Right field remains a questionable area for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014, but prospect Gregory Polanco may soon be the answer to the problem.
The USA Today Baseball Preview named Polanco as a likely 2014 National League Rookie of the Year candidate. Jason Bay was the only previous Bucco to win the honor. Polanco has just nine at-bats at the Triple-A level and is already being mentioned, meaning he is a highly touted prospect.
The 22-year-old Santo Domingo native is not expected to start the season in the majors, but Pirates fans will likely see him before the end of the season.
Polanco was ranked 13th in the MLB.com top 100 prospects and 24th in the Baseball Prospectus top 100.
The 6-foot-4 Polanco began his career in Pittsburgh’s system as a tall, slender, speedy and athletic outfielder. However, he lacked the power due to his lanky stature.
In 2012, Polanco gained weight and had a break out season. He jumped out to a fast start and never looked back. His plate discipline had improved tremendously and he batted .325 with 16 HR.
Polanco’s 2013 stats were slightly down, but he moved up through three levels. In Single-A Bradenton, he had a .312/.364/.472 line with 6 HR in 57 games. Those numbers dropped to .263/.354/.407 and 6 HR in 68 games with Altoona and .222/.222/.222 in two games in Indianapolis.
Over the winter, Polanco played in a winter league for Escogido, where he had a .331/.428/.491 line. He hit five home runs and drove in 28 RBIs.
Polanco came up in the system as a center-fielder and as an all-around asset. Due to Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Polanco played his final six games of 2013 in right field, where Pittsburgh has question marks.
He hits for average, hits for power, has patience at the plate, plus speed, a powerful arm, and is one of the best defensive outfielders in the system. His increase in power is attributed to the weight the young outfielder has picked up. His frame has enough room to add more weight and possibly put up big power numbers.
Polanco’s long legs give him speed, and he is capable of covering a lot of ground in the outfield.
He has a bright future ahead, and the Pirates have high hopes for the youngster. A Marte-McCutchen-Polanco tandem would make Pittsburgh one of the fastest and deadliest teams in the outfield.
The ability to hit for average and power would also solve some of Pittsburgh’s offensive problems. Polanco is already an upgrade over Travis Snider and Jose Tabata and he’s not done improving.