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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

First Pitch: Thoughts on Polanco’s Demotion, Snider’s Breakout, and More

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.

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.

**2014 40-Man Payroll Projection

**Pittsburgh Pirates Future Payroll

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.

**Prospect Watch: Lambo Homers Again; The Chase Simpson Marathon

**Alen Hanson Placed on the Altoona DL

**Clint Barmes Activated From the DL, Jayson Nix DFAd, Polanco and Tabata Official

**Pirates Expected to Recall Jose Tabata

**Gregory Polanco Sent to AAA

**Morning Report: Checking the Progress of the 2012 DSL Top Ten Prospect List

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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.


Pirates Prospects has been independently owned and operated since 2009, entirely due to the support of our readers. The site is now completely free, funded entirely by user support. By supporting the site, you are supporting independent writers, one of the best Pittsburgh Pirates communities online, and our mission for the most complete Pirates coverage available.

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This is a point that has beaten to death but I think Polanco is incredible and even in his struggles I like his approach. I agree that he may be gassed and I hope he takes the winter off. I remember training hard for almost a year at 18 because I wanted to be a really good distance runner. Everything started great and by midseason I was gassed, and I didn’t get it back for months. When you are gassed you are gassed and a few days rest might not be enough. Polanco will need to get stronger in the offseason and it will come from experience and learning what works for him. I am a nobody…I can only imagine how hard it is for an elite athlete when they wear down.


Assuming Snider doesn’t collapse over the last month, one of the more interesting off-season decisions will be how to ensure Snider gets regular playing time. Does he become an option at 1B? Do we make a blockbuster deal involving Marte or Polanco (I can’t and don’t want to see that)? Do we deal Snider (but has he done enough to have any real value on the market?)?

Or maybe the easy answer is that he’s our 4th OF.


No, we don’t trade Polanco or Marte so Snider can play. I think Snider might be able to get a decent return if he keeps hitting the rest of the year. Honestly, I would trade Cutch before Polanco or Marte. He would command a gargantic return and he is the one who can be a FA in 3 years. Not saying I want to trade Cutch at all(I want him to be a Buc for life) just saying Polanco and Marte should be untouchable due to age, control and huge ceilings.

John Lease

Snider is already running on fumes. Some guys are just better off the bench, I feel pretty confident that he’s being overexposed right now.


Things to work on!! Agree with your points, Tim.

The only player that I can recall in the last few years that came up for the Pirates and seemed completely prepared was McCutchen. And even McCutchen wasn’t yet the MVP McCutchen that we see now. But there were people fussing about wanting him earlier at that time, too. But I remember watching him closely during those first couple of months and noticing that he seemed completely prepared for the majors, didn’t have any real slumps that first half-season, and thought that the Pirates must have promoted him at the exact right time.

But, even HE took 4 years before he became the Andrew McCutchen that we know now (was very, very good before then, bordering on great).


-Travis Snider has the 12th longest average fly ball distance in all of baseball this season. The power is real, and it always has been. The difference this year is in how he’s converting the power to production: career best zone contact rate and swinging strike rate. The next step in his maturation will be adding attacking pitches he can lift, as his current 50% ground ball rate does him no good.

-“You’ve got to wonder what Lambo has to do to get a real shot with the Pirates.”

Fine question in the abstract, but a strawman in this context. Even before taking Jose Tabata into consideration, Lambo would be 5th on the outfield depth chart with 31 games to go. Barring a series of injuries, there is absolutely no way Lambo gets a “real shot” even if he was recalled.

This is 2014, not 2010. When you’re able to call up a guy from AAA with league average production over 1600 major league PA’s and no platoon splits for bench help in a playoff run, you do it and be happy. This isn’t the time to wax poetic about what may be.

Aaron Shriver

Bravo! Great post!


IMHO all this makes sense

Palanco is struggling so sending him down is logical in many ways
1) he gets a break
2) it does push his super 2 status
3) It could help the next time the Pirates make a long term contract offer. Since he now knows he is not guaranteed to be a super star

Why bring Lambo up to be the 4th 1st basemen. Especially, when your CF is not 100% healthy, having a better OF to back up the starters this week at PNC park, also makes more sense.


Not necessarily disagreeing with your points Dave, as I think it makes some sense too. But Lambo has played way more OF than 1B in his minor league career and this year has been almost perfectly split between RF, LF 1B and DH (as in he’s played each RF and LF the same amount as 1B, so almost twice as much OF time). There’s no reason he couldn’t fill in as an extra OF (and being the 4th 1B is just a bonus).
I think it’s more of a comfort level with Tabby’s MLB experience vs. Lambo’s (almost) first taste of the bigs. And I’m a big Lambo fan.

