With the media and fan attention that has been thrown at Gregory Polanco, almost everything has been said about the super prospect. With this kind of attention comes Major League pressure. The pressure and the attention allow some people to forget that Polanco is only 22. In fact, he has had only five at bats this season against pitchers who are younger than him.
The numbers don’t lie for Polanco, with an OPS of 1.015 through 36 games with Triple-A Indianapolis. In addition, he has only struck out 29 times in 144 at bats. He also boasts an on base percentage of .425. The impressive statistical list goes on, but there is one thing that the organization would like to see Polanco do to help the preparation for the big leagues – fail some.
Prior to going 2-for-4 with a home run and a double on Monday, Polanco was mired in a mini slump. He had three out of four games where he went hitless. He was 1-for-16 with three walks over the span. How Polanco responds to this adversity is something that the Pirates brass is quite mindful of, as dry stretches are a guarantee at the big league level. For Polanco himself, he is aware that slumps and cold spells will come.
“Baseball is hard,” Polanco said. “Hitting is very hard and nobody is perfect. I know that I am going to get a game with no hits. (I have to) keep playing and keep working hard, no matter what.”
To avoid slumps like this, Polanco has been working on eliminating holes from his game. One aspect that he is working on at the plate is keeping back on the off speed pitches against tough lefties.
“(With) the left-handed pitching, trying to stay a little bit more back to let the ball carry deep,” Polanco said. “(I am trying) to hit a little bit more to the opposite field.”
With this in mind, one of Polanco’s toughest games of the season came on April 19 against crafty southpaw Jeff Francis. In that game, Polanco went 0-for-3 against Francis with two strikeouts and a weakly hit groundout to first. For Polanco, it is about improving and getting better every day and every plate appearance, regardless of who it is against.
“I’m working on the off speed, like change ups and curve balls,” Polanco said. “It’s hard right now, but I am working every day to get better.”
Polanco is also working hard on his defensive game in Indianapolis. Comfort going back on balls and locating the warning track are two aspects that Polanco listed as focuses.
One American League scout, who saw Mike Trout in the minor leagues as well, provided an assessment about the comparison to Polanco.
“I think that Mike Trout was better,” the scout said. “He had off the chart speed and his defense was just off the chart as well.”
Though the scout viewed Trout as slightly more polished at this point in their careers, he said that Polanco “has got a chance to be a star.” The scout pointed to a triple that Polanco had in Saturday night’s game against Kevin Gausman, a top prospect in the Baltimore system.
“On that triple, he just has another gear from first to third,” the scout said. “He’s a big, strong physical kid who can run.”
In addition, another aspect of the game that Polanco possesses stands out – power. The scout said that the power production in the big leagues is what will make Polanco a star. He said that he has all of the other tools necessary for his designation. Of Polanco’s 52 hits, 19 have been for extra bases this season.
Though Polanco will likely go through an adjustment period in Pittsburgh, the question will be how quickly his talent catches up to the talent around him.
“Right now, he is just more talented than players around here,” the scout said. “He will see much better pitching. He is still so young even for this league. There will be adjustments like how he will handle left on left.”
Eyes on Pittsburgh
With the Major Leagues so close, Polanco is visibly ready for the call. The information that leaked about him declining the seven-year deal last week just fueled that anticipation.
“I know that it is difficult, but I have to wait until the time comes,” Polanco said. “I have to play every day hard and wait for it.”
When it comes to all of the ‘Free Polanco’ campaigns, Polanco is extremely happy with the fan support and is just eager to show them what they have been waiting for in Pittsburgh.
“I know that a lot of people support me every day,” Polanco said. “Just let it happen.”
In another month, there will be no more ‘Free Polanco’ campaign or speculation about his Major League debut; this day will become reality. Where everyone has their opinion about what the future holds for Polanco, I can say that he is one of the most talented Triple-A prospects I have ever seen. He is so graceful with every movement and every swing. One thing is for sure, Polanco is going to special, and we will be able to sit back and enjoy come mid-June.
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.