LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Pirates will leave the door ajar for Gregory Polanco to claim right field in 2014, but their prized outfield prospect is most likely to start the season in Class AAA.
General Manager Neal Huntington said having Polanco on the horizon — along with in-house options Travis Snider, Andrew Lambo, Jaff Decker and Jose Tabata — has allowed the club to cross right field off as a position of need as the winter meetings heated up Tuesday.
“We’re really excited about Gregory and where he could go. We see him in our outfield for a long time to come, just don’t know it’s going to be April 1,” said Huntington. “The other reasons why we haven’t felt a huge need to go maybe overspend for an outfielder [is] because we feel like we can allocate some resources elsewhere, because we’ve got some internal options.
“If those internal options don’t work out we’ve got Polanco on the horizon or maybe we go trade for an outfielder this summer.”
Polanco will most likely be assigned to Indianapolis out of spring training. But if he shows the same ability to adjust as he did moving into Class AA last season, he could get a midsummer promotion, much like first-round pick Gerrit Cole who stormed into the major leagues last June.
“He showed some very positive signs when he moved to Double-A last year,” said Huntington. “As many walks as strikeouts, drove the ball, but also showed signs that he had some work to do. Like Cole I don’t want to close the door completely… as I’ve done in the past. But it’s going to be awfully hard for us to see Gregory Polanco ready [out of spring training] based on what we saw last year, based on what we saw this winter, more-so than what we see next spring.”
He hit .263 in 243 at-bats at Altoona last year, with a .762 OPS and .407 slugging percentage. He had just nine at-bats at Indianapolis and hit .222.
Speaking on MLB Network’s “Hot Stove” from the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin Resort, manager Clint Hurdle called Polanco a special player and indicated the franchise is hopeful for that midseason promotion.
“Our goal is to try and keep him on a track where if need be he could join us, possibly on the back end of the season, somewhere along the lines of a Gerrit Cole did if it works out that way,” Hurdle told host Harold Reynolds. “But he’s developing well. He’s learning lessons. He’s getting better every day.”
Hurdle and Huntington took a trip to the club’s Dominican Academy the week before Thanksgiving where they were able to watch Polanco play in a handful of games.
“Polanco is special. Special. The physical presence? I haven’t seen the physical presence since maybe a young Darryl Strawberry broke in as far as size,” said Hurdle. “He’s tall, he’s strong. He runs. He runs in the fashion Larry Walker used to run, because the strides are so long. Doesn’t look like he’s fast but when it all gets done, you look at the clock and say, ‘Man, he didn’t get down there that quick?’ He’s very gifted and he’s getting closer every day.”
Polanco has hit .320 in the winter leagues with a .924 OPS.
He has played the bulk of his minor league career in center field, but that will change, said Huntington.
“We will we’ll bounce him to all three outfield positions. Assuming he goes back to Triple-A with us, he’ll play some center, some left, but it’ll be primarily right,” said Huntington.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.