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?