Gregory Polanco (OF – Pittsburgh Pirates- Double-A)
Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A) vs. Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees Double-A)
2-4, 2B, SB, and a strikeout
Since I first stumbled onto Gregory Polanco last year on a scouting trip to see Alen Hanson, I’ve been at a minimum infatuated with the 20-year-old Dominican, but it’s now turned into a full-blown man-crush. Over the past month, I’ve had a chance to see Polanco in both the Futures Game and in a game against the Trenton Thunder. While the Futures Game batting practice display gave me hope for significant future power potential, the series that I sat in on in Trenton New Jersey showed me that Polanco has the skill-set to become a perennial all-star.
When you first see Gregory Polanco up close, it’s hard to ignore how physically imposing he could become. While his baseball-reference card puts him at 6-foot-4, I think he could be an inch or two taller with a high-waist making his long legs look even longer. He uses those long legs to take some of the longest strides I’ve ever seen on a ball field. When you watch him run, it doesn’t look like his running very fast but I had him at 4.08 down to first on an infield hit. That’s a solid 60 on the scouting 20-80 scale and why he’s stolen 33 bases so far in 95 games. While I didn’t count the number of steps it took to get to first, it could have been in the low 20’s which would mean he’s taking 5-foot strides. I know that sounds crazy, but wait until you see this guy run. It’s crazy.
Once at first, he read the pitcher very well and got a great jump and easily stole second. Again, I couldn’t taken my eyes off the long looping strides – it’s truly something to watch; almost as much fun as watch the anti-Polanco, Johathan Schoop, taking tiny strides. Ok…enough about his run-tool.
In the first inning, Polanco worked a walk off right-hander Shane Greene. In fact throughout all the games, Polanco showed a surprisingly mature approach at the plate that made his Double-A 19/24 strikeout-to-walk ratio more believable. He wasn’t passive, but clearly was looking for his pitch so he could drive the ball. In the fifth inning, he jumped on a 92 MPH fastball that was middle out and drove it to right-center for a double. As I’ve written before, the swing has some length, and therefore Polanco could have trouble handling premium velocity inside. To off-set, he does have premium bat speed and very good hand-eye coordination that should help continue to produce the 85%+ contact rate he is maintaining in the minors at the highest level.
It wasn’t a perfect day. In the seventh inning, Polanco faced Yankee left-handed hurler Graham Stoneburner who was throwing his fastball at 92 MPH with a pretty nasty 84 MPH slider. Polanco took the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball for a strike. The second pitch was a decent slider (let’s call it above-average) that was outside and Polanco swung and miss. The third pitch was a slider even further outside and Polanco was fooled again and missed badly. It was not a very good at-bat and showed me that there is still work left to done.
After spending the entire 2012 season in Low-A, the Pirates have accelerated Gregory Polanco’s development in 2013 with his mid-season promotion to Double-A. As the Pirates look towards making the playoff for the first time in nearly a generation, they really need a bat; unless you believe the combination of Jose Tabata and Alex Pressley are the answer. Does the answer lie with Polanco? In my opinion, NO. He’s just not ready. The tools are there: he has plus speed, plus raw power (not translating to game power yet), is an above average defender with a nice arm, and a hit-tool that shows promise. However, he needs more grooming, particularly in the area of his two-strike approach and shortening up his swing when behind in the count.
These are all things that are sorted out in the minor leagues and not at the highest level when the parent team is in a pennant chase. Then again, I think today he is a better alternative than the Tabata/Pressley combo.