Pirates Avoiding Emotional Decisions With Gregory Polanco

The Pittsburgh Pirates optioned Gregory Polanco to the minors today, which is a move that was expected this Spring, but not a move that everyone wanted to see. Travis Snider and Jose Tabata are no sure things in right field, while Gregory Polanco represents a potential impact player and the future starter at the position. It can be hard at times to back off the excitement of that future potential, and that’s one of the challenges the Pirates had with making this decision.

“Our challenge is to not get too excited, too soon, and to put him in a position he’s not ready for,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said. “And that’s what’s made this decision so difficult is that he is so talented, he is a great young man, and he’s a good worker.”

Huntington said that he told Polanco there are some organizations who would put him in the majors because he could go compete there and survive. He said that the Pirates don’t take that approach.

“That’s not what we want to do. That’s not what we’re about,” Huntington said. “We’ve said it from day one, when you put a player in the big leagues because you need him, and not because he’s ready, in our minds that’s the wrong reason.”

Everyone remembers young guys like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, or Manny Machado who came up at a young age and stuck at the major league level. You don’t remember the guys who struggled, or who busted completely. You could argue that Jose Guillen, Aramis Ramirez, and even Jose Bautista are examples of guys who saw their careers stall because they were brought to the majors too early. Those are just recent examples in Pirates’ history and don’t include guys from other teams who have seen their careers derailed by being brought up early.

“Survival results in some guys never getting to that next level in which we think he can become,” Huntington said. “Sometimes it delays it by years. And we’re looking forward to Gregory hitting the ground running when he gets to the big leagues, and helping us win games, and helping us push toward October again.”

The Pirates have done a good job of bringing their prospects up at the right time. Andrew McCutchen had success from day one in the majors, and had a 3.4 WAR over four months in his rookie season. Starling Marte had some struggles in his brief time in the majors in 2012, but posted a 1.1 WAR in about two months of work. He had a 4.6 WAR in 2013 during his first full season in the majors. Gerrit Cole had a 2.3 WAR in half a season in the majors last year, and was looking like an ace by the end of the season.

The only notable guy who saw his career stall was Pedro Alvarez, who was sent down to Triple-A several times in 2011 during his first full season, before turning things around in 2012 and leading the NL in home runs in 2013.

It was easier with McCutchen, Alvarez, and even with Marte. The Pirates weren’t coming off a contending season where they made the playoffs. There wasn’t the pressure to make moves and put “the best 25″ on the field on Opening Day. I think Polanco is probably one of the best 25 guys right now. He’s better than Snider or Tabata without being fully developed. But I think there’s more that could come from Polanco. The extra value the Pirates get from Polanco by starting him on Opening Day or a few weeks into the season does not match the value the Pirates get from him when he’s ready.

“We’ve worked very hard to stay logical and rational in our thought process, sometimes to the frustration of some,” Huntington said. “Emotional decisions in our minds are not the right decisions, and a logical, rational decision is to continue to allow this young man to work through things that he needs to work through to be able to hit the ground running at the major league level.”

Huntington said that Polanco needs to work on keeping his swing short, driving the ball gap-to-gap, continuing his strike zone command, and separating his defense from his offense. He will be playing right field full-time in Triple-A to get re-acclimated to playing the position. Polanco played right field in rookie ball, but has been a center fielder the last two seasons.

“Like everyone in the minor leagues, just refine his overall game,” Huntington said. “He’s got so much ability. He’s worked so hard. The improvements he’s made over the last two years are like few that I’ve seen.”

Polanco is a good player right now. He’s going to be a great player in the future. The Pirates might get some benefit from having a good player in right field from day one, but that isn’t guaranteed, and comes with the risk of derailing Polanco’s progress of becoming a great player. That’s not a risk they should take, as it potentially hurts Polanco’s value over the long-term, all to get a small upgrade for the very short-term.

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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  • jaygray007

    i don’t understand why i’m seeing so many people (responses to sports
    writers’ tweets) mention his spring performance as reason for anger.
    if you were going by spring performance exclusively, then Dickerson and
    Snider are both more deserving (obviously not the case. just pointing
    to how flawed the argument is. as if using spring stats wasn’t bad
    enough, there are guys out there who are having even better springs.)

