The Pittsburgh Pirates made several roster moves today, with the biggest one being the swap of Gregory Polanco for Jose Tabata. The decision to send Polanco down is only short-term, as he will be returning in about a week when the minor league season is over. Until then, you can expect Travis Snider to get most of the playing time in right field. I had some thoughts on the series of moves, presented below in no formal order.
**First, I want to go back to the Super 2 debates that surrounded Polanco the first two months of the season. From the first week of the season, there were calls to bring Polanco up. It was desperation, with Polanco starting off hot in Triple-A, and the Pirates’ offense struggling. As we see now, the offense isn’t the problem, and that’s with Polanco barely providing any production over the last two months. That said, it looked like Polanco was legitimately ready to come up throughout the month of May, with the only thing keeping him down being the Super 2 issue. He eventually came up on June 10th, and looked like he was here to stay, with hits in his first 11 games.
Prior to his call-up, the Pirates had repeatedly talked about how Polanco had things to work on. This was scoffed at, and dismissed. It was to the point where you couldn’t even suggest Polanco had things to work on, even if you followed it with “but he can work on those in the majors” and noted that the only thing keeping him down was Super 2. Looking back in hindsight, the “Polanco has stuff to work on” line might have been true. After that first 11 game hitting streak, Polanco combined for a .603 OPS in his next 52 games, spanning 222 plate appearances. Whatever was working for him in the first two weeks was not working for him after that. Maybe the league adjusted and found the flaw. Maybe his swing is off and needs correcting in Triple-A. Maybe it’s like Clint Hurdle said over the weekend, that he is just tired from playing non-stop for the last two years, including winter ball.
Whatever the case, I’m hoping the people who were screaming about Super 2 will remember a few things the next time the discussion comes up.
1. When it comes to April results, relax. In April the Pirates weren’t contenders, and they had a horrible offense. Now they’re contenders, and have one of the best offenses in the majors. A lot of the calls for Polanco were due to the April results, especially since Josh Harrison was doing just fine in right field in May.
2. If the Pirates say a prospect has stuff to work on, it might be true. It might not be true. But don’t let stats alone make that decision.
3. No matter how talented a prospect is, and no matter how good he might be in the future, the odds that he’ll struggle right away are still pretty high. I think Polanco is going to be an impact player. That didn’t change because he struggled initially. Super 2 was about the long-term results from Polanco. The people arguing for Super 2 were focused on the short-term results. Polanco could be an impact player in the future, and that’s what will cost a lot of money. But right now he’s not an impact player, which is a concept that people seem to miss on prospects. Talking about a player’s future upside doesn’t mean they’ve reached that upside right now.
**Moving away from the Super 2 discussion, and focusing on Polanco’s replacement…Travis Snider definitely deserves the starting role. I’m saying this as a person who said Snider should have been non-tendered over the off-season. I could focus on the “sign him to a minor league deal and use him as depth” line from that article to try and save face, but I really don’t think that would have happened. Scouts I’ve talked to during the last two Spring Trainings love Snider. I never saw it, and the numbers didn’t show it, but he’s still highly regarded. Obviously the Pirates are in that camp.
The off-season wasn’t the only time I was writing off Snider. It happened on June 3rd as well, when I suggested trading him for bonus pool money. I don’t think I was alone in writing him off along the way. Since June 6th, Snider has combined for a .326/.373/.553 line in 142 plate appearances. His OPS on the season ranks 6th on the team, ahead of Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, and Polanco. His .951 OPS in 101 plate appearances over the second half ranks third, falling behind Starling Marte (1.082 in 87 PA) and Chris Stewart (.983! in 30 PA). Snider isn’t just leading the Pirates. He ranks 7th in OPS of 193 players in the majors in the 2nd half with 100+ plate appearances. And if you need proof that this might be legit, look at the second half hard hit leaders, and see where Snider ranks on the list.
The MLB hard-hit rate leaderboard since All-Star Break includes Ackley, Gregorius, Vargas, Snider & more pic.twitter.com/LO2jods4q5
— Mark Simon (@MarkASimonSays) August 25, 2014
You’ve got to give the Pirates credit here. Snider might finally be living up to the scouting reports. He might be the next Brandon Moss, only in a situation where the Pirates keep him around this time. I was one of many people who wouldn’t have been upset if Snider was released, and I would have been wrong. It’s not just Snider. The Pirates also held onto Josh Harrison, and they’re seeing similar results (although I didn’t have the same calls against Harrison, but also didn’t see him as more than a utility player).
As for Polanco and Snider, right now Snider is producing and Polanco isn’t. The Pirates are in a pennant race. They need to go with the hot hand, and can’t wait on Polanco to turn things around when Snider has been playing so well for so long. It’s the same as the situation at third base with Harrison and Pedro Alvarez. The added bonus here is that they get a little bit longer to see if Snider really is legit.
**Quick note on Polanco and being eligible for the playoffs: Clint Hurdle said tonight that he would be eligible, although it’s my understanding that he will need to be on the active roster on August 31st for that to happen. And he won’t be on the active roster on August 31st. That said, he’d be eligible and could be added to the roster if there is an injury.
**Finally, there was the decision to call up Jose Tabata. I really have no issue with the move, since we’re talking about a bench bat. However, this does bring up Andrew Lambo (who homered tonight for the fifth time in his last five games). You’ve got to wonder what Lambo has to do to get a real shot with the Pirates. He might not see his numbers carry over to the majors. But we already know what Tabata brings to the table. We don’t know how Lambo’s success the last two years with Indianapolis will translate over in the majors. It’s possible he could be another big surprise. It’s also possible he could just be a bust. I think he’ll get a call-up next week when rosters expand, but I don’t anticipate him getting much playing time.
Links and Notes
**The 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store. The paperback version has dropped to $14.99 plus shipping. We currently only have one case of books remaining, and the offer is only valid while the books are in stock. There is also an eBook version available for $9.99. The 2013 Prospect Guide is on clearance for $1.
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.