Top Pirates prospects Gregory Polanco and Dilson Herrera showcase potential at MLB Futures Game


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NEW YORK -- As the cameras and microphones swirled around the visitors' clubhouse after the MLB Futures Game Sunday at Citi Field, Gregory Polanco had a moment of peace. He sat at his locker, undisturbed by the media, and checked his phone.

The scene made sense given Polanco's day at Citi Field -- 0 for 1 with a walk. A recent promotion to Class AA Altoona attracted some attention, shedding light on his start to the season in Class A Bradenton. Those who follow the game, though, have seen Polanco's potential for some time.

"There wasn't anybody that didn't come through our big-league camp in the last year, and in the handful of games that he played, wanted to know, who was that kid," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Now as he continues to make his minor league rounds, and I call friends in our industry in different minor league cities, there are a lot of people who are aware who Gregory Polanco is."

Polanco and Dilson Herrera represented the Pirates in the Futures Game, a collection of baseball's top prospects that precedes the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Polanco, 21, from the Dominican Republic, and Herrera, 19, from Colombia, played for the World Team, managed by former New York Mets star Edgardo Alfonzo. Team USA beat the World team, 4-2.

"It's a huge opportunity to play with so many top-end players, especially to play in this stadium," Herrera said in Spanish, with Shane Barclay from the MLB commissioner's office translating. "I'm very proud to represent my country and my organization, the Pirates."

Polanco started in center field. Herrera entered in the sixth and lined out softly to second in his only at-bat.

"That means a lot for me," Polanco said before the game about starting. "It's a good thing for me. Everyone watching you, starting in the lineup, I feel excited."

In contrast to a year ago in the Pirates' representation -- top prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon -- Polanco and Herrera showed fans the international side of the Pirates' minor league talent. The Pirates signed Polanco in 2009 for $175,000, according to Baseball America, and Herrera for $220,000 in 2010.

The players themselves represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Polanco stands a long and lanky 6 feet 4, and throws and swings left-handed. Herrera is a 5-foot-10 right-handed second baseman.

Polanco, who entered the season as the No. 4 prospect in the Pirates' system according to Baseball America, carried a .305 batting average, 28 steals and eight home runs between Class A and Class AA into the Futures Game.

"There's a couples things I got to work on," Polanco said. "My consistency, hitting to the opposite field. My separation with my hands, and my rhythm."

Herrera, the No. 20 Pirates prospect, thrived in a brief stint at short-season State College in 2012, when he posted a .345 on-base percentage and a .321 average in seven games. Through 322 plate appearances at Class A West Virginia this season, Herrera has a .321 on-base percentage and 17 doubles, but his average dropped to .260.

"It's been a marvelous season so far, although my average is a little bit lower than I want," Herrera said. "I know where I want to be."

He shrugged off youth as a factor in some of his struggles.

"Everyone says I'm young, but I just try to do everything how the older guys do it," he said. "I know that I have the ability to do that as well."

Prior to the game, Polanco and Herrera sat in the clubhouse surrounded by the top international minor league talent. Polanco said he knew, or had played against, most of his temporary teammates. Herrera hadn't, but was paying attention.

"A lot of these guys, I know by name but I've never met them in person," he said. "It's good to see how they focus and they're very focused in their work, and they focus on what they can control and everything else doesn't matter."

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. Michael Sanserino contributed to this report.


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