    Also,
    i think Jose Tabata is making a run at the #2 spot on JayGray007′s
    (Un)Official Underrated Pirates of the Past Decade Power Rankings right
    behind Adam Laroche and ahead of Jose Veras. I see no reason why
    Tabata and Snider (and Dickerson!) can’t put up a mid .700s OPS and
    pretty good defense until Polanco is ready.

  • jaygray007

    i don’t understand why i’m seeing so many people (responses to sports
    writers’ tweets) mention his spring performance as reason for anger.
    if you were going by spring performance exclusively, then Dickerson and
    Snider are both more deserving (obviously not the case. just pointing
    to how flawed the argument is. as if using spring stats wasn’t bad
    enough, there are guys out there who are having even better springs.)

    Also,
    i think Jose Tabata is making a run at the #2 spot on JayGray007′s
    (Un)Official Underrated Pirates of the Past Decade Power Rankings right
    behind Adam Laroche and ahead of Jose Veras. I see no reason why
    Tabata and Snider (and Dickerson!) can’t put up a mid .700s OPS and
    pretty good defense until Polanco is ready.

  • Andrew

    If you want to get emotional, how about a less than glowing review of Polanco, from a guy who helped build the most recent successful Brewers’ teams.

    One I LIke Less – Polanco. Going to tread very lightly here, a I really like Polanco. Though he did step up big in winter ball, Polanco’s bast has been quite uneven throughout his pro career, and it’s very difficult for me to place a stud-level bat descriptor on him. Very solid, impactful. Starling Marte-type player, but not the next Andrew McCutchen.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/ranking-the-minor-league-systems-by-impact-1-15/

    • wkkortas

      Baseball Prospectus implied pretty much the same thing in the Annual this year–if I remember, the phrase was “five-tool guy, but in faint colors.”

      • jaygray007

        but that’s still a pretty awesome player! i don’t care if he’s the next McCutchen or Marte or Strawberry or… i dunno… an average player. regardless, he’ll have value as a rookie salary guy for 3 years.

        But these reports are a good reminder to remember that players don’t always live up to hype. However, the great thing about polanco as that as long as he shows 3 of the 5 tools that he has shown in the minors, he should still carve out a decent career.

    • piratemike

      I wouldn’t discount any qualified persons opinion. I hope he is wrong but time will tell.

    • smurph

      One man’s opinion. I notice he didn’t tell us who is “the next Andrew McCutchen.” Maybe there isn’t one. I think Polanco can and should be a better player than Marte, and that’s good enough for me.

  • piratemike

    I am not against how the Pirates are handling Polanco but I just wonder if it wasn’t for the all the reasons that are advantageous for the Bucs to keep him at AAA for a few months if he wouldn’t be the starting RF from the git-go.

    • Nickmid13

      (If he develops like many predict) the value of 2 months of Polanco as a rookie is much less than his value from a full year in 5 or 6 years.

    • leowalter

      One thing for sure Mike is that neither the organization nor Hurdle will ever let us know for sure.

  • IC Bob

    I think the issues related to Polonco are the same with every other potential star player the Pirates have brought up or are going to bring up. They all seemed to fine tune there game right around the end of June. I think the fans would rather management be a little more honest. Heck I understand why they do what they do. To me its worth the extra year of having him on the roster what I don’t like is the idea that every potentially good player including Polonco and Tallion will somehow always figure everything out in June.

  • https://profiles.google.com/105668650510920614054 Brian Bernard

    Who Gregory Polanco is today seems irrelevant compared to the guy who will be in uniform 2-3 years from now.
    It’s highly likely that he can develop into an impact player. He isn’t likely to be more than an accessory player until that time so IMO it’s not a big deal where he is right now. In addition we have others who can play the accessory role.

