With the vast wealth of prospects in the Pirates system, there may not be a more exciting opportunity than right now in Indianapolis.
I can say that Gregory Polanco may be the best prospect that I have ever seen. That is saying a ton because I have been watching minor league baseball since before I can remember. He is off to a start that has to rival any prospect in their first couple of weeks in Triple-A, making the decision to keep him down an even more difficult one. I am not even sure if five-tool player is enough to describe Polanco, as he adds a maturity beyond his years to his game. His frame and speed remind me of Starling Marte at the same level. However, the power numbers remind me of Andrew McCutchen.
Combining the three will make for one of the most exciting outfields in baseball for years to come. With McCutchen and Marte locked up long-term, it makes the painful decision to leave Polanco in Triple-A until June that much more necessary. With the speed of the trio, I don’t think that it is possible to have an outfield with more range, while still being able to put up the incredible offensive numbers that they will produce for years to come.
In addition, all three of the players are home-grown, which is almost unheard of these days. The ‘develop from within’ model, which Pittsburgh continues to stick to, has the Pirates set up offensively as contenders for years to come.
Then there is Andrew Lambo, who was given every chance to take an opening day spot out of Spring Training. However, after a rough spring and a frosty start, Lambo lost out on this opportunity and worried many Pirates fans. While it took a few games, Lambo has turned it on. Coming into Tuesday, in their past seven games, both Lambo and Polanco have an even .500 average each.
Though Lambo hit 33 long balls last year, he does not appear to always be a home run threat. However, he does possess the skill set to drive the ball to any field, while hitting enough gaps to be a doubles machine.
While the home run numbers may lack, the Pirates have a lineup that makes it possible to play Lambo at a traditional power position. They get big power numbers from a position that does not typically produce them in a lineup – center field with McCutchen. Also, the scary home run numbers that Pedro Alvarez is possible of putting up can allow having a first basemen that may only hit 10 to 15 home runs in a season.
The pitching depth at the level is another astounding topic. Many organizations would have suffered an enormous set back when it was announced that Jameson Taillon would require Tommy John surgery. While it was a large blow to the organization, this team still has several starters who could legitimately get an opportunity in Pittsburgh, if not this year, than next.
Brandon Cumpton started that season with two quality starts, though he did run into some trouble in his last outing, allowing three runs in six innings. Cumpton showed last year that he has the stuff that can get major league hitters out. In his two starts and six games total with the Pirates last year, he allowed just five earned runs in 20.1 innings of work. He also stuck out 12 hitters in that span. The only concerning stat was that he allowed over a hit per inning. Despite this, Cumpton could work his way into a possible spot start or two in Pittsburgh this year if needed.
Casey Sadler is off to just as quick of a start. In 13 innings this season, Sadler has allowed just 3 runs on nine hits. Though Sadler did go 11-7, with a 3.31 ERA at Altoona last season, his K/9 dropped steadily and ended at 4.6. He also got a start at Indianapolis at the end of the season. In 2012, his K/9 number was at 6.4 in Bradenton, as he worked his way into the rotation there. Sadler could be an option to provide depth for the Pirates as the season goes along if he continues the strong start.
Phil Irwin is looking to recover from an ulnar nerve transposition surgery on his elbow in July of 2013, but had worked his way to Pittsburgh prior to that. Irwin, who is known for his curveball, is off to a rough start this season. This includes a 1.1 inning outing where he allowed seven earned runs and walked three on Saturday. However, Irwin only threw three innings in the spring and is still working back into shape and creates an interesting option if he works back into form.
Then there is the enigma that is Jeff Locke. Locke went from being an all-star to left off the playoff roster last season. The difference in his numbers in the first half of last season and the second half are staggering. If Locke can get back to form, he also provides a nice option for the Pirates, especially as a southpaw.
All in all, this is a great season to begin my writing career for Pirates Prospects, a role that I cannot explain how excited that I am for. I have honestly waited my entire life for this and am completely living a dream right now. I will be providing insight from Indianapolis all season. For more in-depth coverage, please follow me on Twitter @RyanPalencer. I will answer questions that I receive and am always open for ideas that would be interesting for stories.
Links and Notes
Ryan has been following Indianapolis baseball for most of his life, and the Pirates since they became the affiliate in 2005. He began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2013, in a stint that ran through 2016 (with no service time manipulation played in). Ryan rejoined the team in 2022, covering Indianapolis once again. He has covered the Pirates in four different big league stadiums. Ryan was also fortunate enough to cover the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati.