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A ‘scary’ outfield … and perhaps together as early as 2014. And who has the best 1-2 young arm combo in baseball?

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.

 

 

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:

 

1. Mets

2. Rays

3. Cardinals

4. Pirates

5. Orioles

6. Mariners

7. Diamondbacks

 

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:

 

 

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.

 

- TS

(Twitter: @Sawchik_Trib)

33 Comments

  1. Craziest part about Polanco is that he’s actually DECREASED his strikeout rate as he’s faced more experienced pitching.

    Mets get my top nod for having the highest ceiling duo, Cards are second for having the highest floor (and bonus points for also having Wacha, Martinez, Rosenthal, and Kelly), and I would have the Bucs and O’s ahead of the Rays.

    Archer couldn’t beat Roberto Hernandez out for a spot in the rotation this year. Yeah.

    • Polanco’s approach and ability to make consistent contact have been outstanding. Helium watch. 17Ks in 111ABs is a very, very solid rate

    • The Cards’ most valuable young arms are Wacha and Miller, but I went with Lynn and Miller since they are in the Bigs. Crazy depth in that system.

  2. And don’t forget Justin Wilson, who will be better than any of ‘em.

    Concern for 2015 is who’s playing first, short and catcher? I’m hopeful for Mercer at short. The other two however…

  3. Cleveland’s Clemson Travis,
    .
    1/ Really liked your presentation of the pitching duos today. Very informative! Thank you. Good observations.
    .
    2/ From yesterday, “Service Time” is the term used to designate the time a team (Pirates) has the rights to a player on their Major League 25 man roster. {6+ full (181 days) seasons. Anything less than 172 days is NOT considered a full season.}
    “Arbitration Status” is the system by which that player will be payed by the club (Pirates). One has to do with time and one has to do with money!
    .
    You just cannot say they are the same thing because you want to! You are a writer . . . use words to clarify not obfuscate!!
    .
    3/ You are a numbers guy——Polanco is in A Ball. Check back to the last time this Front Office raised a guy from A to AA to AAA to the Major League Pirates all in the space of 13 months. I’ll wait . . . . .
    .
    “A McCutchen-Marte-Polanco outfield could have a four-year run together. It could begin as early as June 2014.” Please let me know where you bought your Aladdin type lamp, because I would like to purchase 3 wishes also!!!
    .
    .

    Your writing above about the pitching duos is some of your best you have produced. No Pirate prejudice presented. Excellent job!!

    • Pedro Alvarez was promoted along the same exact schedule as Travis has suggested and would only be five months older than Polanco.

      Couple that with Polanco’s advanced plate discipline and there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t happen.

      • National Mart of Records,
        .
        Pedro Alvarez started 3 years at a Major college Vanderbilt in SEC (comparable to AA). He was drafted #2 overall and signed at age 22, spending half his first season at High A, then the other Half at AA, which is where SEC projects.
        .
        He then spent his age 23 year at AAA, before being brought up too soon to Majors, according to Neal Huntington.
        .
        I’m surprised, National Mart of Records: you are not usually one to fudge or misread facts.
        .
        There is NO WAY “Pedro Alvarez was promoted along the same exact schedule as Travis has suggested.” Polanco spent his whole year at low A last year after a year at Rookie Ball before that. And Huntington has said he erred in rushing Pedro!
        .
        There is no congruency in these two patterns. Polanco will be “one step at a time.”
        .
        One month does not a level conquer!!

  4. Groat

    I don’t believe he was argueing they are the same thing. He seemed to be clarifying that it all as to be taken into consideration when making the decision. A 4th year of arbitration could cost up to 10-15 million instead of the 600,000 league minimum by then. That is a good chunk of money. Probably about 15-20% of our payroll.

    None of it matters because Cole is making 20 pitches an inning and that is not going to work in the majors. He needs to be more efficient. In my opinion he shouldn’t be up right now. Middle of June sounds right to me for more reasons then just not starting his arbitration clock.

    • This

    • Wide Receiver Nate,

      Either it’s “Service Time” (length of time a club has a player under Major League contract control) or it’s “Super Two Arbitration” fear (Money!).

      Don’t tell me she has a great personality when she is really ugly——Tell it straight!

      • Groat

        I really do enjoy your post but in this case I’m not sure where you are going with this. I was only saying I didn’t feel as if he was argueing they are the same thing. Not being in the front office I can’t speak to why Cole is not up right now. I do believe he has shown early this year that he isn’t ready. There are things he needs to work on. So I don’t see the point of implying anyone is cheap in this particular instance.

        For what it’s worth I think they are extremely cheap but the Cole decision is not the reason. I also feel like we have to deal with reality as well and know that teams like the Pirates do have to make decisions based on money because resources have to be allocated appropriately. It stinks but its seems a little silly to pay an extra 10 million because of super 2 for 30-45 days of extra service which for a starting pitcher is 6-8 starts. I can’t blame and small-medium market team for holding off that extra month.

