The decision of when to promote Gregory Polanco has been a hot button issue lately, especially with the Pittsburgh Pirates struggling to score runs on a consistent basis in the majors. Neal Huntington spoke to Rob Biertempfel of the Trib about when Polanco might be up, noting that Super Two “is not a driving factor”. He also added the following.
“He’s continuing to refine some of the intricacies of his game,” Huntington said. “Somebody asked the other day for a detailed list of what he’s working on. When Andrew (McCutchen) was coming up, I gave a detailed list as to what he was working on, then watched major league teams attack those weaknesses I’d identified in spring training. So, I’m not going to give you a detailed script that opposing teams can attack when Gregory gets here.”
After Polanco picked up two more hits tonight, Ben Badler of Baseball America had a great quote in response to Huntington’s comments.
Two more hits for Gregory Polanco, who's hitting over .400 with power. What are the odds his game is "refined" by oh, say, mid-June?
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) April 29, 2014
This is pretty much an annual quote for Badler, as I’ve seen him make similar comments in the past. The reason he’s made similar comments is because this situation comes up every year. A team has a top prospect who is performing in the minors. The team has a need for that prospect in the majors. However, that prospect projects to be an impact player, and someone who would be costly for Super Two purposes. So the General Manager talks about things that a player needs to work on, as reason for that player to remain in the minors. Then, magically, the player is ready to go right after the Super Two deadline passes.
General Managers won’t just come out and say “we’re keeping Player A down for Super Two purposes” because they can’t. If you say that directly, then the player has grounds to file a suit, claiming that the only reason he is being held down is for financial reasons. A similar situation led to George Springer getting promoted early by the Houston Astros. The Astros offered Springer a seven-year MLB deal, then sent him to the minors after he declined. Springer argued that the reason he was sent down was because he declined the deal. I don’t believe Springer ever filed anything official, but the Astros called him up, and interestingly enough, he was called up a week before the Astros could get an extra year of service time out of him.
For the most part, teams go by the normal playbook with top prospects. They take the same approach Huntington took, only speaking about things a player needs to work on. That’s not to say that these players don’t have things to work on. Gregory Polanco has some things to work on. He needs some more time getting re-acclimated in right field, and he could use some polishing on his base running, as he has been picked off three times this month. But if today was in the middle of June, Polanco would be in the majors, even with those issues.
You don’t want to call up Polanco, or any player, based on one or two good weeks. I pointed that out early in the season, noting that you’d have to see his amazing performance in a larger sample size to show that the performance is legit. We are now at the end of April, and Polanco is hitting for a .400/.457/.632 line in 95 at-bats. That still comes with the small sample size disclaimer, but it’s a large enough sample to say that he doesn’t have any major issues in Triple-A.
So does this mean Polanco should be in the majors right now? In a perfect world, where every team could operate the same way and not have to worry about payroll, it would mean Polanco would probably be in the majors. If the Pirates were a large market team like the Dodgers, Red Sox, or Yankees, Polanco would probably be up right now.
But the Pirates are a small market team, and they’re going to keep Polanco down until that Super Two date arrives. They’ll do that for the same reason that other small market teams have taken this approach in the past, and that’s because the long-term costs don’t justify the short-term benefits. In the process, they’ll talk about what Polanco has to work on, which justifies keeping him in the minors past the Super Two deadline. Polanco might have legitimate things to work on, but none that will keep him down beyond the first or second week of June.
Like it or not, that’s the system. It’s also something Pirates fans need to get used to, since they have a farm system where top prospects are lined up to join the team every year at mid-season for the next several years. Thus, we’re going to see this process play out in the future with guys like Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow, Alen Hanson, Stetson Allie, Josh Bell, Austin Meadows, Reese McGuire, and so on.
But it’s not like we haven’t seen the same situation in the past with Gerrit Cole, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, and Andrew McCutchen. In most of those cases, especially Marte and Cole, there were arguments to bring up the guys before the Super Two deadline, just like now with Polanco. Likewise, there will be arguments in the future to bring up guys early. If the Pirates took this approach with every player, and brought him up early every time the fans grew impatient, then they’d be paying enough extra money to fund an Evan Longoria-style second extension for Andrew McCutchen.
