Tito Polo is Having a Breakout Season in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, WV – Heading into the 2015 season, Tito Polo looked like a prime breakout candidate in the lower levels. He was coming off a season where he posted an .848 OPS in the very pitcher friendly GCL at the age of 19, while showing off a lot of tools. The Pirates skipped him over Morgantown, sending him to West Virginia the following year, which is the aggressive move they give their top international prospects.

Polo didn’t respond well to the move. He showed brief flashes of his skills, but ended up with a .641 OPS, far from the breakout that was expected.

I had Polo as my big breakout guy last year, believing that he had the tools to have a mini-Gregory Polanco style breakout (a reference to the fact that Polo might not be as good as Polanco, and also is about half a foot shorter than the rising star in Pittsburgh). Despite the poor season, I continued seeing promise in him, especially in Spring Training this year, and picked him again as a breakout guy. This time around, it looks like he’s actually doing it.

Polo is off to a great start in West Virginia, hitting for a .298/.369/.484 line in 161 at-bats. He’s also improving as the year has continued, putting up an .802 OPS in April, and an .895 OPS so far in May. By comparison, last year he only had one month with an OPS over .700, and that was in a shortened July, when he posted a .900 OPS in 38 at-bats.

The Pirates have already expressed to Polo that they’re pleased with the growth that he’s shown this year, and the difference in his approach from last year to this year. In fact, when I was in Charleston at the end of April, the coaching staff and coordinators had a meeting with him, where they expressed how proud they were of his progress.

“They’re very happy with the progress I’ve made, especially in the off-season,” Polo said at the time, via translator Danny Arribas. “The person, man, and baseball player I’ve become, and the level of maturity that I’ve shown, from last year to this year. They just want me to keep that up, and they like the fact that now I’m not tied up in my results, and I’m having fun. They just want me to play hard every single day, and keep doing what I’m doing right now.”

Polo definitely has kept that up. Since that meeting took place, he has hit for a .315/.388/.543 line in 103 plate appearances, with five home runs. He’s finally showing that breakout that was expected, and it’s not looking like a fluke.

“I think he’s a year more mature, in terms of his understanding of the game and what is expected of him, and how he’s not going to be a polished big league player right now, at this moment,” West Virginia Manager Brian Esposito said. “He’s certainly buying into trusting his process and going about his work day. Trying to get better everyday, working on things that aren’t his strengths right now. He’s making a valiant effort everyday to continue to work to make his weaknesses his strengths. When you have a guy that’s doing that, you’re going to start polishing up your game a little bit, and he’s starting to do that.”

Polo is a guy who has a lot of speed, leading to a lot of extra base hits, and making him a threat on the bases. He also has the range to play center field, and while his arm strength and accuracy aren’t the best, he can make the throw from center. But Polo isn’t strictly a speed guy. Despite his small frame, at 5′ 9″, 185 pounds, he has some power, shown with his .186 ISO so far this year.

“He’s got weapons,” West Virginia Hitting Coach Ryan Long said. “Obviously the key is to develop the weapons. He can obviously run, and he can drive some balls too. He can impact the ball. That’s what makes him special. That’s his separator. As he moves forward, continue to polish those tools daily, in hopes that one day you’ll see them all shine.”

A five tool player is a guy who can hit for average, hit for power, show speed on the bases, has a strong arm, and is a good defender. Polo can do all of these things, grading as above-average in most areas, with some plus tools (primarily his speed). He’s now starting to put all of that together, and is off to a great start in his first two months of the 2016 season.

It’s possible that Polo could move up to Bradenton this year, although there’s really no need to rush him. The Pirates have an embarrassment of riches in their system at outfield. Gregory Polanco is under control through 2023. Starling Marte is under control through 2021. Andrew McCutchen is under control through 2018. They’ve got one of the top outfield prospects in the game in Double-A with Austin Meadows. They’ve got another promising guy at the level in Harold Ramirez.

Polo could add to this group, giving the Pirates another potential starting outfielder for the big leagues, with the ability to be an above-average starter or better. Of course, the Pirates don’t really have a long-term need for that in the majors, unless you assume McCutchen will be gone after his contract. Even then, while you can never have too many prospects, they do have a lot of potential replacements for McCutchen building up. Polo’s breakout this year only adds to that depth, making it possible that the Pirates could use one of their outfield prospects to boost the team in other areas, since it may turn out that they don’t need all of this outfield depth in the short-term or the long-term.

  • BallHeadWonder
    May 31, 2016 3:52 pm

    Tim, can u see NH going after a quality Bullpen arm this year with some years of control since Mark Melacon is leaving us?

