Gregory Polanco, Outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014 season (Minors): 69 G, 274 AB, .328 BA, 7 HR, 51 RBI, 16 SB, .894 OPS
2014 season (Majors): 89 G, 277 AB, .235 BA, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 14 SB, .650 OPS
With Andrew McCutchen in center field and Starling Marte in left, the Pirates are one piece away from having one of the best young outfields in baseball. And they have that piece in Gregory Polanco, it’s just a matter of getting him to fit right and stick in right field in the bigs.
Polanco split his time almost evenly between Triple-A and the Majors last year, making his big league debut in June and starting off his career with an 11-game hitting streak. By July 8, he had three homers, five steals and a .299/.385/.402 line in 27 games. It looked as though he had seamlessly made the transition to the Majors, but like with many rookies, the league caught up to him. Polanco’s final line was underwhelming after a terrible September (.179/.303/.286), but the Pirates are still going into the 2015 season with him cemented in as the starter in right field — and for good reason.
Ranked as high as the No. 10 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to last season, Polanco rapidly rose through the Pirates’ Minor League system in 2013, advancing from Class A Advanced Bradenton to start the year all the way up to Triple-A Indianapolis. At the age of 21, Polanco had displayed an impressive combination of power (12 homers, 30 doubles) and speed (38 steals) to go along with good plate discipline (.285/.356/.434) and plus skills in the outfield. After getting off to a strong start at Triple-A last year, Polanco got the call, and it would appear to take a very lengthy slump to start the year with the Pirates for him to take a step back to Triple-A.
It’s not easy to predict what Polanco will do with the Pirates this year, and projections for his 2015 season are all over the place. Steamer projections have him with an underwhelming .250/.306/.386 line to go along with 13 homers and 20 steals. MLB.com’s fantasy projections are a bit more positive, with a .264 average, 13 homers and 27 steals. It seems likely that his power potential would cap out at about 15 home runs this year, with plenty of doubles to keep his slugging up, but it’s his speed that raises his potential ceiling. He stole 40 bases in ‘12 and 38 in ‘13 before combining to steal 30 last year in 158 games.
Aside from a sprained ankle at the end of 2012, Polanco doesn’t have much of an injury history, so there’s no reason to believe that he has any less of a chance to play in 140-150-plus games than any other player. If he’s able to at least keep the batting average up around .250-.260 (though his Minor League average of .285 says he can do better, eventually) he’ll stick in the Pirates’ lineup and have the chance to reach 30 steals. Combined with the 20 or so contributed annually by McCutchen and the 30-40 Marte can reach, the Pirates’ outfield should be pestering pitchers on the basepaths all year long.