        • Wide Receiver Nate,

          Yesterday, Travis and I had a discussion because he had said Cole was being kept in AAA until July for “Service Time.” I reminded him that Service Time and Arbitration Time were completely different clocks and referred him to a “Service Time” article in MLB Rumors, showing that Cole could come to Pittsburgh any time after April 12 and the Pirates gain another year of service. The same article said that Super Two Arbitration would dissolve sometime after June 15.
          .
          Travis later responded that when he talked about Cole’s service time, he in essence “ran them both together.” (my words——I’d have to look back to yesterday to get his exact quote.) He said he considered Arbitration Time a part of Service Time.
          .
          My comment to Travis above referred to his inaccurate portrayal of those clocks being the same. It really did not imply that Pirates should have brought Cole up right away . . . he seems to need the time at this level.
          .
          However, Travis is too talented a writer to mislead by whim or inaccuracy or inability to discern the difference or lack of desire to take the time to accurately portray the situation.

  5. Travis – Does Polanco have a “right field arm”? I know Marte does.

    • Polanco has an arm, not like Marte, but who does? Still it is better than McCutchen’s and plenty good enough for RF. If and this is a big if, Snider finally reaches his potential, Polanco is only a minor upgrade.

    • Skip,

      According to Baseball Prospectus, Polanco has a solid-average arm. He profiles better in center or left and can perhaps move there if Marte could handle RF

  6. And what if Bell Progresses? Can any of them play 3b? SS? (JK)

    • Bell is an option in RF, too, or a potential trade chip.

      Pirates wish they could convert a OF to a left-side-of-the-diamond player. Perhaps Bell could play 1B.

      More likely you trade surplus (OF) for INF, I think.

      • If Bell is traded before he makes the majors with us, I’d be shocked. There’s no way they’re trading him before then after making that $5M investment, IMO.

  7. So is it a matter of “when” Cutch is replaced in center and moved to a corner?

  8. In 2009, Baseball America projected this as the Pirates 2012 lineup:

    Catcher Ryan Doumit
    First Base Adam LaRoche
    Second Base Shelby Ford
    Third Base Pedro Alvarez
    Shortstop Jarek Cunningham
    Left Field Nate McLouth
    Center Field Andrew McCutchen
    Right Field Jose Tabata
    No. 1 Starter Brad Lincoln
    No. 2 Starter Ian Snell
    No. 3 Starter Bryan Morris
    No. 4 Starter Paul Maholm
    No. 5 Starter Tom Gorzelanny
    Closer Matt Capps

    I don’t put a lot of stock in what BA projects.

    • Not too many hits there, for sure, but projecting lineups out three+ years seems like a pretty tough exercise. I do respect BA’s opinion on prospects, they’ve been doing it a long time.

  9. I really don’t think college baseball is close to being comparable to AA or even Single A. For one, the level of coaching a professional gets doesn’t even compare to what they do in college.

    • I had a scout once compare high-end Division I baseball to Low A. I wouldn’t completely discount the college baseball experience, but there’s a reason clubs would rather have guys go straight from HS to the pros.

      • How many games a weeks does a college team play?

      • Absolutely Travis. I wouldn’t discount the college experience at all and I agree with the rest of your comment.

        In D3 my kiddo has played 4-5 games per week since March 9 for 40 games. Conference tournament starts tomorrow. I know D1 starts earlier and ends later and their regular season is in the 50-60 game range.

  10. Right now Polanco has about 300 minor league at-bats than Pedro had in his entire minor league career. (that isn’t counting college…which I don’t count)

    • Exactly.

      I don’t see what is crazy about a mid-June promotion to AA, starting 2013 in AAA and promoting him around the All Star break. This obviously assums his development continues.

      Absolutely insane to keep this kid at each level for an entire season.

      • Chad Hermansen
        .
        Brad Eldred
        .
        Ron Wright
        .
        Zach Duke
        .
        Leave him in the oven until he is done cooking!!!! Just because he looks done on the outside doesn’t mean he’s done cooking all the way through.
        .
        Cracker, all of Polanco’s Minor League at bats are at lower levels than Pedro ever played——until this last month!!! Now, finally, Polanco is at the LOWEST level Pedro ever played. All at bats are not the same!

        • G2M2S…to be fair, Ron Wright was done in by his back problems.

          Foo

          • Foo Man Chewing,
            .
            Whether by injury or time to adjust or finally reaching the limit of one’s ability, projecting a player in his first month of High A ball to make the Major League team in 13 months is outlandish!!
            .
            For anyone who believes that Polanco will be starting in the outfield of the Pirates in May of 2014, I have some ocean-front property in Washington County I’d like to sell you!!

  11. You have not mention any thing about catching or SS.it’s been a long long time since any one has said anything about them !

  12. I’m tired of the Cards coming up with good young players.

    :(

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