The Future Is Now For The Pittsburgh Pirates, And His Name Is Gregory Polanco

By Kenneth Teape
Gregory Polanco Pirates
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It has not been a great 2014 thus far for the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they have gotten off to a slow start at 30-34 after Tuesday night’s loss to the Chicago Cubs. Injuries and ineffectiveness have plagued them all season, yet they have begun to turn things around recently, going 12-8 since falling a season-high eight games below .500.

Things are looking even brighter as their top prospect, and the 10th overall prospect according to Baseball America, Gregory Polanco was finally called up for Tuesday night’s game.

It is unfortunate that Polanco is only getting his shot at this time because of Neil Walker being placed on the 15-day DL after having an appendectomy, but it is about time Polanco is with the big league club. He is arguably the Pirates’ second-best player behind reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen, and he would have been here much sooner if not for MLB’s Super-2 rules; the Pirates kept Polanco in the minors solely for money reasons, not for performance.

At triple-A Indianapolis, Polanco was destroying the ball. He had a slash line of .347/.405/.540 as he hit seven home runs, five triples and 17 doubles in 274 at-bats. He tallied 49 RBIs, scored 47 runs and stole 15 bases in the process, while also being walked 24 times. It was only a matter of time that Polanco received the call-up, as his performance more than warranted it.

That kind of production will dip a little, but he should offer solid contributions still even while making adjustments to the majors. He is in a perfect situation as he assumed the two-spot in the batting order left by Walker, right ahead of McCutchen. Batting second will give Polanco plenty of opportunities to get on base as pitchers will go at him. You cannot afford to pitch around a batter ahead of a player as talented as McCutchen.

Much like Walker before him, Polanco will benefit greatly from hitting in front of the Pirates’ best hitter and should get plenty of nice pitches to hit. Walker was having an All-Star caliber season before landing on the DL, leading the Pirates with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and slashing .280/.353/.452. Polanco may not carry the same power potential as Walker has right out of the gate, but it would not be a surprise if he hits for a high average, scoring plenty of runs in the process.

When the Pirates’ lineup is healthy, they will be a much stronger and deeper unit with Polanco on the team. Josh Harrison can move back to the bench as a super-sub with the capability of playing both corner outfield spots, second base and third base. It would not be shocking to see him begin taking some ground balls at shortstop so the Pirates can get his bat into the lineup more often if he continues playing the way he has the past couple of weeks.

Polanco gives manager Clint Hurdle plenty of flexibility and options with his lineup as well. He can move Walker down in the order to help give McCutchen some protection, and put him in a run-producing spot in the order. It is extremely impressive that he has the RBI numbers that he does hitting most of the season out of the second spot in the order.

It also allows Hurdle to keep Starling Marte lower in the order as he figures things out at the plate, since he continues to strike out too much. If Marte can figure things out, he can move right back to the top of the order where Hurdle originally had him to start the season.

Whatever he decides to do, Hurdle now has plenty of toys to tinker with. The Pirates have begun turning things around and with Polanco in town, they should continue trending upward. The future is now for the Pirates, led by Polanco.

Kenneth Teape is a New York Giants writer for Follow him on Twitter @teapester725, “Like” on Facebook, or join his Google network.

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