    • I could see it. He’s done it before by adding Melancon, Grilli, Hanrahan, etc. The interesting thing this year will be how they add that guy. Those other guys were added when the team wasn’t exactly a guaranteed contender. I wonder if they’ll go for a reclamation guy now that they’re contenders each year.

      • BallHeadWonder
        May 31, 2016 5:57 pm

        How much of a prospect would it cost us if we got a very nice Bullpen arm with 2 or more years of control?? Like the guy the Jeffers guy in Milwaukee or Vizcaino guy in Atlanta?? To replace Melancon??

        • I can never predict these. The cost for bullpen arms is always way off compared to the cost for other positions when trying to use $/WAR and prospect trade value projections.

      • Another move they could make is to sign Feliz to an extension…3 years?

        • A hard push to bring back Feliz would certainly make their other offseason moves less critical in terms of the bullpen.

          Go from needing to wheel and deal for 2 back end bullpen arms, to having 2 relatively solid options and needing to bring in 1 more late inning type.

  • This article was so positive and then I saw ‘replacements for Cutch’ and I’m sad

    • There is only one….Meadows.

      • Scott Kliesen
        May 31, 2016 4:20 pm

        Only way Pirates resign Cutch is if NL adopts the DH. Maybe not only way, but certainly most likely.

        • runningfrog
          May 31, 2016 4:32 pm

          For a team like the Pirates, resigning Cutch out of sentiment would be a mistake. The Giants can afford to make a ton of those moves (and they do) but the margins are just too thin in Pittsburgh. Cutch is the 3rd best OF on the team right now and the money he’s making this season (much less what a bidding war would get to for FA) is just not prudent money to spend on your 3rd-best OF. You let that guy go and you use the money to shore up other aspects of your team.

          Much as you’d love to have him be a Gwynn, Ripken, Jeter, kind of guy, it hurts the club’s performance to spend that money on sentiment. It may help the financial bottom line in ticket and jersey sales, but the final contracts for Gwynn, Ripken, and Jeter were certainly net losers on the field and it wasn’t close…

        • The Pirates could sign a number of players a lot cheaper than Cutch as a DH.

          • Scott Kliesen
            June 1, 2016 7:01 am

            But not cheaper than Meadows. His bat is going to need a place in Pitt by 2018.

        • I don’t see the Pirates resigning Cutch unless he is willing to take far below what he can get elsewhere.

          I mean…really far below.

          His next contract will probably be his last important one as I don’t foresee him (or any star) wanting to try to nail down another big contract at 35-37.

          Based on what he’s done and the age he’ll be…I have a feeling he’d be looking for 7/160. No way the Pirates should go more than 6/100. Yup, not much more than Zobrist money.

          I hate to get the off-season wars restarted, but the Pirates should have traded him last winter. I love the guy and the Pirates were able to build a contender because of him, but they’re also a small-market team that must maximize player value. With three years left on a team-friendly deal and in his prime, he would have commanded a ton. At the end of this year, with two years remaining and in, what appears to be a slight decline, he’ll be worth less….and so on.

          I don’t think he’s going to be resigned unless he’s willing to take a cut…the team should trade him…I’m most terrified they’ll QO him and all they’ll end up with is a mid-first round pick for a guy who could have netted just about any organization’s top 2 prospects (and 3 of their top ten) this season.

          The only player in the Pirates minor league system that has a chance of approaching Prime Cutch is Meadows. Unless Cutch is feeling absolutely generous…that’s who we’ll see in CF in 2019 and beyond…if not sooner.



          • Scott Kliesen
            June 1, 2016 6:59 am

            NH would’ve been destroyed by fans and media alike if he traded Cutch after winning 98 games last season. Your position may have some logic to it, but no winning organization ever trades away their best player w 3 years control left.

            • You are absolutely correct…Neal would have been crucified. Sometimes, I think, you have to take the balls out move. But, I don’t think NH has generated the trust of fans enough to pull something like this off. And, so long as the Pirates keep winning, I don’t know that he ever will…isn’t that a bit odd? The mindset of: “Yeah, you’ve built a team that keeps on winning, but we don’t trust you to trade the players we love to keep the team strong for longer?”

              But, I’m of the opinion that, if the right deal comes along…no one is untouchable. But ‘right deal’ is crucial…you don’t trade for the sake of trading.

              There’s still plenty of time to move him, and he’s still an elite player, but….man….I can’t believe his stock isn’t taking a hit right now as years of control diminish with offensive output. It will be interesting to see what happens on a couple of fronts…especially since the players are probably going to push for the QO to be eliminated when the CBA expires in December.

              • Scott Kliesen
                June 1, 2016 4:47 pm

                I’m not sure even a guy like Theo Epstein has the “trust” needed to pull that kind of move off.