Every year at the start of the year I get the same questions: When do you think (Insert Player) will be promoted to (Insert level that is one higher than his current level)?
Of course then I get the same question over and over until that player is promoted. At which point I get the same question, only for the next level. I understand it. The only purpose of the minor leagues is developing prospects. People want to see progress, and the only true sign of progress is a player moving up a level. When a guy gets promoted, it’s a sign of many things. It’s a sign that his numbers are seen as legit in most cases (unless it’s a situation where the guy was struggling before his promotion). It’s a sign that the organization thinks high enough of the player to give him a new challenge. And it’s a sign that the player in question is one step closer to the majors.
The problem with trying to make these “when will he get promoted” predictions is that it’s all an educated guess. In some cases, that guess is based on a ton of history, with a high probability that the guess will be correct. As an example, I feel good about predicting Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows to start in West Virginia next year. That’s based on Max Moroff, Robbie Grossman, and plenty of other top prep hitters who have gone to that level in their first full season. I also feel good predicting most of the top prep pitchers to end up in West Virginia in their second full season. Whether they end up in the GCL in their first full year (Tyler Glasnow) or go to the NYPL (tons of people), they usually make that jump to full season ball in their second year.
In the lower levels we’ve had plenty of examples to go off of, both hitting and pitching. In the upper levels there aren’t many examples to use when trying to predict future promotions. This is the sixth season under Huntington, but that’s not a lot of time when it comes to establishing trends in the minors. It didn’t help that there was barely a minor league system when Huntington took over. It’s easy to establish lower level trends, because that’s where you’ve got all of your draft picks going. It gets harder when you talk about the jump from high-A to Double-A, or any jump higher than that.
This year we’ve added a few examples to that Bradenton to Altoona jump for hitters. It has been kind of phenomenal how few examples there have been in that regard over the last five years.
In 2008 there was hardly anyone in the system. The top performer in high-A was Jamie Romak, and he was promoted mid-season after crushing the ball in the first half with Lynchburg.
In 2009 the Pirates had an obvious promotion candidate in Pedro Alvarez. He didn’t exactly crush the ball, but he did get promoted in June.
2010 was a freak year. Tony Sanchez, Starling Marte, Brock Holt, Eric Fryer, and Jeremy Farrell were all having huge years. However, all five went down mid-season with injuries, and most of them were out for the year. We don’t know if they might have been promoted without those injuries.
The top hitters in 2011 were Robbie Grossman, Ramon Cabrera, and Adalberto Santos. None of them were promoted. It’s hard to say why Grossman wasn’t promoted, although Cabrera (Sanchez) and Santos (Holt) were blocked at the next level.
Last year the Bradenton offense struggled, and no one really earned a promotion to Altoona.
So coming into the year, there was very little to go on for the question of “When will Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson get promoted to Altoona?” Would they get promoted like Alvarez, even if the numbers were struggling? Would they be like Grossman and spend an entire season at the level despite strong results? Does Jamie Romak’s promotion even tell us anything? Can we speculate on what might have happened with the 2010 guys had they not been injured? Due to age and background, Starling Marte would have been the perfect guide for Hanson and Polanco.
Alen Hanson was promoted tonight, and Gregory Polanco was promoted last month. That gives us a better idea in the future. Polanco was very polished and putting up great results. He got the quicker promotion, going up on June 13th. Hanson was a month and a half behind him, largely because he’s not as polished as Polanco. Hanson struggled this year with his defense, and also had some early offensive issues. He turned both around, and got the chance to move up a level for the final month of the year.
Those two might give us a better idea of what the Pirates could do next year with guys like Josh Bell and Dilson Herrera. If they come up and start dominating, we might see the earlier Gregory Polanco promotion. If they have a few hiccups like Hanson, it might be closer to the end of the year.
As for Polanco and Hanson, we have a few examples of how they might be handled with future promotions. However, we’re still short on examples.
Polanco spent half a season in high-A, and will spend the second half in Double-A. That’s similar to the progression that Alvarez took, and he started the following year in Triple-A. You could definitely say Polanco is good enough and advanced enough to be on the Alvarez timeline. There are several players who spent entire seasons in Altoona, and a few players who were there for a year and a half. But none of those guys finished the final half of the season in Altoona, leaving our examples pretty short.
I’d guess Polanco will start with Indianapolis next year, based on the Alvarez progression. Alvarez did crush Double-A pitching, and Polanco will have to do the same to get that same promotion.
Hanson is a bit different. There haven’t been many people promoted to Altoona at the end of a season. Most players have been promoted at the start of a new year, and there were a few players promoted in the middle of a previous season. So we’ll group Hanson in with the guys promoted at the start of a new year. The guy he matches up with for me is Starling Marte. Both are highly rated prospects out of Latin America. Both have a ton of tools, but both also have one big question mark. For Marte is was plate patience. For Hanson it is his defense. Marte ended up spending the entire 2011 season with Altoona. From there he went to Indianapolis the following year, and was in the majors by the end of July 2012. I could see Hanson on the same path, assuming he handles the jump to Double-A as well as Marte did.
That’s my prediction on those two. The good thing about those two moving up this year is that it’s going to make things easier to predict in future years. Of course every prospect is a different situation. Just because Marte spent an entire year in Altoona doesn’t necessarily mean Hanson will spend an entire year there. He could spend more, or he could spend less. A lot of that depends on his individual production. That’s the most important thing here. We’re not talking about a checklist, where a player puts in X amount of months at a level then automatically moves up. That type of approach can ruin prospects. The individual players need to be deserving of the promotion first. From there, it’s easier to predict when they might be promoted if we’ve got a guide and some previous examples to help forecast their path.
Links and Notes
**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast: P3 Episode 14: Previewing the Trade Deadline For the Pirates.