On Monday morning, I woke up wondering exactly what it would take to get Gregory Polanco into a Pirate uniform. I’d thought for most of the spring that June 17th would a the likely Super 2 call-up date, but most analysts seemed convinced that the time for that had come and gone right around the beginning of June. That seemed like maybe it would clear the way for Polanco to come to Pittsburgh in time for the weekend’s big Brewers series, but obviously that didn’t happen. Cynical Pirate fans thought Monday would be more likely, just because the Pirates would need a bigger attendance boost on Monday than they did on Friday, but that didn’t happen either. After hearing Neal Huntington talk about how much Triple-A time the team likes to give players and seeing the Pirates dance to their own beat in last week’s draft, this thought that Polanco would be in Triple-A until he hit some number of at-bats in mid July, like, say, the 430 that Starling Marte got in 2012. I started wondering what would happen if June went and July came and Polanco was still in Indianpolis.
Then Neil Walker was scratched just before Monday’s game for what turned out to be an appendectomy, he headed for the disabled list afterwards, and Polanco is on his way to Pittsburgh for Tuesday’s game against the Cubs. If we’re being more serious, I suspect that Polanco’s delayed promotion had a lot more to do with the Pirates waiting for as long as possible to try and get some value out of Jose Tabata or Travis Snider in a trade (neither are starters, but both could at least be assets), while keeping Josh Harrison in the lineup and still trying to get Starling Marte playing time. Walker’s injury kind of plays right into that situation, so an outfielder doesn’t have to go down for Polanco to come up and they can keep Harrison in the lineup for at least a little while longer while Walker recovers.
At this point it feels redundant to keep mentioning the Polanco details. He entered the season as one of the Pirates’ best prospects, and since then he hit .347/.405/.540. In the low minors, he showed impressive plate discipline for such a young prospect, and now that’s starting to grow into his 6’4″ frame his power is starting to develop. For now at least, he’s also really fast, with 15 stolen bases (in 20 attempts, which isn’t hugely impressive), and a bunch of infield singles on grounders to second that make plenty of highlight reels. I’ve said this a few times and I always feel the need to qualify the statement after I make it, but I think that Polanco is the best position player prospect that the Pirates have had in recent memory (the qualification is, of course, that Andrew McCutchen has turned into a far better Major Leaguer than his prospect record indicated he was going to at the time, and so I specifically want to point out that I’m not predicting that Polanco will be better than McCutchen, because you can be a pretty awesome baseball player without being better than Andrew McCutchen).
Even with the questions about his defense at the present and the long-term questions about his speed, he seems like a true five-tool outfielder right now. I understand the Pirates’ concern with rushing him through the upper minors and wanting to be sure of super two status and was probably more willing to give them leeway with Polanco’s promotion than almost any other Pirate fan out there, but the reality is this: it’s time to see what Polanco can do in a big league uniform. There’s nothing left for him to do at Triple-A, and the Pirates can use any sort of help he can give them. Obviously Walker’s injury puts a big short-term hole in the lineup that he can help fill, but the larger picture here is that if Polanco can find his stride relatively quickly, the Pirates are going to have a pretty interesting offense once Walker comes back.
Whenever the Pirates promote a prospect I always get a thrill followed by the immediate fear that for whatever reason they’ll struggle at first or they won’t live up to the promise or some other unquantifiable bad thing will happen. The reality is this, though: it’s time to see what Gregory Polanco can do as a Pirate. Appendectomy or no appendectomy, the Pirates need him in Pittsburgh. Starting on Tuesday night, he’ll be there. I’m excited.