    • Ian Rothermund

      The thing is that he’s an “accessory player,” when considering only the skills that will definitely transition. The speed, the defense, and the arm make him a viable option today. Maybe we all just need to acknowledge the very real possibility that he’ll only benefit from some additional seasoning in the minors. Marte developed into a border line all star after a 3 month look 2 years ago. I doubt it will take Polanco much longer than that. Might have to wait a few more years to fully develop the power though.

  • Pie Rat

    Could the same be said about Lambo really needing more time? I guess they have reached the time with him that it’s either sink or swim.

    • roberto

      Or implying that as a part of the negotiation process with other clubs.

    • Ian Rothermund

      Lambo has way more ABs against upper level pitching though. He’s also 25, not 22, and is more or less a 1 tool player (that being power).

  • lonleylibertarian

    I wanted to make sure I read everything. A couple of observations…

    1. I have been a “let’s wait and see how he does” guy on Polanco. Tim seems to get a bit orgasmic at times – and perhaps he sees something others are missing. I do think you would have to be crazy to not see a ton of “what if” in the kid – and he is still a kid.
    2. Seems like the Bucs have very little to lose in starting the season with him playing RF every day at Indy for at least the month of April. If Tabata has matured and is ready to play up to at least some of his potential – and Snider is healthy and gets of to the kind of start he did last year they will be fine. Right now neither of those two is worth much on the trade market – but with a month or two of good results you could probably trade one of them for a B/C level prospect and at least get some value back.
    3. Even if Polanco is close to the next McCutchen lets remember that Cutch took time to get to MVP
    2009 – Age 22 – 2.3 WAR [projects to ~3 for 600 plus PA]
    2010 – Age 23 – 3.7 WAR
    2011 – Age 24 – 5.4 WAR – BA dropped to .259 – home runs up as were strikeouts – made a decision to drive the ball…
    Based on how he did the last two months of last year it is conceivable that Jose can deliver a WAR close to 3 if he get to 600 Plate Appearances…

    I confess to being a charter member of the “Jose is a Bum” club – got disgusted watching his antics a couple of years ago – and thought he was very immature and not a competitor. But the last two months of last year were different. And the little I have seen of him this spring seem to be a continuation of that – not sure who got to him or if he just grew up on his own – he will be 25 this season and making a very affordable $3M – a bargain second only to Cutch if he delivers a WAR above 2…

    Her is a little pop quiz – both of these guys played right field for the Pirates last Sept/Oct – can you name them

    # PA HR RBI OPS
    1 78 2 12 .844
    2 99 2 13 .825

    • leowalter

      Nothing there I would disagree with Lonely.I can tell you this : I am not trying to speak for Tim,but probably what makes him “orgasmic” as you said is the fact that you have to watch this kid while at bat. His discipline is world’s better than Marte’s was at the AA level at least,and probably better than McCutchen’s was at the same level. And that is something to be excited about.

    • leowalter

      Forgot to take a shot at your quiz : Tabata # 1,Byrd # 2 ?

      • lonleylibertarian

        Yep – I have been doing a lot of reading and research in my retirement – thinking of starting my own “contrarian” blog on all things Black and Gold.

        There is so much hype out there about how Byrd made the difference in getting the Bucs to the playoffs. I actually bought into it – and thought the Bucs should have tried to resign him for a year or two – but a commenter on another site pointed me to the above data – one could argue that if Jose had started in RF all September things would have pretty much turned out the same – maybe even slightly better.

    • glassers

      I pretty much agree with your comments on Tabata , I think the Pirates can survive in right field until Polanco shows up . I have seen him several times now and hope to watch him over at Pirate City now that he has been sent down . I have to say that the kid plays as advertised and I am generally conservative about prospects , First base is another issue and is an area I do have some concerns about .

  • https://www.facebook.com/clementewall21 N_Cap

    its funny i cant wait to see Polanco, but i am happy to see him go down. Play everyday in RF and continue to develop while we give the other two time to see if they can produce. Also to the comment about Polanco not being the next cutch, I remember Keith Law talking about how Marte will never be a good player so far so good

  • wvpirate

    Why hasn’t there been any thought of trying Travis Snyder at 1st if he hits good at the beginning of the season when Polanco is ready?