So you can see why teams routinely hold back top prospects for Super Two purposes, and why they can’t just come out and say that. See you in six weeks, Gregory Polanco.
Links and Notes
**Prospect Watch: Andrew Lambo is a Doubles Hitting Machine
**The Pirates Are No Longer Projected as Playoff Contenders
**Top Performers: Pirates Hitters Cutting Down on Strikeouts in the Minors
**Top Performers: Sadler, Sampson, and Glasnow Off to Good Starts
**Prospect Highlights: Homer From Gift Ngoepe, Hits From Polanco and Lambo
**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Tries Again For Fifth Start
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
If Super Two is part of the CBA agreement then teams can’t be sued for “financial” reasons when it is a players agreement. Collusion is about the only thing that MLB can be accused of under the guise of causing financial harm.
So if the Pirates are 15 games out by the All Stat break we need to roll Polanco over to 2015 – during which time we will need to get him to learn to hit right handed or some such thing – winning is NOT what matters – years of control is EVERYTHING
Not exactly Lonely. Deferring a possible win today for establishing a greater chance of winning tomorrow and the next three days after that is the thing.
It’s simple, they won’t admit the real reason they’re waiting for Super 2 because it’ll make Nutting look cheap. Which, right now, he is. It’s inexcusable, disgraceful, and disheartening to keep Polanco in AAA another day. But, for this organization, pinching pennies 6 years down the road > winning now.
That’s not the reason Marty. They can NOT say that out loud, or the organization could be sued.
I’m pretty sure the article gives an excellent reason to not tell that they’re just trying to save money. I believe that they can have legal action brought against them for that reasoning. And being a small market team is neither inexcusable or disgraceful, they actually have real fiscal reasons to not call up a great prospect into Super 2 status.
By not admitting to the fact they’re keep him down there 100% due to monetary reasons, no matter how obvious it is, they dodge any legal issues. Being a small market team is not inexcusable or disgraceful, you are correct. Not fielding the best 25 man roster possible to avoid paying a guy extra money 6 years from now, or because you’re currently paying a guy $8.5 million (Wandy when he’s back in a week or so) no matter how bad they are, is inexcusable and disgraceful.
We’re talking about 3 years from now not 6. And it’s not a one time thing, it’s an extra year of arbitration on top of the 3 years there now. That means an extra couple million every year for 4 years, imagine if he starts hitting like Mike Trout, the arbitrator will make it nearly impossible to keep him. That’s why you ignore this “best 25” BS because it handicaps the team financially. If you can wait another 5 weeks, you can have the best 25 at a much more reasonable price for a longer period of time
There is zero reason the Pirates can’t have a payroll of $100 million, The Milwaukee Brewers do in a market no bigger than Pittsburgh. Up the payroll, and you can afford it. Or lock him up long term to a Cutch/Marte type contract, even be like the great and almighty never-do-wrong Tampa Bay Rays and take the Evan Longoria route. Yes, it’s a risk. But sometimes you need to take risks to win. We don’t have an owner willing to do that. I used to be a Nutting supporter and never been one of the “Nutting is cheap!” people, but the last 6 months, capped off by this Polanco debacle, is really making me question that.
How can something be a debacle when we have no idea if Polanco will even come up and hit in 2014? This time in AAA may actually be necessary and make him a better player in the long run. There’s certainly a much better chance of that than Polanco single-handedly turning the team around. And when do the Brewers purposely give a top prospect Super 2 status?
The Pirates operate on a budget just like every other team/business. If by “pennies” you mean “millions of dollars,” then sure the Pirates are pinching pennies, because millions of dollars is a significant portion of the budget and shouldn’t be squandered for an insignificant return. The fact that the Pirates budget is lower than (many) other teams, has less to do with Nutting and his personal check book, than it does current and future revenue streams. Very few teams are bankrolled by the personal fortunes of their owners, so the constant harping on this point is largely silly. Furthermore, Huntington’s comments have nothing to do with Nutting’s perception. It is a legal/labor issue; if he said “We’re keeping him down to save money,” then the Pirate’s would be taken to court and they would lose the case (and the money they were attempting to save anyway).
