Gregory Polanco might be the most anticipated Pirates prospect ever. He kind of has a bit of an advantage. Any prospect pre-2008 didn’t really have the Twitter hype machine following him, and really, any prospect before 2011 didn’t have the full force of Twitter, with #Free(InsertProspectHere) hashtags, and people watching every single thing the player did.
The Pirates have had good prospects since Twitter blew up. They brought up Starling Marte in 2012. Gerrit Cole came up in 2013. And now, Gregory Polanco.
If Polanco is the most anticipated prospect to come up for the Pirates, then it’s not without reason. He might be the most talented prospect the Pirates have seen since Barry Bonds. That’s not hyperbole, and it’s not meant to be a slight to current star Andrew McCutchen. It’s just looking at the total package that Polanco brings to the table. If you look up “five tool player” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a picture of Gregory Polanco. Actually, you probably wouldn’t. Who even has actual dictionaries anymore? But that doesn’t mean he’s not the definition of a true five tool talent.
We just finished recapping the draft, which is usually a time when you talk about guys who have the potential for five tools. That talk often assumes a player will develop certain tools along the way. Sometimes they develop three or four tools, and that’s enough to be a great player. You can even be a superstar with four tools. But a true five tool talent is rare, and that’s what Polanco brings to the table.
It’s been a steady ascent to that five tool status. Polanco was once one of those potential five tool guys, with hopes that he would develop along the way. The speed at which he developed was unheard of. In 2011, he was struggling with a .694 OPS in his second run through the GCL. In 2012, he broke out in West Virginia, with a .910 OPS. He showed the ability to hit for average, defensive skills, an arm, speed, and a bit of power. In 2013, he did it all again at higher levels, but didn’t really take that next step.
This year, he exploded in Indianapolis, hitting for a .347/.405/.540 line in 248 at-bats at the age of 22. To put that in perspective, McCutchen had a .303/.361/.493 line in 201 at-bats in Triple-A at the age of 22, and McCutchen had a slight advantage of over 550 at-bats at the level prior to that season.
Polanco took his game to the next level this year. He displayed all five tools — power, hitting, speed, defense, and arm. He did this in a league where the average player was five years older than him. This came after he dominated the Dominican Winter League in the same manner, which was another league filled with much older players.
If it wasn’t for Super Two, Polanco probably would have been up by now. When he comes up tomorrow, he’ll have 111 days remaining in the season. That’s definitely clear of Super Two status. In fact, the manner in which Polanco came up is extremely similar to Gerrit Cole. Wait for Super Two to pass? Check. Wait for an injury? Check. Call the player up with 111 days? Check. Some of that is more coincidental than anything else. Obviously the Pirates arranged emergency surgery for Neil Walker just to get Polanco up Tuesday. But the 111 days should be a sign for the future. Polanco wouldn’t be up if there was a risk of him being Super Two eligible at that rate. Same with Gerrit Cole. That’s a number to remember in future years.
But let’s get back to now. What can we expect from Polanco? No matter how good a prospect is, I think expecting him to come up and light the world on fire is a mistake. Polanco has all of the tools to be a star, but he might not be a star right away. That said, if any prospect could do it, it’s him. He’s just a rare prospect who can do it all.
He hits for average, but he can also hit for power and get on base at a great rate. He’s not just a singles hitter, and he finds his way on base even without a hit.
He hits for power, but unlike most power hitters, he doesn’t sacrifice average or see an increase in strikeouts to get that power. It’s becoming rare to see a guy who can combine all of these skills. Out of the top 30 players in ISO this year, only seven players have an average over .280 and a strikeout rate of less than 20%.
Even though he does have a huge frame that leads to power, he also has speed, leading to 15 stolen bases in 20 attempts. At times, it seems like it takes him three steps to get from base to base.
And this isn’t a case of a guy who only provides value on one side of the ball. Polanco’s speed gives him a ton of range. If you think he’s fast between bases, wait until you see him glide across the outfield, tracking down fly balls with grace and ease. His arm is also a plus arm, which means while his range would fit in center, the arm will play in right.
Polanco does so many things right, that even if some parts of his game don’t translate over to the majors right away, he still has so many other ways to add value. If prospect tools were golf clubs, Polanco would be playing with a full bag, while most other players would be limited to the same two or three clubs for every single hole.
The time has come for Polanco in Pittsburgh. He’s arguably the most anticipated prospect the Pirates have had, and for good reason. It’s going to be exciting watching his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate.
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