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See you soon, Gregory. See you in June.

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BRADENTON, Fla. – While the decision to option Gregory Polanco to Triple-A on Friday might have disappointed you  it should  not have come as a surprise. Pirates GM Neal Huntington essentially said at the winter meetings that there was no chance in heck Polanco would break camp with the team. You know how this works. Just ask Gerrit Cole, Wil Myers and countless others.

A major part of the reasoning is no doubt tied to economic realities as the Pirates can extend their control over Polanco and avoid paying him an extra year of arbitration by delaying his arrival. But the Pirates also contend they want their prized prospect to have more seasoning.

Now this spring Polanco has not seemed in need of much seasoning. In the first at bat of his first start this spring he homered against the Yankees. He doubled against a Rick Porcello changeup in a hitter’s count. He made A.J. Burnett look 37 years old with another double. Clint Hurdle batted him in the No. 3 spot a number of times so he wasn’t sneaking up on any  pitchers.  Yesterday at Port Charlotte, he beat out an infield hit with blazing speed for a big man. He has all five tools and an important sixth tool: plate discipline. I didn’t see him chase much out of the zone this spring, though a tough lefty in Matt Moore got him to chase a slider in the dirt last week for a K.

Huntington said in the winter that the spring is an awful time to evaluate a player but he was still impressed with Polanco this spring.

“Very encouraging signs. The 1-1 breaking ball hit (vs. the Yankees) off of a major league starting pitcher. The approach he took with a nice easy swing. He laced a fastball-count changeup off of Porcell. Very encouraging sings,” Huntington said. “The fact that he can beat a ball into the ground and beat it out four or five times in major league spring training against major league infielders gives you the feeling that when he does get into a tough stretch his legs will allow him to find a way on base.”

So what exactly does Polanco need to work on?

“He  got beat on some pitches. He tried to do too much at times. When he’s ready he’ll stay withing himself and drive the ball gap to gap. (This spring) was an affirmation of how talented this young man is and that we have some work to do. …He covers so much ground. He can make up for some technique that needs some work. The arm strength is good. He has all the tools in the world to be a quality defensive outfielder.”

Huntington indicated, emotionally, he wanted Polanco with the team to break camp.

“Our challenge is not to get too excited too soon and put him in a position he is not ready for. That’s what has made this decision so difficult. He is so talented,” Huntington said. “History dictates some things. Some of the worst moves are guys who were rushed.”

I asked Huntington about the team’s placement on projected win curve and if it made it more difficult not to break camp with the best 25 and ignore service-time issues. Huntington notes his focus is on the long-term window.

“Every decision we make is to keep that window open as long we possibly can. To say that’s it’s going to stay open and we’re are going to be a playoff team for the next 50 years is probably a little bit ambitious,” Huntington said. “But we are certainly not looking at our window as a finite number of days or a finite number of opportunities.”

It’s true Polanco only has 295 plate appearances above A-ball in the minor leagues. But he logged another 265 in the Dominican Winter League, which is a big deal to players and coaches over there,  and he won ROY and MVP honors. Evaluators were blown away by his improvement over the last year.

“He has so much ability. He has worked so hard. The improvements he’s made over the last two years are like few that I’ve seen,” Huntington said.

Here’s what we do know: Polanco is probably the club’s third most valuable asset after Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole. Here’s what we do know: we won’t be waiting long to see Polanco.

See you in June, El Coffee.

- TS

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Comments

  1. cmat0829 says:

    Thanks as always Travis for a thorough interview with NH to go beyond just the headline and the typical prospect /arbitration/super2 debate that attracts the moths.

    I know last summer many were clamoring for a “trade Polanco and Taillon and 2 other prospects” and get Stanton. I was not one of those. Sounds like Polanco has all the tools to be ‘our’ Stanton, starting this year. And for a team like the Pirates you just can’t give up the all-too-important years of low-cost control, even for young players like Stanton.

  2. I’ll bet you could go back and cut ‘n paste the remarks Huntington made when Pirates sent Starling Marte back down after he hit .411 in Spring Training.

    That being said, I was impressed with the progress I saw Polanco had made this Spring versus last Spring in Minor League camp. He’s heavier and he carries himself with a confidence he did not exude last Spring Training. It might help that he was always placed in the group of hitters/fielders with Andrew McCutchen. Good job, Clint!

    Polanco missed more cutoff men in fielding drills I watched than any other outfielder (by far); he hit poorly off the curve balls thrown by the pitching machine; he didn’t score well in the “hitting behind the runner” game the coaches ran; he wasn’t perfect no matter our desires.

    But the kid is a player.

    Let him develop his foundation and make his mistakes and become a complete player in AAA for as long as possible. Don’t bring up a player who will struggle against better and smarter and faster players. Let him learn and establish a foundation against AAA. Bring up a star instead of someone who is only adequate. Wine before its time is ruined.

  3. theplanisworking says:

    cmat,

    “many” who wanted to trade Polanco and Taillon for Stanton? I recall that people wanted Stanton, but not at an exhorbitant price. I also recall that Taillon and Polanco were untouchables. I do not understand your statement at all.

  4. Jim S. says:

    As much as I want to see him in Pittsburgh, I agree wholeheartedly with Groat on this the more I think about it. This guy is 22, and it is not an American “criss-crossing the country at elite tournaments or college games with the best coaching and competition money can buy” 22. He has had to pack a lot of the life experiences on a baseball diamond into a few short years that most of his American peers get to stretch out over many years. It takes many reps for a lot of lessons to sink in, no matter how talented a kid is. Let’s see how 200 at bats, a lot of baserunning, and chasing down flyballs in the RC gap do for him in AAA this year, and go from there. Hopefully, he will be up in June or July.

  5. theplanisworking says:

    Jim, I think a part of the reason people want to see a top prospect in the majors quickly is that they see other organizations have players reach the bigs quickly. See Braves, Atlanta. Heyward and Freeman hit the bigs quickly, and have done well……… so they think all teams should do that.

    Let Polanco stay in AAA until he is ready to come up. Make him “force” the Pirates to bring him up based on the quality of his play.

    Worst thing a team can do is bring a player up too fast, and ruin his confidence, or mechanics.

  6. 21sthebest says:

    They were working on Polanco’s throwing mechanics to try to get him to be quicker. He was told to not worry about hitting the cutoffs and that they would work on that later after he got the mechanics down.

  7. Jim S. says:

    I agree, and even of the two guys you mentioned, while Freeman was clearly ready Heyward has had his ups and downs, even aside from the injuries.

  8. 21sthebest says:

    Freeman had 519 PA’s in Triple A.

  9. Nate83 says:

    Good information 21. It nice to hear stuff like this. Things are not always as they may appear. The Pirates in general have brought along players at a reasonable speed. I’ve never heard of them being accused of rushing a player. The big picture always seems to be the focus. The coaching staff knows these players better then any of us could possible know and I’m confident they will do the appropriate thing with each player.

  10. Clemente’s the Best!

    All the more reason to stay in AAA!

    How do you think “don’t worry about hitting the cutoffs” would work in the Majors?

    Where’d you hear that, by the way? I was giving you firsthand stuff, but the “don’t worry . . ” is new to me.

  11. Twan says:

    Groat adds a great comment. Maybe I’m just a simpleton, but the decision to bring a player to the majors should be based entirely on their skills and readiness, not salary 3+ years from now. There are too many unknowns in the game (injuries, mental breakdowns, poor lifestyle choices) to be focused on long term plans. Even the strategic plans of Fortune 500 corporations rarely extend beyond 3 years these days.

    The only smart strategy is to make sure your best 25 players are on your major league roster – a.k.a. “Win Now”. The Pirates “window” ends as soon as Cutch goes down with a major injury anyway. So surround him with the best talent you can, and go for it now while you have the MVP in your lineup and a potential Cy Young in your rotation.

  12. 21sthebest says:

    At the end of last season, my position was that he should start this year in AAA and that never changed. Hitting .263 in Altoona was all I needed to feel that way regardless of what his OBP or any other stat said.

    “How do you think “don’t worry about hitting the cutoffs” would work in the Majors?

    They wouldn’t take that approach with him in the Majors or Minors, IMO. That’s what spring training is for. I heard that on Inside Pirates Baseball. They had 30 minutes of coaches and players mic’d up and that’s what Rick Sofield discussed with him.

  13. 21sthebest says:

    I think you also need to consider the organization as a whole when making player decisions including promotions to the Majors. What would the point be to promoting a prospect before the June cutoff date if you’re team is awful? And I totally agree with what Dejan said in the chat today:

    Guest:
    Hey Dejan, BucsCannonball here from twitter. Neal Huntington said the Pirates want Gregory Polanco to help win pennant. Polanco is 1 of the best 25 in camp. April games are just as important as September games. What’s your take on Polanco starting the year in Indy?

