First Pitch: Gregory Polanco – The Most Anticipated Pirates Prospect Ever, and For Good Reason

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.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Will Call Up Gregory Polanco Tuesday, Neil Walker Placed on DL

**Pirates Agree With Cole Tucker For $1.8 M

**Prospect Watch: Way Down on the Farm, a Defensive Shortstop Shows Offense

**Minor League Schedule: Luis Heredia Looking to Get on Track This Season

**Pirates Release Four Minor League Players, Including Two 2013 Draft Picks

**Pirates Agree to Deal With Two Draft Picks

**Prospect Highlights: Two Key Hits From Alen Hanson, Triple By Mel Rojas Jr.

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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  • Alex Henry

    I am glad he is here. It is a shame the way he comes up with Walker going to the DL especially with the season he is having. I hope people can be patient with him. He could come up and be outstanding batting .380 in his first two weeks or he could come up much like George Springer for the Astros struggle make adjustments and hit his stride. At the end of the day no prospect is can’t miss but from everything i have read, heard, and seen it will be awesome seeing this guy wear a Pirate Jersey for the next 6 years.

    • emjayinTN

      He was coming regardless of the injury to Walker. JHAY has proven to be just human lately and the timing was right for promoting Gregory Polanco. The kid has certainly earned it, and that will put 4 LH hitters in the order 75% of the time. He has all the tools and a very solid approach at the plate for a young hitter.

      • bucsws2014

        Josh is 0 for his last 9 and hit the ball on the nose 6 of those 9 times. He was just a hair late from a walkoff HR on Sunday among other at-em balls he’s hit past few days. I’m not worried about his bat.

      • Alex Henry

        I have been a fan of Jay Hay since we got him from the John Grabow trade in 2009. I believe he will com down to earth eventually but I don’t think he last 2 games where he went hitless means that he is now cold permanently. It has only been 2 games and he has made solid contact in those at bats Also I believe he was coming up either way but my point was its a shame we wont have the lineup on the field for the next 15 days without Walker. It is interesting how it turned out though everyone said you can’t take out Jay Hay send down Marte and then boom Walker goes down. Crazy.

        • emjayinTN

          AH/bucs: The reality is that over the past 5 games he is 2 for 19 for a nifty buck-O-five average. As long as he was lighting it up I advocated keeping Polanco at AAA and riding the hot bat. However, after Sunday’s game I expected to hear that he was coming up for the Cubs series and would be in the lineup last night regardless of what happened to Neil Walker. I like the attitude and work ethic of JHAY, but as long as he is with the Pirates, he will be a utility player. I had hoped that a team in need would want to make a deal for JHAY, and it still may happen. For instance, the Yankees have a natural 2B playing 3B so that they can keep a weak-hitting 37 or 38 year old at 2B. JHAY to 3B and Solarte to 2B would make the Yankees a better team defensively and offensively, and it would be a chance for JHAY to be a starter..

          • emjayinTN

            And, forgot to mention that the Pirates have posted the two best games this season with Locke on Sunday and Charlie Morton last night. 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 7K/0W. Nice stuff if we can add to that streak – it has taken awhile to establish the Rotation, and, if they get hot, we can do nicely in June/July.

  • Forbes 66

    Tim, I’m betting this must have been the most enjoyable First Pitch you’ve ever had the pleasure to write. Nice breakdown. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm one bit. Even if the Bucs fall short of the playoffs, or God forbid, a .500 season, it should be a joy to follow this young man’s development on the big stage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

    Hyping Polanco by placing him above McCutchen is foolhardy, Tim. Polanco’s May line was .308/.374/.487 – no better than your line for McCutchen at age 22. Polanco had a huge April, but now he needs to do it against MLB pitching.

    Also – you must have a different dictionary than I do. My dictionary has a picture of McCutchen under the term “5 tool player”. Consistency still counts for something to the people at Merriam-Webster.

    Other than trying to point out that expectations may be getting out of hand, I’m excited as hell! #FreePolanco!! Do like Marte and hit a first-MLB-pitch homerun!

    • bucs_lose_again

      Seems you don’t understand the defintiion of “5 tools.” On what planet does Andrew McCutchen have a good arm?

      • Ian Rothermund

        In all fairness, I think McCutchen has obviously put the work in to improving his throwing. That’s clear the last 2 years I’d say. Remember the first couple years he was up? Sometimes it was hard to tell if he was going to airmail the cutoff man because he was inexplicably trying to throw home, or just because he outright missed the cutoff man. He still doesn’t have an extremely powerful arm, but he’s much more accurate now, and that’s good enough.

      • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

        Are you asking me if he could throw out Sid Bream from second to home on a weak single to shallow left field? That kind of arm? I think I would take my chances compared to our last 5-tool superstar.

        • leowalter

          Trolling much ?

          • http://www.facebook.com/andy.prough.3 Andy Prough

            Just answering the man’s question.

    • leowalter

      Did you read the part where Andrew had 550 ABs at AAA the season before he put up that line you quoted ?

      • indybucfan

        Are you always so nasty to everyone on here?

        • leowalter

          All I did was ask if the entire comment had been read. If that is your idea of being nasty,sorry to hear it.

  • Monsoon Harvard

    The expectations for Polanco are already far too high. He will not be a superstar overnight. If he can put up the numbers McCutchen did after his call up, he will have done fine.
    There was huge expectations from Pirate fans for Barry Bonds when he got called up. He was a glimmer of hope during a dark time for the franchise. But obviously the social media today is way more far-reaching.
    I still remember Bonds first hit, a double…He was then immediately picked off 2nd base.