Lee Young

Right now, Lambo is stuck in a numbers’ crunch. He has nowhere to play. He might, indeed be a legit HR threat, but who would he replace at this point in time?

Maybe, in the offseason, he gets a path cleared at 1b, but I highly doubt it. It appears to be Pedro’s position now?


I think it’s Pedro’s for now and then Josh Bell’s for the future. I think Lambo will need to get traded to get an opportunity.


I was down at Pirate City for the first time this spring, so I don’t have nearly the amount of experience as Tim in seeing these guys. But I recall posting here in early March that IMO Snider was absolutely stinging the ball compared to pretty much everyone else. The sound of his bat was simply different than everyone else.

Then he pretty much went south in April, so I disqualified myself as a potential scout 🙂


Snider didn’t have too bad of an April. .665 OPS buoyed mostly by 3HR but followed that up with a terrible May so when he started June slowly his numbers were terrible. Really, Snider has only been playing well for 7-8 weeks. But I’ll take it. You just never know. I would have been ok with Snider being released too like Tim said. Baseball makes us all look bad including the front offices. But pretty much all of us see a guy’s talent. You just don’t have an infinite amount of time to wait for it to happen for them…so you end up with teams that look smart and some that look dumb…a lot of times it is just a little luck…and sometimes you get Robinzon Diaz for a guy that hits nearly 100 HR in a two year span. Damn you baseball!



I think the Tabata move has more to do with him being a right-handed bat when compared to Lambo. We already have Ike Davis on the bench, and with Snider being left handed there would be no where to play Lambo. Now if there is a touch lefty on the hill Tabat can give Snider a breather. JMO.


I would have rather seen anyone other than Jose Tabata back on the roster!



According to the broadcast last night Greg Brown and Bob Walk brought up that MLB changed the post-season rules to allow anyone on the 40-man roster by Aug. 31st to be eligible for the playoff roster, not just in MLB or on MLB D.L. August 31st. I Googled it last night and couldn’t find any change. Not sure if you have a way to found out if that truly is the case or not, but I would love to get confirmation on that point.

Josh Dz

Im not sure why people always bring this up…. you do not have to be in the Majors on Aug 31st to be added to the post season… there are two very recent examples of this, in 2002 Krod did not debut in the Majors until Sep 18th 2002 and pitched in the post season that year… and David Price in 2008 made his MLB debut on sep 14th and still pitched in the post season, and if your wondering his call up date was 9/12/08


I did a quick Google search as well looking for the rule change that Greg Brown mentioned last night and I wasn’t able to find a change to Rule 40(a) either – I’m not saying it wasn’t made, I just couldn’t find anything after searching quickly.


Why are you people talking about playoff rosters ?


Maybe we should just give up on the season like you Mike. Considering you gave up back in April. Some of us still believe in this team and organization unlike you!


Just how the hell do you know when I gave up ?
Reality is watching this team play every game.
People like you are snobs.
The simple fact is this team is not good enough, that doesn’t mean I don’t root for the team
It simply means the team is lacking the talent to move forward.
I don’t blame anybody for the state of the team but it is just what it is.


People like you are nothing but whiners! All you do is bitch and moan on this site every time you post.


Whether we make it to the playoffs this year or not (and 1.5 games out of the WC is not an insurmountable deficit), I would like to know what the rule is. In addition to questions of player development and evaluation, both now and in the long term, it is fascinating to learn the levels of complexity which are involved in decisions like sending Polanco down less than 10 days before the August 31 deadline – some people play chess, I find this more interesting.


I got a reply from Buster Olney. MLB didn’t change rule. Only way to get Polanco on if not in majors Aug. 31 would be to have someone on 60-day D.L. I think Taillon is only guy they could put on 60-day DL.


Wow, a scoop! Good work! As I recall, Tim expressed, within the last day or two, an opinion similar to Buster Olney’s . On the other hand, this is what Paul Zeise repeated, without question, in the PPG yesterday:

“Hurdle emphasized that Polanco will be back Sept. 2 when he is eligible to come back but said the Pirates could keep him in Class AAA a little longer. Polanco still would be eligible for the playoff roster because he is on the 40-man roster.”

I wonder if the press will ask Pirate management what’s up with their rule interpretation??


Yeah, nothing about the change on Wikipedia or Google that I can tell. I sent a tweet to Buster Olney to see if they are correct. I would imagine the Pirates FO would know the rules, but it just seems odd that no one heard that until Pirates announcers mentioned it last night.

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