    Dejan Kovacevic: To me, this whole thing has never been an issue, particularly because Polanco has never played above Double-A. The pitchers are older and smarter in Triple-A, whereas most are very young prospects in Double-A. There’s a gulf there in that regard. Moreover, being one of the best 25 doesn’t work as singular logic. If it did, Andrew McCutchen would have played for the Pirates at age 18 for those terrible teams, and he’d already be long gone as a free agent.

  14. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, 21. Freeman got to AAA at 20 and tore the place up. Freeman’s a stud, no matter how you slice it. He also had about 1,200 at bats before that. He actually had 234 plate appearances at 17. That’s pretty amazing.

    And, I would go back to my point that American kids who get to play travel ball are generally a lot more battle-tested (baseball experience-wise at young ages than a poor kid from the Dominican who grew up playing on less than ideal fields, with less than ideal equipment, with less than ideal coaching. I think Polanco is catching up quickly, though.

  15. NMR says:

    Not sure I agree with that, Jim.

    Latin American kids often sign as early as 16 into professional systems. I’ll take that kid over little Johnny Utah coached by dad on his travel team until he’s drafted.

  16. NMR says:

    You mean they use Spring Training for PRACTICE? What a concept!!!

  17. Jim S. says:

    I think a thing that the Bucs feel works in Polanco’s favor, as Travis mentioned, is that he does not have the “You can’t walk off the island” mentality that a lot of young Latin players possess. From all I have read, and from what you can see in his stats, he has an advanced level of plate discipline – particularly for a young player and even more unusually, for a young Latin player. Their thinking is that will help him develop quicker vs. AAA and MLB pitchers who are used to taking advantage of most overly aggressive young hitters.

  18. Jim S. says:

    Good point. I think some of that is true, NMR. If they sign a Latin kid at 16 and immediately get him going, he could have an advantage over an American counterpart. But, I also feel a lot of them are signed at 16 on raw talent alone, and it takes a few years just to get them caught up to where a lot of American kids are. A lot more American kids have great coaching before the age of 16 than Dominican kids, I would think. Not everyone here is being coached by an overzealous dad.

  19. NMR says:

    Speaking of the chat, I found DK’s comment on Travis Snider interesting after Sawchik mentioned he thought Snider had the inside track.

  20. 21sthebest says:

    Yeah. Hopefully Snider is another Brandon Moss type. Little slow to come around, injuries, time is running out, then they have some success at the right time. Hopefully for us it happens this year with Snider.

  21. NMR says:

    Certainly can never have too much depth. I’m interested in getting a look at him after hearing that they worked on his swing.

  22. Jim S. says:

    Always good to be deep with depth.

  23. brendan says:

    It seems to me Latin kids play a lot of baseball, but it’s often in a showcase environment, which doesn’t necessarily allow them to work on things like plate discipline, etc.

  24. 21sthebest says:

    That’s what….ah….never mind.

  25. Travis Sawchik says:

    If the price for Stanton was Polanco + Taillon + something else … then perhaps that was insane. And Stanton is great.

  26. chethejet1 says:

    Having control over a star player is what any organization strives for. It also allows for money to be spread out so you are not paying everyone at once.

  27. Jim S. says:

    I hope Snider flourishes this year also. But, I’m skeptical he can ever be as good as Moss has become with the bat. I just think Moss is more talented.

  28. Steelkings says:

    @ NMR
    That landscape is true, NMR , but changing. High School baseball is being passed up by some of the better players. They are attending, like basketball players, baseball academy’s in order to showcase their talents in numerous showcase baseball tournaments.
    We played against a team from St. Louis in a tournament in Cincinnati. They flew their catcher in from Jacksonville Florida. He was REEEAALLLY good. 16 year old who played in the tourney on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday then flew back to Bradenton to attend the IMG prep school and training Academy. He attended school in the off season at a baseball academy. They are popping up all over the place. eventually it will be that new norm.

    That is not available to most Latin kids as of yet.

  29. Leo Walter says:

    There were a number of commentators making that statement plan,inccluding Dave Schoenfeld. You might not have been paying attentionlast August ?