CtE: Agree 100%, and we are a small market team trying to compete in a large market-oriented league. Pinching pennies is always used to describe the actions of the GM or Owner, but I never hear complaints about having to pay comparatively less for a good seat to a game. And, the last thing I want to see happen is for our whole fan nation to think that the Pirate success in 2014 is directly linked to the contribution of our 22 year old Rookie. Our play in RF did not get us to this point and if our pitching and hitting does not improve quickly, Gregory Polanco is not going to be enough to bail this team out. We need to let the kid come in without all of the pressure of unreasonable expectations.
“Pinching pennies” is a bit of an understatement. There’s a possible $10-15 million difference for two months of service time. That’s 2-3 wins worth the change in two months. Cutch probably isn’t going to reach 2 wins in two months and you expect him to be worth that? He’s still 1/9th of the lineup and another guy to pitch around so you can face Marte, Mercer, Sanchez (2), Pedro (when he’s not on a hot streak), Walker, Davis, Barmes, etc.
Again… small sample size noted, and this probably goes without saying for a guy hitting .400, but his splits are exceptional across the board. Needs work against lefties? Hitting .405 against them. Yes, he has struck out more against them, but also has 8 of his 9 walks against lefties. Needs to work on approach with two strikes our behind in the count? Hitting .357 when behind in the count. Needs to work on his approach in key situations? Hitting .488 with runners on base and .519 with RISP!
With all that said, I do trust what the front office knows what they are doing. Just look forward to the day that he does arrive! I realize he is only one player, but I do also trust that he could be helping this team right now. Defensively, with his bat, and even with his speed, if it’s a matter of beating out an infield grounder that extends an inning and a pitch count.
If you honestly think he’s in AAA for any reason other than money, you’re delusional.
Tim, you sad in the article that the Astros called up Springer a week before they got an extra year of service time out of him. They actually called him up after that got that extra (7th) year of service time. Springer can only accumulate 156 days of service time this year, so they get that 7th year. Springer was not on the 40 man roster so his time in the minors will not count towards MLB service time even though he was down for less than 20 days, because he was not actually optioned.
I can see doing this in past, Cole was the only one who joined a team that was in contention and he wasn’t exactly dominating in AAA. I think the situation is different with Polanco, the major league team is struggling, he is dominating. Sometimes you need to make exceptions to the rule. While there is no guarantee (actually probably unlikely) that his promotion would help the team turn it around I think you need to take the risk. Also, if he struggles he can always be sent down again. I know times have changed and teams don’t like to send prospects back unless they totally tank, but if they are that concerned about service time then do it.
If the team is still floundering after Super 2 deadline then just keep in minors for most of year (to really be well polished) and bring him next year (of course wait until there is another year of control).
News flash, the economic system employed by MLB sucks! Unfortunately for Pirates, Polanco and us fans, we have no choice but to be patient and hope the Pirates start to play like they did last year before it’s too late. But even if this season gets away before Polanco comes up, there’s no denying the future is very bright for this organization with the glut of talent in the minor league pipeline.
The economic system in baseball has issues, sure. However, it is the best economic, logical system in any major sport.
Frank, it’s an apples vs oranges argument. No two sports are alike. But I was referencing the economic system of baseball itself. The disparity of income from one franchise to another in revenue, combined with the limited number of playoff teams, makes it difficult on many franchises to compete for a WS title.
In addition, the DH rule in the AL makes it unfair for NL teams to keep their best hitters in their 30’s. Pujols, Fielder and McCann are just a few notable examples.
Now with that being said, a franchises ability to scout well, draft well and develop talent well does allow them to overcome much of the economic disparity in the sport.
If baseball truly wanted to level the playing field without changing the economics of the game, they could always align divisions by market size rather than geography and force the NL to adopt the DH rule.
I’m not holding my breath for it to happen.
Adding the DH to the NL is a necessity. It’s crazy that we continue to have this disparity 17 years into interleague play, and it is in no small part a contributor to the superior interleague record the AL has vs, the NL (the AL has held the edge for 10 seasons running).
