Gregory Polanco Is Becoming Another Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been one of the best teams in baseball.
Pittsburgh’s front office, led by general manager Neal Huntington, has changed the organization's fortunes by excelling in a couple key areas -- analytics, successful pitching reclamation projects and going all in on defensive shifting, to name a few -- but it's the Pirates' ability to develop top-notch talent through their farm system which will help them sustain this success.
Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte came up through Pittsburgh’s system -- Cole and McCutchen were first-round draft picks while Marte was an international signing -- and have been franchise cornerstones as the Pirates have averaged 93 wins per season over the previous three years, including a monster 98-win campaign in 2015.
After nearly two months of play this year, we can safely add Gregory Polanco to that list. In his age-25 season, Polanco is making the leap from a highly-touted prospect to one of the game’s best players.
Signed as an international free agent in 2009, Polanco was the organization’s top prospect in 2014 and made his debut that season. In a day and age where we pay more attention to farm systems and top prospects than ever before, a lot was expected out of him, especially after he shredded Triple-A to the tune of a .328/.390/.504 slash line in 305 plate appearances at the start of the 2014 season.
Despite the minor league success and prospect pedigree, Polanco struggled in half of a season in 2014 and in a full campaign in 2015.
This year, though, he’s become the player many prognosticated.
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Polanco is putting up career-best numbers across the board, but it’s his power which has elevated his game. He never put up crazy home run numbers in the minors, but at 6'5'', 230 pounds, the power was expected to come with age.
Well, the power has arrived.
It’s definitely arrived.
Polanco is being aided by a career-high .352 BABIP, but his batted-ball profile proves there is nothing too fluky about what he is doing.
He’s straight up raking, again showing significant improvement and putting up more career-best clips.
Polanco has racked up 2.2 Wins Above Replacement WAR, per FanGraphs, which is just shy of the 2.3 WAR he accumulated last season. Of course, the big difference is he’s done it in 44 games this year while it took him 153 games to produce the same value in 2015.
Not only has he been the Pirates’ best player, edging out Marte’s 1.9 WAR, Polanco has been one of the best players in the National League.
More on the Way
Amazingly, as successful as the Pirates have been over the past three years, they haven’t been able to win the division and avoid the dreaded one-game playoff, which speaks to the strength of the National League Central, specifically the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. Last year, for example, the Pirates’ 98 wins would’ve won every other division in baseball, but it barely got them second in the ridiculously strong Central.
The division doesn't figure to get much easier anytime soon, which is terrible news for the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers.
With a mix of high-priced stars and insane crop of young talent on their big league roster, the Cubs are position to win for a while. The Cardinals, well, they’re the Cardinals; they’re always going to be in the mix.
But the Pirates are in the envious position of having a good team and a loaded farm system, which only a few organizations (Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox) can say. Led by electric arms Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates boast the eighth-ranked farm system, per MLB.com.
Glasnow and Taillon are doing unspeakable things to Triple-A hitters right now. Glasnow, who is 22, is sporting a 2.63 FIP, 31.3% strikeout rate and 11.0% walk rate. Those are some great numbers, but Taillon, 24, has been decidedly better. Seeing his first action since 2013 because of Tommy John surgery and a hernia, Taillon owns a 1.93 FIP, 27.1% strikeout rate and miniscule 2.7% walk rate.
The Pirates’ system is not all pitching, though, as Pittsburgh also boasts highly-rated hitters Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez, all of whom Baseball Prospectus ranked in their Top 100 Prospects List prior to the season.
With an established star in McCutchen, in-their-prime studs like Polanco, Marte and Cole, a stacked farm system and a savvy front office, Pittsburgh has turned themselves from cellar dwellars into a model organization.