An Early Preview of What Could Be the Best Outfield in Baseball

A few weeks ago I wrote that the Pittsburgh Pirates could soon have the best outfield in baseball. That could happen once Gregory Polanco arrives in the majors, which is expected to be in the second half of the 2014 season. Polanco profiles as an impact player, and I believe he could be just as good as Andrew McCutchen when he reaches his potential in the majors. Adding Polanco to McCutchen and Starling Marte will give the Pirates a ton of value from the three outfield positions, with the trio under team control at least through the 2018 season.

Today saw a little preview of that outfield, with Polanco and McCutchen being paired in the same fielding and batting practice groups in mini camp. Here is Polanco on the very left, with McCutchen on the far right…

Seeing Polanco in person really allows you to see where the “potential impact player” label comes from. Not only is he taller than everyone else, but he also has added a lot of muscle in the last few years…

Polanco has a ton of power potential, and has already tapped into that power in the minors. With his frame at the plate, it’s easy to dream of a 30 home run hitter in the future. As a big left-hander, he shouldn’t be restricted by the dimensions at PNC Park, which can rob home runs from right-handers…

He got some time in the batting cage today, and was making some hard contact with some smooth, easy swings…

And of course we already know that Andrew McCutchen can swing the bat well, you know, with the MVP award and all…

The best part about the future outfield of McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte is that all three are center fielders, giving them a ton of range. It would be hard to imagine a fly ball dropping in for a hit in that outfield…

McCutchen had seen Polanco before today, and has been impressed by what he has seen from the young outfielder…

“Every time you read up on him it seems like he’s doing something really good. He already has the physical part down. Just going out and doing it, he’s been doing that and showing it. He’s kind of a freak of nature to me. Big individual, young, can do everything, and do it very well. He’s going to be able to help us out a lot when that opportunity comes.”

That opportunity will almost certainly come by the end of the 2014 season.

  • Tim, I see a 22 year old David Ortiz when I see that swing. Agree?

  • sure i love marte and the future of this OF as the next guy, but I’m all about maximizing value. I’m suggesting this theoretical trade only IF we get a a equal value young IFer like SS. highly unlikely though since teams abhor trading their young guys 4 other young guys.
    A player’s value is slightly diminished if a good CF ends up playing RF or good SS plays at 1B etc.

    • Mike I agree about maximizing value and trading from strength to firm up weaknesses (see my post above). Even though top prospect for top prospect trades are rare, there could be a situation like the Rangers the last few years where they had too many elite MI prospects to play. I’m not sure what their OF prospects look like, but the Bucs could find a fit like that in a year or 2.

      Somewhat related, FG had a great story about the Orioles problems fielding a well rounded team that shows how desperate they would be for a top OF prospect. They have a good CF, a 1 WAR RF they owe $15 million to so they’re stuck there and a hole in LF that makes our RF options look like Hall of Famers. They may sign Nelson Cruz and be stuck with another 1 WAR corner OF they are overpaying by millions.

  • This outfield brings back reminders of the great expo out fields that included the likes of Walker, Raines, Valentine and Grissom. I’d love to see Tabata and Snider play well and establish some trade value and allow Polanco to get plenty of time in AAA. Not to mention give me opportunities to go see him at Indy.

  • Also, playing devil’s advocate, isn’t having basically 3 CFs TOO much speed in the OF? wondering if trading Marte for similarly young cost controlled IF help, SS or maybe 3b/1b slugger.
    just a thought.

    • Lets end that thought right now! Marte goes nowhere!!! Suggesting it makes no sense! An outfield with 3 center fielders a bad thing? Not sure what you’re smoking!

    • I agree with CS that 3 CFs (at least these 3 CFs) can not be a bad thing. The only way 3 CFs would be bad is if they were all Micheal Bourn type, all speed/no power guys. But each of these guys should hit 20-30 HRs while providing the great speed and range in the OF.