Why can’t it be a necessity to remove the DH from the AL?
Because the MLBPA will not sign any agreement that takes away high salary jobs for guys like Ortiz, Butler, Dunn, Hart, Soriano, Victor Martinez and Raul Ibanez – and the next crop of bat-only or bat-first players coming up behind them. The DH is here to stay. Not to mention the DH is used nearly everywhere except the NL and the Japanese Central League. Every minor league uses it, colleges use it, Latin American leagues use it. Not having it puts the NL at a disadvantage.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t a necessity. And do you think the MLBPA will allow the NL to inherit the DH? A traditional game will always respect tradition, so your new argument works both ways. And I don’t think every minor league uses it.
Every affiliated minor league uses the DH, that’s a fact that you can very easily look up and verify.
Why wouldn’t the MLBPA “allow” the NL to adopt the DH? The DH prolongs careers, allowing players to earn more money.
The reason I’m saying it’s a necessity for the NL to change because while the NL clings to “tradition,” the AL is winning more games. The AL has no incentive to change, and the Players Association has no incentive to give up 15 high-paying jobs. So in the real world, the onus for change is on the NL to adopt the DH.
The DH does not use the DH exclusively ? In the MiLB , the National League affiliates when playing each other do NOT use a DH ,their pitchers bat for themselves.
1) Read carefully. I never said “exclusively,” I said every minor league uses the DH, which is not debatable.
2) That 1/4 of games in AA or AAA are played without a DH is a carve-out that only exists because the parent club plays baseball differently than just about every other professional or college league on the planet. In every league below AA, NL or AL, pitchers generally don’t bat. If – actually, if you believe Theo Epstein and Doug Melvin, WHEN – the NL adopts the DH, these leagues will join the rest of organized professional baseball (except the Japan Central League!) in having the DH available for all games.
A pitcher goes to high school, where they use the DH. Goes to college, where they use the DH. He’s drafted and spends the rest of the year in short season A and low A, where they use the DH. He starts the next season in high A, where they use the DH. Goes to the AFL, where they use the DH. Finally he’s promoted to AA and asked to hit for himself, something he might not have done in 8 years. Not in every game, though – just the ones against NL affiliates. This makes no sense to me – it’s not like the extra 40 AB are going to make a difference when he’s facing Kershaw or Cueto.
You don’t have to get defensive. I was just pointing out a fact in case some folks weren’t sure. I never quoted you to say you were wrong. Lighten up.
Sorry leo. Between a 10-16 start and the drawn out dialog with moose, you caught me at a bad time. Nothing personal.
That’s ok S,I feel your pain. I sure was hoping for a better start to the season also.
And yet yesterday vs Syracuse, Indianapolis did not employ a DH, which is also an easily looked up fact. I know the rules, if 2 NL minor league affiliates are playing each other in AA or AAA, then no DH is used. So that’s only half a point toward your DH argument.
MLBPA was a typo, I meant the league itself.
The AL may win more games, but they aren’t winning the more important games. 4 out of the last 6 years has seen the title go to the NL.
Assuming you’re a Pirates fan, why would you want the DH. Like you said, they’re high paying jobs. The Pirates don’t even spend money on the low paying jobs. The DH helps them.
I can think of plenty of reasons why you might want a DH in the NL as a Pirates fan. Pirate hitters last year were historically bad at the plate, and have been last or next to last in the NL every year since 2009, and haven’t been average or above since 2004. Andrew Lambo is hitting at AAA but is blocked because he won’t be able to crack 1B or RF. With a DH the Pirates could give him that legitimate shot at becoming an impact player. For that matter, just think of all the talent coming up: Allie, Bell, Ramirez, Jones, Meadows. The Pirates don’t have to use the DH to employ a 35 year-old slugger, they could just as easily use it to get an extra impact bat into the lineup.
I meant Pirate PITCHERS were bad at the plate.
