighting the skill set, what he has to work on going forward, input from his current hitting coach in Altoona, and input from Polanco himself. Reading the article reminds me of why I wouldn’t want to see Polanco get traded. It’s all of the things I mentioned before, and then it’s Polanco talking about how he waited for a good pitch against major league veteran Brett Myers, didn’t see one, and just drew a walk instead.

Polanco is advanced. The most significant thing I heard about him this year is that one scout mentioned to me that Polanco improves a new part of his game every time that scout sees him. For the last few years he’s been constantly improving. There could still be some room for more improvements, such as another increase in power. And as I’ve said, I think a year from now we’ll be seeing Polanco in Pittsburgh.

There’s the line about prospects not being a guarantee. But that’s a vague statement that ignores the fact that Polanco is a much safer bet than most hitting prospects. He’s also a guy who has star potential. Combine lower risk with star potential, and put him one year away from filling that third spot in the outfield, and why would you trade him? If for some reason Polanco doesn’t work out, you can’t blame the Pirates for taking the chance on his skills and hoping to have a future star for six years. That wouldn’t be nearly as bad as if they traded him for a short-term upgrade then watched him become that star player elsewhere.

To me, talking about trading Polanco now is the same as talking about trading Andrew McCutchen in 2008, or Starling Marte in 2011. It’s very short-sighted, and in hindsight it looks like a horrible idea because we’ve seen the impact that those types of players can have. Polanco could have that same impact or more, and is a lower risk than most hitting prospects, which is all the reason you need to call him untouchable.

Links and Notes

**Download the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 13: What Are the Needs For the Pirates as the Deadline Nears?

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates International Signing Tracker.



**Prospect Watch: Dickerson Has a Four Hit Day and Moving Back on the Prospect Radar.

**Pirates Sign Three Players Out of Venezuela.

**Gregory Polanco: Futures Game Continues Outfielder’s Breakthrough.

**Minor Moves: Harlan and Lopez Promoted, Hughes Sent To Indianapolis.

**DSL Prospect Watch: One De La Cruz Homers, The Other Collects Three Hits.

**Minor League Schedule: Heredia On The Mound Tonight.


**Cole’s Rough 1st Inning, Missed Hitting Opportunities Sink Sweep Chance.

**Mark Melancon Named to All-Star Game.

  • A prospect regret?

    Moishes Alou for Zane Smith. Pirates fans treat Smith as the last ingredient of what should have been a World Championship team. But the team did not win a championship. Alou had a stellar career, however. That’s the risk when trading a player like Polanco. Your team fails to win a championship and the player they traded away to win that championship goes to the Hall of Fame or the Hall of the Very Good.

    Polanco should be nearly out of reach for most teams willing to trade with the Pirates. He’s too good and fills a strong team need. And he’ll likely remain a Pirates for years to come.

    • Steve….somewhat agree. At the time, Moises was not as highly regarded as Polanco. I have BA’s stuff going back to the 80s. Moises was more of a (to borrow a ‘Tim Term’) second tier prospect at the time.
      Also, Smith WAS the final piece to a division championship. Playoffs are a crapshoot. When an Al Weis can be a championship hero, then you know ANYTHING can happen in a playoff. The best teams don’t always win. Look no further than the O’s/Pirates series.

      • Of course, if it’s a crap shoot anyway then maybe teams shouldn’t be renting in the first place (unless the cost is negligible).

    • However, I DO agree that Polanco should be untouchable.

    • Y2JGQ2

      Zane Smith pitched well and at the time it was a reasonable trade. Just didn’t work out since Moises was so good and then Zane had that elbow tendonitis the next year. No problems with that deal. Polanco though….will likely be better than Stanton as i’ve said before. I wouldn’t do the trade unless it was player for player. no package. it would never happen though. Polanco is a 5 tool player, Stanton is (at best) a 3 tool player.

  • PirateTom

    Yea it was pretty cool getting to finally see Polanco in action at the futures game today, Herrera as well. So how long of a break do they get before they’re back with their teams?

  • Obviously, the “trading Andrew McCutchen in 2008” and Starling Marte example are off base because the Pirates weren’t in any contention to win in those years. They are now. The comment about Moises Alou is more apt, and I was thinking about him the other day. We probably wouldn’t be in a 20 year losing streak had the Pirates kept him in the organization.

    I appreciate your point about Polanco’s value, and they should consider that when making a trade. But if Polanco is part of a package for, say, Giancarlo Stanton — who has 3+ years of control left — there is no reason to worry about Polanco’s value in the OF for the next 6 years. Polanco shouldn’t be discarded for a half-year rental or someone else who doesn’t address their RF needs for the next several years.

