The decision of when to promote Gregory Polanco has been a hot button issue lately, especially with the Pittsburgh Pirates struggling to score runs on a consistent basis in the majors. Neal Huntington spoke to Rob Biertempfel of the Trib about when Polanco might be up, noting that Super Two “is not a driving factor”. He also added the following.
“He’s continuing to refine some of the intricacies of his game,” Huntington said. “Somebody asked the other day for a detailed list of what he’s working on. When Andrew (McCutchen) was coming up, I gave a detailed list as to what he was working on, then watched major league teams attack those weaknesses I’d identified in spring training. So, I’m not going to give you a detailed script that opposing teams can attack when Gregory gets here.”
After Polanco picked up two more hits tonight, Ben Badler of Baseball America had a great quote in response to Huntington’s comments.
Two more hits for Gregory Polanco, who's hitting over .400 with power. What are the odds his game is "refined" by oh, say, mid-June?
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) April 29, 2014
This is pretty much an annual quote for Badler, as I’ve seen him make similar comments in the past. The reason he’s made similar comments is because this situation comes up every year. A team has a top prospect who is performing in the minors. The team has a need for that prospect in the majors. However, that prospect projects to be an impact player, and someone who would be costly for Super Two purposes. So the General Manager talks about things that a player needs to work on, as reason for that player to remain in the minors. Then, magically, the player is ready to go right after the Super Two deadline passes.
General Managers won’t just come out and say “we’re keeping Player A down for Super Two purposes” because they can’t. If you say that directly, then the player has grounds to file a suit, claiming that the only reason he is being held down is for financial reasons. A similar situation led to George Springer getting promoted early by the Houston Astros. The Astros offered Springer a seven-year MLB deal, then sent him to the minors after he declined. Springer argued that the reason he was sent down was because he declined the deal. I don’t believe Springer ever filed anything official, but the Astros called him up, and interestingly enough, he was called up a week before the Astros could get an extra year of service time out of him.
For the most part, teams go by the normal playbook with top prospects. They take the same approach Huntington took, only speaking about things a player needs to work on. That’s not to say that these players don’t have things to work on. Gregory Polanco has some things to work on. He needs some more time getting re-acclimated in right field, and he could use some polishing on his base running, as he has been picked off three times this month. But if today was in the middle of June, Polanco would be in the majors, even with those issues.
You don’t want to call up Polanco, or any player, based on one or two good weeks. I pointed that out early in the season, noting that you’d have to see his amazing performance in a larger sample size to show that the performance is legit. We are now at the end of April, and Polanco is hitting for a .400/.457/.632 line in 95 at-bats. That still comes with the small sample size disclaimer, but it’s a large enough sample to say that he doesn’t have any major issues in Triple-A.
So does this mean Polanco should be in the majors right now? In a perfect world, where every team could operate the same way and not have to worry about payroll, it would mean Polanco would probably be in the majors. If the Pirates were a large market team like the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Yankees, Polanco would probably be up right now.
But the Pirates are a small market team, and they’re going to keep Polanco down until that Super Two date arrives. They’ll do that for the same reason that other small market teams have taken this approach in the past, and that’s because the long-term costs don’t justify the short-term benefits. In the process, they’ll talk about what Polanco has to work on, which justifies keeping him in the minors past the Super Two deadline. Polanco might have legitimate things to work on, but none that will keep him down beyond the first or second week of June.
Like it or not, that’s the system. It’s also something Pirates fans need to get used to, since they have a farm system where top prospects are lined up to join the team every year at mid-season for the next several years. Thus, we’re going to see this process play out in the future with guys like Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Stetson Allie, Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, and so on.
But it’s not like we haven’t seen the same situation in the past with Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutchen. In most of those cases, especially Marte and Cole, there were arguments to bring up the guys before the Super Two deadline, just like now with Polanco. Likewise, there will be arguments in the future to bring up guys early. If the Pirates took this approach with every player, and brought him up early every time the fans grew impatient, then they’d be paying enough extra money to fund an Evan Longoria-style second extension for Andrew McCutchen.
So you can see why teams routinely hold back top prospects for Super Two purposes, and why they can’t just come out and say that. See you in six weeks, Gregory Polanco.
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