    • jaygray007

      if he can just do 90% of what Neil Walker can do and help keep them afloat in this Cole-Walker injury bug, then it’ll be a great great success.

      if he just OPSs .720 and plays great defense, that’s probably 2 WAR the rest of the way.

  • Mike C.

    McCutchen just might be the slowest out of our 3 outfielders…. Just think for a moment how amazing that is. Wish the kid starts strong, but again hope ppl don’t put much pressure on the kid.
    This 3 CF outfield trio will definately be fun to watch.

  • bucsws2014

    Good chance of rain tonight, certainly rain tomorrow. So the anticipation might keep building all the way to Thursday…

    • Alex Henry

      The negativity is unwelcome haha

      • Pie Rat

        if it rains tonight will the field be half dry or half wet?

  • Scott Kliesen

    This is definitely an exciting day for us Pirates fans! The future is here. Here’s hoping he comes up and performs to his capabilities. And if he does, our already potent lineup will be appreciably better for no other reason than Cutch will see better pitches to hit w Polanco on base in front of him.

    • bucsws2014

      Here’s hoping GP is more Trout, less Harper!

      • Scott Kliesen

        Did you notice the 1st pitch after Polanco singled was a fastball over the heart of the plate? And Cutch crushed it! I’m telling you, Cutch is going to love hitting behind this guy.

  • rburgh

    I fully expect him to go 5 for 5 with 5 HR and to steal his way home on 3 pitches after they intentionally walk him with 2 out and nobody on in the 8th. Anything else will be a crushing disappointment.

    • Monkshot

      I’m expecting more hits than at bats.

    • https://profiles.google.com/117072260031604417798 PikeBishop65

      And then he turns the Gatorade into wine and walks across the therapy tub.

  • jalcorn427

    Tim, have to disagree with your title. Bonds was eagerly anticipated in 1986, perhaps you are too young to remember. His impact on attendance was unprecedented. I would say that Cutch was more anticipated in 2009. At the time everyone saw Cutch as the only reason for hope with this terrible team. Then in 2010 we all couldn’t wait for the savior Pedro. Do you not recall your great hall of fame plaque post? One of the best ever –

    http://www.piratesprospects.com/2010/06/expectations-for-pedro-alvarez.html

  • dgarshaw@gmail.com

    Tim, in a related matter, i.e., where will JHay play, I have a lingering question about El Toro. My impression is that Pedro does not use the off-season to improve his skills. He has refused to play winter ball when NH wanted him to go south. His level of plate discipline seems to have remained at the rookie level as when he first arrived and his concentration with his throwing is almost revolting (where’s Don Hoak when you need him?). I hate this lingering question about his commitment and efforts. Can you clarify his work ethic? Thanks. -Bucco fanatic since 1957 who prefers “Beat’em Bucs!” to “Go Bucs!”

    • jalcorn427

      2B for Harrison. You may want to look at Pedro’s numbers this year before saying he hasn’t changed things. His K rate has dropped 10% this season, a massive adjustment from 30% to 20%. This improvement will allow him to hit close to .250. The work ethic complaint is complete nonsense.

  • Lee Young

    So…despite hitting lefties as well as righties in the minors, does Polanco start in RF or Tabby tonight vs Travis Wood?

    I know who we WANT, but…..????

    Hurdle may want to e-a-s-e him in?

  • smurph

    Ya think Polanco would have caught that ball that Snider muffed in right center last night?

  • freddylang

    For me I remember being just as hyped up for Cutch and also Bonds but I am a freak. As for overall buzz Polanco surpasses everyone and even got a full segment on the mlb channel where he was compared to David Ortiz and Griffey Jr. The reason for a large part of all this hype on Polanco can directly be attributed to Tim Williams and the rest of the Pirates Prospects staff that creates a more knowledgeable and organizationally interested fan.

  • freddylang

    I am looking forward to a patient approach and a ton of line drives and speed at the top of the order. Homers are just a bonus at this poit because everything else that he does is what the Pirates need at the top. When Walker gets back they will have the most complete lineup they have had since the early 90’s. Now if they can only play .500 or so ball until Cole and Walker get back.

  • Bob Ross

    I’m sorry, twitter is just stupid. Its a fad. I have never read one interesting thing anyone tweeted ever.

    • jalcorn427

      Well almost every news story breaks on twitter first these days. When it first started it was complete narcissistic bs, but today reporters use twitter constantly. Teams and corporations also use it to quickly distribute information, the Pirates lineup is posted on twitter each day by mid-afternoon.

      • Bob Ross

        yes, and it is also posted everywhere else too. I see the lineup everyday on facebook. Its like when the internet first happened, everyone was all , “you can order a pizza on the web!” Uh so? You can pick up a phone and do it too. Like if the Pirates issue a press release it won’t be on the radio, web, and TV immediately? It is still narcissistic bs, so many shows and websites report tweets like gossip..mary tweets x, then in response sue tweets y. Unless your in Syria and that is the only media you have that is not state run, who cares?

        • jalcorn427

          So, you approve of facebook, but not twitter? ok then. Look I don’t even have a twitter account, but the fact is that twitter is the source of almost all breaking news. It is silly to dismiss it and wait for information elsewhere.

        • Forbes 66

          Yeah, and get off my lawn! Damn kids these days.