    • I’m not focused on the teams in those examples. I’m focused on the players. Andrew McCutchen was a year away from the majors in 2008. Same with Marte in 2011.

  • Jeff

    Only hope Neal Huntington feels the same way you do Tim.

  • absolutely should be untouchable…even for Stanton. This guy could be up in Sept and probably most of the season next year. I would rather have a rental than Stanton and his injuries at this point. Polonco will draw crowds at PNC, Stanton, well yeah, but I would rather watch someone that has been produced and have that pride than to put an injury prone beast out there. Plus, got to love the speed he brings.

    All i know is the 20th i will get to watch him play and im pretty excited to see him and the likes or Dickerson and possibly Tailon pitch. My 4 year old son throws out the first pitch, so it’s going to be a special day for him….plus i will be all giddy inside being so close to great prospects!

    • IC Bob

      Steve after all those years of the Bucs filling in rosters for the playoffs for other teams, wouldn’t you also like to see the Bucs get a player that takes us over the top? Not saying trade Polonco but it would be nice to be the vulture instead of the carcass for a change.

      • Cato the Elder

        I can’t speak for Steve, but for me: not really. Call me crazy, but after 20 years of losing, I would prefer to see a sustained period of success/contention, rather than an all in bet on the psychological victory of scavenging some other teams carcass. E.g. Out bidding the Yankees for Martin was fun and what not, but it pales in comparison to having Martin provide important contributions to the team’s success. Success is the payoff; if Pirates and/or Martin stunk this year who would care that we outbid the Yankees?

        • Me too. While I get his point- and it DOES feel good to be on the “buyers” side of the bargaining table- the more homegrown talent we’ve got the more I’ll enjoy it.

  • kelso

    I wouldn’t say untouchable but if hes getting dealt there better be someone like Giancarlo Stanton coming back.

  • Agreed–in a trade for Stanton, I listen. For the Alex Rioses and Kendry Moraleses of the world, no way in hell.

  • joe g.

    Polanco, Cutch, Marte – speed, power, athleticism…the best all around outfield in baseball with years of control. One less platoon to talk about. Tabata becomes a great fourth outfield option. No way he gets traded.

  • Y2JGQ2

    I think Hanson and Kingham will be our main chips this year, maybe even D’arnoud and Hague as throw ins to someone. I don’t anticipate any major deals

    • meatygettingsaucy

      I definitely agree on Hanson being a trade chip. Kingham not so much as he looks to possibly be stepping into a rotation spot by the middle of next year and could be a solid #3-5 starter down the road. Hague and D’Arnaud aren’t going to bring back anything. With D’Arnaud’s injury this season, he has virtually no value. As with Hague, he’s a AAAA type player and would have little more value than as a throw in for a bigger trade featuring other pieces.

    • Any trade that includes Hanson or Kingham will be a major trade. Both are top-100 prospects. Hanson is a top-50 prospect. And both may be undervalued by the prospect pundits.

      • NastyNate82

        Hanson is top 100, Kingham might not be. I still like him, but I think a lot of the prospecting world might think other teams pitching prospects might have higher ceilings or a better ability to reach those ceilings.

        • NastyNate82

          From what I’ve read, I like the kid a lot and agree he is undervalued and underrated. I just don’t think the rest of the prospecting world may agree with folks here.

  • Given Kingham’s progression to AA and our SP options for 2014 and beyond, I’d have to imagine NH’s preference is to hold onto him. With resurgent years from many prospects, I think we have a large number of trade chips, albeit none with a great amount of value (excluding PP’s top 11–which I advocate not trading any). I think Barnes, V. Black, Jhang…along with Rojas, Lambo, Pimentel, and Osuna are the most likely trade chips. One or more of them should be able to bring back a small upgrade to the major league team. Our organizational surplus is OF, SP, RP, 1B, and believe it or not, C (Sanchez, McGuire, Mathisen, Jhang, Paulino).

  • leadoff

    Here is a thought about trade chips?
    Bud Norris is on the block, he could not make the Pirates starting 5 or 6 for that matter, the Astro’s want two top prospects for him. If that is the case consider what a Jeff Locke or a Charlie Morton could bring? Maybe the trade chips are on the varsity, especially if Wandy comes back, or he himself could be a chip!
    Polanco is still no where near developed, he needs to finish out the year in AA, start the year in AA next year and move up sometime next year, he is an exceptional talent, but still needs more development time. One thing I do like about Polanco for a young kid is his plate discipline. It would take a lot for me to trade him, but I don’t look at anyone as untouchable in the entire organization.