      I disagree with CS that Marte goes nowhere. I’m not looking to trade him necessarily, but nobody should be off the table (except Cutch for the next couple of years), if the return is right. Once Polanco is established in the majors and Bell or one of the other top prospects is knocking on the door, trading Cutch for a treasure chest of more top prospects is just what a pirate should do. But if you look to make a deal in the next couple of years, it would be Marte gone for a stud 1B, 3B or SS.

      Obviously the return would have to be great for either Marte soon or Cutch down the line a little, but it would be smart to address the IF prospect weakness by trading from the embarrassment of riches in OF stars and prospects.

      • SW – I thought about trading Cutch down the road too, but I’m not sure if that would be a good move. He signed a very team-friendly deal (even before he caught fire). If the Pirates trade him for cash and prizes and he wants to stay, it could set a bad precedent and make it tougher to get team-friendly deals for core players in the future.

  • giddy is the perfect word to describe what most fans should feel imagining this future super OF.
    I know it won’t happen out of respect to our mvp, but could Cutch move to LF with Polanco in CF? hell, even Trout ended up playing LF.

  • Where does everyone see these three hitting in the batting order? Polanco near the top and Marte moving towards the 5 hole at some point?

  • I am giddy like a school girl to see this outfield come together and it got me thinking: This isn’t an accident or just good fortune. NH and co have invested a lot into pitching, outfield, and catchers. How many prospects have this front office gone through to find and develop three players with speed, plus defense, hitting and power potential at the major league level like this? Not to mention, they still have a wealth of outfield talent in the lower levels getting ready for their turn.
    I am not criticizing These guys were found by fishing with a big net and instituting a smart development program. And that’s why I think that it will continue. Hats of to the Pirates organization for creating strength where there was nothing. And for not selling the future for more immediate gains.

  • JimBibbySweat
    January 6, 2014 8:00 pm

    cfj56 — The arc on Polanco’s swing is greater than Cutch’s. Not sure that’s a good thing. Hopefully there are no holes in it.

    • Based on the times I’ve seen him, and his low strikeout rates, there aren’t many holes.

    • Watch the footwork difference between Polanco and McCutchen. Cutch starts with his feet closer together so that his first move is toward the front of the plate. Polanco starts with a wider stance and brings his front foot up and back slightly before starting his swing.

      The problem with lifting the foot is that a lot of players don’t maintain a straight eye line when they do it – they tend to raise the whole body with the foot and then drop the body with the foot resulting in a loopy swing.

      • JimBibbySweat
        January 6, 2014 10:43 pm

        Agree, major league pitchers are going to play with that swing like it’s whiffle ball in the back yard. I would. Polanco’s one of the few who has been willing to walk off the island — as Tim says, so the adjustment to the bigs will be interesting to watch.

        • If this was true, then why haven’t pitchers already done this? Polanco only struck out 12.6% of the time in Double-A last year. He only struck out 17.5% of the time in the Dominican, which has Triple-A and current/ex-MLB pitchers. The MLB average last year was 19.9%.

          I don’t share the same concerns about his swing.

          • JimBibbySweat
            January 7, 2014 12:36 pm

            Pirates Prospects is on record as saying Polanco features an “overall package that could allow him to be as good or better than Andrew McCutchen.” My comment is a pure reaction to his cage swing. I understand Polanco’s promise, saw his first spring training hit in Sarasota. We all have opinions. Some thought Starling Marte shouldn’t have been promoted to the majors in the middle of 2012.

  • Maybe it’s just me, but watching the videos above of Polanco and McCutchen taking BP, it looks like Polanco has a more compact and slightly smoother swing.

  • Seems like he has it all but I will feel a lot better when he consistently hits AAA pitching . At this point he has not been exposed to that level so I am playing the guy from Missouri ( he needs to show me ) .

    • He did get some exposure in the Dominican Winter League, which is the equivalent to Triple-A. But that is one thing he needs to work on, along with polishing up his routes and getting used to playing a corner spot in the outfield.