Monday Mop-Up Duty: can Polanco be Puig?


SOUTH HILLS – It’s June. The Gregory Polanco Watch is officially on.

I went to check on the prized Pirates’ asset on Friday night for a story on Polanco in Sunday’s paper. My contribution to the Polanco-hype machine is here if you’re interested.

Polanco has been discussed so often it was difficult to mine fresh material, but I did attempt delve into what makes him such an unusual prospect. You have to be unusual if you can be compared to an Avatar, Miguel Cabrera and California Chrome in a three-paragraph span. You simply don’t see many baseball players with his size-speed combo. Then there’s the batspeed, aptitude and efficient swing plane for a big man.

I think what has been somewhat lost in all the Super 2/Nutting/Polanco chatter is what kind of impact will Polanco make when he arrives shortly to Pittsburgh? Can he be Yasiel Puig or Wil Myers of 2014? Or is he going to be just another rookie who faces a steep learning curve?

Consider on June 3 last season when Puig was called up from the Double-A, the Dodgers were 23-32. Puig put up a .319 average, hit 19 homers and stole 11 bases and the Dodgers won 92 games and made the postseason.

Myers was called up on June 17 when the Rays were in fourth place in the AL East. Myers led the Rays with 53 RBIs from that point and helped them advance into the postseason.


Can Polanco be Puig or Myers … minus the demonstrative bat flips?


Can Polanco provide that type of impact? Most rookies cannot. But he won’t be most rookies.

Some will say the Pirates’ biggest issue is starting pitching, and I won’t argue – though it looked healthier at Dodger Stadium. But the Pirates can use an impact player regardless of position.  The primary goal for any club is to increase its run differential.  The Pirates’ run differential is -32. Polanco can help the net run production as the Pirates’ RFs have combined for the NL’s 12th-ranked OPS at that position. (I like Josh Harrison, but he’s a super sub)

The stage is set for Polanco to make an impact. He’s improved –  not stagnated or regressed – at his last three stops above A-ball. He’s like a rare tropical storm that doesn’t weaken upon reaching landfall. Can he continue his rare trajectory? The Pirates’ 2014 campaign might depend upon it and it’s a campaign that looks a little healthier with the club coming off its first series win at the Dodgers since 2006.




9.  Another sign that the Polanco call-up is imminent is he began hitting lead-off for Indianapolis the on Saturday.

“There are some things we’re trying to get him used to,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. “Right field is a big one, and that’s gone well. I don’t know if he’s going to hit third for us. We’ve got a pretty good guy there.”

I think you can make an argument for Polanco to hit in a number of spots in the batting order but I’m not going to argue with giving him the most plate appearances possible. He’s immediately a superior lead-off option to anyone else on the roster.

Great find from the Trib’s Alan Robinson on Final Word last night: Dave Parker, Barry Bonds and Roberto Clemente also debuted in the lead-off spot for the Pirates. You can argue Polanco is the club’s top positional prospect since Bonds.


8. Recall, Joey Votto told David Manel his interesting theory about lineup protection last month: it’s about who is hitting in front of you, not behind you. What are the quality of your table-setters? Perhaps the only way pitchers will begin pitching to Andrew McCutchen - on pace to challenge Ralph Kiner‘s club record for walks  (137) – is if there’s more runners on in front of him.

Against RHP I’d propose this lineup:

1. Polanco

2. Walker

3. McCutchen

4. Davis

5. Alvarez

6.  Marte

7. Martin

8. Mercer


7. If you haven’t seen Polanco play, prepare to have a lot of fun. It’s an advanced approach, advanced plate discipline, blazing bat-speed and he runs like a deer.


6. While the world waits on Polanco, maybe Francisco Liriano is figuring things out. Ray Searage told me in New York he felt their last bullpen session had been fruitful and that Liriano had fallen into some bad habits. Liriano’s velocity has slowly been trending up. Getting him right is the biggest thing that could happen for this club …. beyond the addition of Polanco.


5. You’re probably aware Bryan Morris was traded for the Marlins’ comp pick – 39th overall – on Sunday. Considering he was on the roster bubble this spring and out of options that’s not a bad return. Now, the chances of the 39th overall pick developing into a MLB regular is something like 15 percent. The Pirates researched those odds when they sent a comp pick to the Marlins for Gaby Sanchez two years ago. (And remember, only comp picks can be traded in the draft).

Morris impressed scouts with a two-seamer reaching 97 mph this spring and a cutter touching 91. But his results haven’t matched his velocity and this might be the reason:


4. Pirates are hoping that was an outlying performance from Brandon Cumpton. The 2015 rotation is a mostly blank canvas.


3. Jason Grilli’s command is a bit spotty but you have like seeing his velocity at 95 mph and getting swings and misses on the slider.


2. Tyler Glasnow‘s last two starts: 9 2/3 IP, 6H, R, 4BB, 18Ks. That’s more like the Glasnow we saw strike out every one last year. Remember he was dealing with a back strain out of spring training so perhaps it took him some time to get back to full strength.


1.  At this time next season we could be looking  Alen Hansen Watch. If he can stick at shortstop he offers the Pirates potential for another impact upgrade. I was impressed with Hansen this spring. He was more physical than I thought.



Where Baseball America’s Ben Badler said he would place Polanco in his personal, updated top 100 list. Polanco is No. 3 in Keith Law’s updated list.



Pirates Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo:

“Guys who are good, when you push them, they get better. The new thing they sell in development, where Johnny has to stay there for 100 years until he figures it out, that’s not how it works. The gifted ones, you challenge them, they rise to the occasion.”


Polanco on Super 2

“I don’t worry about that because I don’t have that in my hands. I just go out and play. If I let that go in my mind, I’ll be thinking too much. I know some day I’m going to go up there.”



Two of today’s great front men together for an underrated tune:

– TS