SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER - When we first offered up the ‘Cobra 2.0′ moniker for Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco, it seemed just a bit soaking in hyperbole.
After all, the original Cobra, Dave Parker, was the 1978 NL MVP and a six-time All-Star. That’s some rarefied air.
But with each passing game Polanco’s prospect star rises, the dream becomes a little clearer, a little bolder. And if you really want to dream big, Pirates fan, start thinking about June 2014.
Polanco has homered in each of his last two games, while stealing three bases.
His slash line .324 avg./.394 obp. /.517 slg. would be impressive in any league but it’s made more noteworthy for occurring in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of the Florida State League.
A couple weeks ago, I had a scout tell me the 6-foot-4, left-swining Polanco had more power potential than St. Louis’ prized prospect Oscar Taveras. That’s extremely high praise. He might not be a better pure hitter than Taveras, but who is?. Still, Polanco might be toolsier than Taveras.
Then consider this:
Andrew McCutchen – MVP candidate last season - is signed through the 2017 season in what is a relatively team-friendly contract. He’s in center for the foreseeable future.
Starling Marte- seventh in baseball in WAR – cannot become a free agent until 2019. He’s a burgeoning star – perhaps a superstar – in left. (Contract extension/arbitration buyout talks commencing in 3, 2, 1 …)
Then add in Polanco in right field, who has a chance to be a top 20 overall prospect in baseball if not more, through perhaps 2020. If Polanco keeps hitting like this he has a chance to be called up next season.
A McCutchen-Marte-Polanco outfield could have a four-year run together. It could begin as early as June 2014. Baseball America’s Ben Badler is intrigued.
Gregory Polanco homers for the second straight game, steals two bases and walks three times. Pirates outfield could be scary in a few years.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) May 7, 2013
These guys all have power, they can all run, they can all hit, and they can all cover some serious ground in the outfield. Each has the ability to play center field. The upside is this: the best outfield in baseball … really.
A scary outfield, indeed.
WHO HAS THE BEST 1-2 YOUNG ARM COMBO IN BASEBALL?
The criteria for this questions is pretty simple: who has the best two arms under 25 in baseball? To be nominated for this list is a pretty big deal as there’s nothing more valuable in baseball than possessing a young, cost-controlled, top-of-the-rotation arm. And to have two elite arms is important as more than half of the top 10 pitching prospects will fail to fulfill their lofty expectations.
These are the candidates to me:
The Cardinals: Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn
The 25-year-old Lynn is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA, Miller is 4-2 with a 1.96 ERA. And the scary thing is the Cardinals have Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal in the system. Cards have the deepest system, but not the best 1-2 (See below).
The Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs
Both are regarded as top 25 overall prospects. Bradley dominated High-A and was recently promoted to Double-A. Skaggs made his MLB debut last season as being touched up a big at Triple-A. Still, a lot of scouts are high on Skaggs long term.
The Mariners: Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen
Walker has elite stuff and has a 1.96 ERA in Double-A and Hultzen has apparently gotten over his control issues in Triple-A, he’s a polished lefty.
The Mets: Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler
Harvey is pitching like a Cy Young candidate and Wheeler, a top 10 overall prospect, might soon join him. Rare 1-2 punch.
The Pirates: Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon
Gerrit Cole (2-1, 2.45 ERA) has electric stuff but like many young pitchers you’d like to see more efficiency and more dominance: 21Ks in 29Ip, 20 pitchers per inning is the norm. Taillon (2-3, 3.03 ERA) is averaging a strikeout per inning and has a 3-to-1 K to BB ratio. His numbers would be more impressive if he wasn’t focused mostly on fastball command. He needs to be great – and has a chance to – to make passing on Manny Machado worthwhile.
(I know you’re sick of waiting, and hate arbitration considerations, but that wait will be should be worth it)
The Rays: Matt Moore and Chris Archer
Besides Clayton Kershaw, I’m not sure there’s a lefty I’d rather have in the game than Moore. He has dominant stuff as does Chris Archer, who has one of the best sliders in baseball
The Orioles: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman
This is the most comparable one-two punch to the Pirates. Two power righties, one via college, one via high school. Bundy is dealing with some forearm stiffness, but he entered the year as the game’s consensus top pitching prospect. He was taken three slots after Cole, who was rated above Bundy – third overall – by Baseball Prospectus entering the season. Gausman was rated by some as the best arm in last year’s draft.
My picks for best 1-2 U25 pitching punch:
If you already have a U25, cost-controlled top-of-the-rotation arm (Harvey, Moore, Miller, Lynn) producing at the MLB level I gave you bonus points. But I think the upside list might begin with the Orioles and Mets, with the Pirates ranking third. Our friend Ben Badler chimes in again on whether he’d rather have the Metes’ or Pirates’ 1-2 duo:
The Mets' duo. Mostly because of Harvey RT @Ben_Yoel Would you rather have Harvey/Wheeler or Cole/Taillon going forward?
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) May 7, 2013
However you rank them, these are seven teams (the Nats just missed because Jordan Zimmerman is 26) in possession of some of the most valuable and important properties in baseball.
And it’s another reason to be optimistic – and, yet, patient – if you’re a Pirates fan.
A Marte-McCutche-Polanco outfielder combined with a Cole-Taillon, 1-2 punch — together for at least three seasons 2015-18 perhaps 2014-18- is something to get excited about.