  30. Leo Walter says:

    Groat,let me introduce you to Yasiel Puig……

  31. 21sthebest says:

    Agree Jim. I’m just hoping. Although I realize hope is not a strategy.

  32. Leo Walter says:

    Twan,you had better have a word with the Cardinals’ organization. The GM,John Mozeliak would get a good laugh on reading your statement.

  33. Sari T says:

    He sounds as awesome as his cool baseball name sounds and he brings Dave Parker to mind bringing a wealth of all the tools to the game. And…he’s going to have plenty of time to get rich as a long time Bucco!

  34. greg mondry says:

    very good article, no sugar coating the fact he was sent down due to economics…..

  35. Thundercrack says:

    Well isn’t that basically what NH said at last year’s trade deadline ‘We willing to do something stupid, but not insane’. Or was it the other way around? ( I am paraphrasing)

  36. Thundercrack says:

    What should we do with all the veteran outfielders that missed cupoffs?

    I don’t think it is a big deal that Polanco missed a cutoff. And I do think it is best for him to be sent down.

  37. FlBucco says:

    I am a contrarian – I am not sure Polanco right now is significantly better than Tabata – let’s see how he does at Indy…

  38. Recall Huntington’s words about Starling Marte after he hit .415 in Spring Training AND won the batting title in AA.

    Go back and read the extensive articles Dejan Kovacavic wrote about Marte as he was in the high Minors.

    Remember the frequent times that BMTIB has overtly said that they brought up Pedro Alvarez too soon.

    It’s seldom (if ever) that BMTIB breaks its own molds.

  39. Gregory Polanco certainly has more tools. But Tabata has experience.

    Let’s see how Polanco harnesses his tools and applies them against mature and smarter pitchers in AAA.

    I just keep saying . . . . . let’s not give him a scholarship; make him FORCE his way to the Majors.

    This is NOT fantasy baseball.

  40. Nate83 says:

    At the end of the day I think he will have to earn it. Many had called for Marte to come up much earlier in 2012 and the team was competitive that year and lacking offense. They waited until late July I think and by then people where pulling their hair out if I remember correctly.

    Polanco’s winter ball performance helped his stock a lot and may have earned him a June call up if he does perform in his first 200 at-bats in AAA. I really think if he would have struggled a little in winter ball he would have never seen PNC park until after the All-star break at the earliest unless the Pirates had injuries.

  41. Rob Scott says:

    While Polanco has potential, he is certainly not on the same level at Giancarlo Stanton who has already hit 100 home runs before the age of 23.

  42. Jim S. says:

    Agreed. I think some are annointing him rather than evaluating him. He’s not perfect. He’s just a really good 22 year old prospect. I worry what that can do to a young man’s head.

  43. johnH says:

    What ever happened to the guy that twisted his ankle during those navy seal style drills?

  44. The Gunner says:

    I see where Lambo’s BA is under .100 for the spring according to the Sunday Trib. This is not good no matter how you slice it.

  45. Steelkings says:

    Lambo 0-4 again today. Perhaps this isnt about who is the best fit. Perhaps its about who is the biggest loser.

  46. The Gunner says:

    Lambo has options left. Unless he lights it up in the next week or so, he’ll most likely end up in Indy.

  47. Nate83 says:

    Well he is on most top 15 in all of baseball prospect list so he’s pretty darn good and is close to ready. Guys don’t remain prospects for long after they make it that high on those list. If he is not up by the middle of July something went terribly wrong.

  48. NMR says:

    No, he won’t.

  49. Nate83 says:

    Unless they find an external option before the season starts I think Lambo will be on the roster on opening day even if he goes hitless the rest of spring training. He gives them the best shot at having a solid second half of a platoon. Any other current internal option might be safer but isn’t any player that should be getting 400 at bat in a year in the major leagues. Excepting mediocre to start the year is not an option for a team that should compete. The player with the highest ceiling needs to play and that is Lambo. All other options have defined their ceiling and it’s as bench player/minor league depth.

  50. Nate83 says:

    The legend that is known as Giancarlo Stanton is already 24 years old. He did not hit 100 HR’s before turning 23. He is a very good player and the Pirates would be happy if Polanco becomes his equal but let’s not say that Polanco certainly is not at the same level when they are at completely different stages in their careers. One hasn’t taken a major league at-bat. When/if Polanco becomes as good as Stanton it won’t be because of raw power but because he will far outpace Stanton in stolen bases, and hit for a much higher average.

 
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