Rookies are rarely “impact bats”. I agree that some players in the system are better fits for that position. But young prospects do not always translate into good hitters, so just like any other position it’ll be hit and miss, and the Pirates will try to employ more mediocre talent to fit that hole until someone hits, just like Ishikawa, Gaby Sanchez, Ike Davis, Barmes, Tabata, etc. We know they wont look for a decent FA, so the DH wont help until a prospect excels in the role. And all the while, teams like the Reds and Cardinals WILL fill those holes, making their lineups that much better than ours. The DH doesn’t help this team, other teams pitchers hitting does help us
OK man, you win.
“However, it is the best economic, logical system in any major sport.”
Really?! I would love to hear your arguments in support of this limb you just climbed out on
Makes sense. And I think they’re probably doing the right thing. But the question is, will the team be so far out of contention by June that even if Polanco comes in and does gangbusters, that it is too late for 2014? I think this is a likely scenario. I disagree that Polanco will not make a significant improvement in the lineup and defensively in RF.
I think in the end, however, it’s worth punting on the 2014 season if that’s what ends up happening, in order for the long term potential of the franchise to be realized. I think, however, that the decision is closer than you realize Tim.
Even at his best, Polanco only gets to swing a bat once the other 8 guys ahead of him get a chance. So by the nature of the game, his chances of significantly improving the lineup are limited. We see it now with McCutchen, he is one player that is playing exceptionally well, has the bleeding looked like it’s come close to stopping? How much of a difference has he made? They still look pretty bad at the plate to me. One rookie probably wont fix it, not unless another 2 or 3 guys start hitting once he comes up. But if another 2 or 3 guys start hitting, calling up Polanco early wouldn’t be necessary in order to “save the season”. The team would inherently be playing better
You are correct, however, one player performing well can impact the entire lineup in a way that is more than just his 1/8th performance.
If Polanco is performing well at the #2 slot, that helps get men on base for Cutch so that he is not so often batting with nobody on. It allows Clint to leave Walker in the #5 slot of the lineup, giving Pedro some protection and consistent hitting if/when he fans with men on base. It allows Martin, when he comes back, to hit lower in the lineup, avoiding an easy 7-8-9 every two or three innings. It moves Tabata and/or Snider back to the bench where they belong, and have a chance to contribute in a meaningful way.
His defense is much, much better than Snider or Tabata, and he can impact games in that way as well.
Of course there’s the chance/likelyhood that as a rookie he will struggle at some point. But even so, I feel he’s so much better than what we got (by design) that he’s going to make a big difference, whenever he gets here.
By my count, it normally takes around three hits to score a run. Assuming Polanco comes up and hits well, his addition will still be minimal because of that third person and also because even HOFers still fail 70% of the time. Walker may be that third guy but he’s also hitting .235, so I don’t see the consistent hitting part coming from him, so there’s no true protection for Pedro, especially vs LHP. Overall, we’re looking at the lineup going from about 1-2 runs to about 1-3. It’s still hard to believe he’s the solution to everything
If I were Hurdle, I’d look for Polanco to lead off. He’s got a better approach than Marte, and will probably get on base more even in his rookie season. Then give Marte or Walker the protection of batting in front of Cutch, and once Pedro gets hot, then most of the other problems go away.
I think you’re undervaluing what Snider/Tabata have brought. They haven’t been terrible. They haven’t been good either., but Polanco’s impact is only how much better he can perform than Snider/Tabata, who have probably combined to perform about as well as a rookie. Even if he comes up and OPS’s 750 to 800, the overall difference to the teams performance is still marginal because he is just one guy.
I’d love them to lead off Polanco and put Marte between Pedro and Davis, to neutralize the LH reliever. However, that’s a lot of strikeouts in one concentrated part of the lineup. I guess that doesn’t matter so much, but that’d be one downside. In that situation, I guess Walker #2 could work.
I think that Snider and Tabata have been bad. The biggest area I think we’ll see a radical improvement is in defense. We’re used to mediocrity defensively in RF for years, that’s traditionally been where the Bucs hide their worst defensive OF.
I think Polanco’s a .300 hitter from the get go. One thing this team sorely lacks other than Cutch is batting average. The saber guys will argue that’s not important, but I think it is. Low average/high slugging/lots of walks leads to the feast or famine approach we’ve seen so far this season. Me no likey.
gwibicster, what you think Polanco will hit flys in the face of what really happens when most rookies arrive in MLB. Even Mike Trout and Bryce Harper struggled along for 40 or more games after their promotions until they figured it out. How much help would that be if the Pirates are still struggling as they are now ? Worth $ 10 to $ 20 mil in future arb costs if he then does develops as expected ?
