Baseball 2014: The Prospect Pipeline -- Only a matter of time for Polanco, Taillon

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Gregory Polanco needs to see good off-speed pitches to aid his development. Because of who he is, he'll get them right away.

That's what happens when the top prospect in the organization steps to the plate.

"He's so big, he's so physical, he's so famous, he's going to get off-speed in fastball counts right away," general manager Neal Huntington said.

"He didn't see a lot of that in the minor leagues. He probably didn't see it in winter ball that much."

Polanco, a 22-year-old outfielder and the best prospect in the system according to Baseball America, in all likelihood will join the Pirates at some point this summer. The physical left-hander can hit, run and field. He could provide the solution for the Pirates in right field, joining right-hander Jameson Taillon as the minor leaguers most likely to make an impact in 2014.

In a 2013 season split across three levels of the minors, Polanco hit .285 with a .356 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 38 steals. He only played two games, however, at Class AAA Indianapolis, and the Pirates would like him to get more seasoning there.

"For Gregory it's just a matter of getting at-bats," Huntington said. "There's small things we need him to work on, keeping the defense separate from the offense and just locking in every single at-bat and not giving away at-bats."

Spending time in the high minors will allow Polanco to see higher-quality pitchers, those who can throw breaking balls or changeups when behind in the count.

Polanco has not seen much of that in the low minors.

"When he comes to the big leagues, now you're talking about the best in the world throwing 2-0 changeups and 3-1 sliders," Huntington said.

More time in Indianapolis will also help Polanco, who is 6 feet 4, solidify his swing, Huntington said.

"He can try to do too much," Huntington said. "It's just a matter of staying consistently short, trusting his hands, trusting how strong he is."

Taillon, the top pitching prospect, encountered a setback near the end of spring training when he reported pain in his right elbow. An MRI showed no ligament damage, but Taillon was going to seek a second opinion and will not start the season on time.

When he does take the mound, he will work on improving his changeup. Taillon complements a mid-90 mph fastball that has an extra gear with a strong curveball, but the changeup lags.

"In [Class AA], he's still doing a hitter a favor when he threw a changeup," Huntington said. "In [Class AAA], he's still doing some of those hitters a favor, so it's a matter of developing a mastery of that pitch, because when he develops that pitch, the sky's the limit for him."

Taillon, 22, split 2013 between Class AA Altoona and Indianapolis. He had a 3.73 ERA in 1471/3 combined innings and struck out 143 batters.

Alen Hanson's development track is behind that of Polanco and Taillon, but he offers an exiting glimpse into the future. Hanson, a 21-year-old shortstop, signed with the Pirates for $90,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. He has great speed, with at least 30 steals in each of the past two seasons.

"He can do some things on the bases and lines up to be a pretty interesting leadoff man if we can get him to continue to grow and develop," Huntington said.

The switch-hitting Hanson hit .274 with eight homers and 27 doubles in 2013, a season that he split between Class A Bradenton and Altoona. For him to contribute, his defense needs sharpening. He committed 10 errors in his first 10 games last year and 32 overall, which followed the 40 he committed in 2012.

"Sometimes maybe he gets a little comfortable and trusts his abilities maybe a little too much," Huntington said. "It's just a matter of reinforcing to him that the manager needs to know when the ball's put in play, whether he's at second or at short, that he's supposed to make the out -- it is an out."

Stolmy Pimentel, the No. 16 prospect according to Baseball America, made his debut last year and will start this season in the bullpen. Right-hander Brandon Cumpton, the No. 11 prospect, will pitch out of the Indianapolis rotation and could make a spot start if necessary.

Ones to watch: The top 10 prospects in the organization as rated by Baseball America

(compiled by Bill Brink)

1. Gregory Polanco

Outfielder, Age: 22

2013 stats: .285 BA, 12 HRs, 38 SBs.

Skinny: Seen as the answer in right field, Polanco could arrive this summer.

2. Jameson Taillon

Right-handed pitcher, Age 22

2013 stats: 5-10 W-L, 3.73 ERA in 1471/3 IP

Skinny: Continued work on the changeup will augment his above-average fastball and curveball.

3. Tyler Glasnow

Right-handed pitche, Age: 20

2013 stats: 9-3 W-L, 2.18 ERA in 1111/3 IP

Skinny: Adding control to a mid-90s fastball will help Glasnow pull everything together.

4. Austin Meadows

Outfielder, Age: 18

2013 stats: .316 BA, 7 HRs, 22 RBIs

Skinny: Crushed in first pro experience and will get his first taste of full-season ball this season.

5. Nick Kingham

Right-handed pitcher, Age: 22

2013 stats: 9-6 W-L, 2.89 ERA in 1431/3 IP

Skinny: Teams often inquire on the big right-hander from Las Vegas during trade talks.

6. Alen Hanson

Shortstop, Age: 21

2013 stats: .274 BA, 8 HRs, 30 SBs

Skinny: The speedy switch-hitter needs more defensive consistency.

7. Josh Bell

Outfielder * Age: 21

2013 stats: .279 BA, 13 HRs, 76 RBIs

Skinny: Another year removed from knee surgery, Bell should continue to improve.

8. Reese McGuire

Catcher, Age: 19

2013 stats: .323 BA, 11 2B, 21 RBIs

Skinny: A natural catcher with a cannon for an arm.

9. Harold Ramirez

Outfielder, Age: 19

2013 stats: .285 BA, 5 HRs, 23 SBs

Skinny: Ramirez has good speed and plenty of upside and will likely start with low-A West Virginia.

10. Luis Heredia

Right-handed pitcher, Age: 19

2013 stats: 7-3 W-L, 3.05 ERA in 65 IP

Skinny: Better fitness should let his pure stuff play after weight gain hampered him in 2013.

Bill Brink: and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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