  • buster09

    Right on Brother Tim ! some of the trade scenarios are flat out stupid. leadoff : yours are pretty well though out points,but I have to tell you this : Polanco is already much more polished than Marte was the year he won the EL batting title,and by a large amount,no doubt in my mind.

  • IC Bob

    My question to you is if we don’t make the playoffs and we just miss out by a game. Would you be satisfied if later on you found out we could have replaced someone with a major upgrade for say a Rojas a Holmes or maybe Barnes? Sure those guys may become stars in the future but whose to say any of our make it at all? Look back a couple of years ago. Supposedly we had a cupboard full of arms (Bullington, Barnett, Bradley, Benson etc.) None of them turn into anything worth having they all get injured or were head cases. Just because a guy dazzles at A or AA doesn’t make him a can’t miss star. I am not a proponent of going crazy for this year however their is an obvious need to upgrade this team and it would be prudent to trade a couple of players from our top 30 list to do it. Lets get the upgrade at first or RF. Lets at least get the bench strengthened. Heck we got Derrek Lee for a middle of the road A player. We got Ludwick for less. Would love to get a Ibanez and I doubt it would cost us more then 10-20 level prospect and a couple of guys having decent season but not in our top 30.

    • buster09

      ICBob : Talking about Rojas,Barnes or Holmes type prospects is a much different story than talking about players like Polanco. I have said this before,and I will say it again : if this guy doesn’t become a star,nobody else in this orginization has a chance to !

      • IC Bob

        I don’t think anyone wants us to trade Polonco or Tallion for a stretch run but I really don’t think we need to do that to get a big time player. Pick up his salary and trade a low B maybe a couple of C prospects and he is yours.

        • We need to target the teams who want salary relief. The White Sox, for one, aren’t going to be getting as much for Rios as some people think IMO. In a world where the Twins can go out and get Josh Willingham for $7M per, no one is going to view Rios at $12.5M as some sort of bargain. I think that’s a case where they’ll be forced to choose between eating some salary or acquiring mediocre prospects in return.

  • Why does everyone want Stanton? Miami hustles us in the Sanchez trade (a bucket of balls is fair value) and now you want to get hustled again. Stanton is 1/3 as good as Alvarez. Why would I want that bat in my lineup? Keep your 10 HRs and .250 average. That being said I would gladly have Polanco be the centerpiece in a trade for Troy Tulowitzki. If you are serious about winning those are the kind of moves you have to make. Colorado will be out of the race… Polanco, Locke, Kingham, Barmes and two other guys would be enough for Tulowitzki and one of their prospects. I prefer a franchise player for my top prospects, not these rent-a-bums

    • NastyNate82

      Your assessment is ridiculously off on Stanton. Stanton has hit 100 homers in his career…and is younger than Marte. He has 10 homers because he missed 2 months of the season. And if we’re hung up on average here, he’s hitting the same as Alvarez. Stanton is also locked up for 3 more years as well, so he’s not a rent-a-bum.
      I like Tulo a lot, but he gets hurt a ton as well. And is dinged up now. If you go after one of those guys, its Stanton all the way.

  • derekbellstutu

    Chris Sale might be the only player I would consider in a Polanco trade. Sale could take Burnett’s place in the rotation in 2014 and is signed to a great contract through 2019! However, Sale is probably more untouchable than Polanco.

  • IC Bob – I would love to take on the likes of Stanton just not for polonco or taillon. Now if tulo was involved I would include one of them. SS like him are not easy to find. If aoki was avail to us he would be ideal in my world and keep tabata or Snyder as bench guys.

  • I too have been shocked at how cavalier the rumor-mongers have tossed around Polanco’s name in imaginary trade talk and discussions.

    I firmly believe that most baseball fans have no grasp of how good Polanco has been and what kind of potential he has. Trading him would be ridiculous.
    I don’t care if it’s to get Giancarlo Stanton. I’d give up just about anybody else in the sytem but definitely not Polanco.

    The Pirates haven’t seen a guy come through their system like him since Dave Parker in the mid 70’s.

  • buster09

    Monsoon,for what it is worth,I couldn’t agree with you more. Everytime I see one of these trade scenarios I just shake my head.

  • Stanton for Hansen and Tallion, in a heartbeat…

First Pitch

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, 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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