If that struggling is going to happen, it will happen whether he is promoted now or later. Trout and Harper don’t have Polanco’s speed which will surely contribute to his batting average being decent even if his power isn’t immediately recognized. And your 10-20 million figure is exaggerated, it’s probably more like 5-10.
I said last Fall that 2014 doesn’t matter, that the Pirates need to grow as a team to really contend for a Title. They’ll bounce back this year, but will likely fall short, motivating them greatly for a breakout in 2015 if they can develop the necessary pitching. My new 2H2015 lineup based on today’s OBP production for RHP:
1: SS Gift Ngoepe (S)
2: 1B Andrew Lambo (L)
3: RF Gregory Polanco (L)
4: CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
5: 2B Neil Walker (S)
6: LF Starling Marte (R)
7: 3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
8: C Tony Sanchez (R)
For LHP Walker and Marte switch as well.
What makes you think Gift will be ready by next year? And you have them getting rid of Ike? Why would they hit Lambo second?
2H2015 is the earliest Gift will be ready if they call him up to AAA in June. Given his history I expect that he’d hit .600+ OPS in June/July/August of 2014 then .800+ OPS in April/May/June of 2015 to merit a call up after the All Star break of 2015.
No disrespect to Ike, but he is too much like Pedro, too many swings and misses. If you are going to play Ike at 1B then you need a player with a higher OBP at third base or the bases are too empty. I thought the Pirates were headed in the direction of a higher OBP first baseman when they were recruiting Loney, and then brought McGuiness in. That would have been more in line with the team need for a higher OBP. If you are willing t ignore the small sample size and look at what Lambo is doing at Indy right now you see a high OBP first baseman, like a Joey Votto.
Joey Votto’s helping the Reds out of the 2Hole this year isn’t he? When I look at Lambo I see the distant possibility of a Joey Votto like first baseman. That is why I have him at first base, batting second.
You’re comparing Lambo to Joey Votto?
I’ll say this, you have a heckuva imagination…
The K’s are a big reason I’d put Marte in the 2 hole, as that may be a good place to hide him. I know he seems to be swinging with his eyes closed lately, but having Cutch behind him will certainly require a few more hittable pitches to be thrown his way. And maybe that is all it’ll take to get him back on track. If that can’t help him, I’d consider sending him to Indy.
Snider and Tabata have not been the biggest problems in the lineup. 1B, SS, LF, and 3B have all had more offensive issues according to some metrics. Defensively speaking, PNC doesn’t need magnificent defense in RF, not with 2 outstanding defenders in LF and CF to help cover the ground and the short porch. I don’t know the numbers, but I don’t think the defense is a terrible issue with RF.
That’s one hell of an expectation after less than 100 ABs in AAA. I hope you’re right, but I don’t know if that’ll happen from the get-go.
Agreed about the problems at the other positions but there are no immediate solutions in the organization available there.
“But the question is, will the team be so far out of contention by June that even if Polanco comes in and does gangbusters, that it is too late for 2014?”
I see this question a lot. And my answer is that, if that is a likely scenario, then it’s going to happen with or without Polanco.
The only way the team is out of it when Polanco arrives is if they keep playing like this. They’re playing this way in large part because a lot of their expected top performers (Alvarez, Marte, Liriano, Morton, Grilli, Mercer) are slumping. If you believe that will continue, then there’s nothing Polanco can do to stop this.
I disagree vehemently. If, as most of us seem to agree, Polanco is the obvious choice for the two hole, his impact has potential to be huge. If Polanco does well, it would dramatically change how opposing pitchers attack the top of the lineup.
In fact, given the current state of the Pirates coupled with sabremetrics analysis showing that Cutch should bat 2nd, that a 1-2 of Polanco/Cutch would instantly improve offense – and winning %.
Tim….The Pirates team BABIP, last I checked, is about 30-40 points below the norm. We SHOULD start hitting……I hope!