Excitement mounting for Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco


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TOLEDO, Ohio — The talent of Gregory Polanco is not in question, and neither is his future as a major league baseball player. He is, by all accounts, a can't-miss talent, the classic "five-tool guy."

The only question is when will Polanco — the Pirates top prospect among position players and the 13th-ranked prospect in the country, according to MLB.com - make his debut for the Pirates?

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But believe it or not, that question is one he isn't worried about.

PG graphic: Countdown to Polanco
(Click image for full version)

"When they call, I just want to be ready," Polanco said Wednesday before his Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates' Class AAA affiliate, played the Toledo Mud Hens at Fifth Third Field.

"I have to keep working on things, working on my at-bats, work on running the bases and learning how to be a better baseball player," he said. "Right now, those [are] things I am focused on, I want to use every day to get better. I feel like I could play [in the major leagues] right now, but it is OK for me to be here for now."

Polanco's attitude is genuine.

His teammates and Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor describe him as humble, quiet and professional. Treanor said Polanco's work ethic is outstanding and that is why, beyond his talent, he has a chance to be special.

Treanor doesn't think there is a rush to get Polanco, 22, to the major leagues at this point because there still are some things he needs to work on in order to truly be ready for the call-up.

In fact, he said while everyone has focused on Polanco's bat - through 21 games he was hitting .417 (35 for 84) with four homers and 23 RBIs - he still has some work to do to improve in two key areas: running the bases and playing right field.

Polanco is more of a natural center fielder but has been moved to right field because that is the position he will play if and when the Pirates call him up. That could be in June.

Treanor said Polanco has been working hard on fielding balls that fly over his head and off the wall and balls in the corner because those are the most difficult plays right fielders must make and are different than the ones he would make in center.

The Pirates currently have a platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider in right, but neither has provided consistent run-production.

"I really do believe he has a very good idea of what he is doing at the plate," Treanor said of Polanco. "But, obviously, when you go from this level to the major leagues, the pitchers are going to be much more consistent up there.

"I think we'd like to get him a taste of some veteran pitchers who have spent time in the majors and really are experienced and have good command because those are the guys he will face up there. We'd like to expose him to as much of that as we can before he goes. And make no mistake, he's going to go. Whatever the date is we don't know, but he is going."

Treanor said a great example of the kind of pitcher Polanco - who bats left-handed - needs to see more of in AAA ball is Louisville left-hander Jeff Francis, who appeared in 228 games in nine seasons with the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals.

Francis went 62?3 innings, allowed two runs and got the win in Louisville's 4-2 victory against Indianapolis April 19. Polanco was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts in that game.

"Francis has a lot of big-league experience, he is a tough left-hander, and, to be honest, [Polanco] had some problems with him," Treanor said. "But those are the things that we expect at this stage, and it's just a matter of continuing to work with him. But he's got a lot of talent, he'll figure it out."

Polanco, a pitcher growing up, said good left-handers can be tough for him, but the game is tough and requires hard work, which is why he finds it fun.

The thing he has worked on against left-handers is patience and the willingness to hit to the opposite field.

"Hitting isn't easy," he said. "You have to do the same thing every at-bat. You have to see the ball, you have to try to have the same approach. It is harder for me to hit left-handers, but I feel I hit good against them. But you have to fight against swinging at some pitches.

"I've just been working in the cage and on the tee to get used to hitting the other way more, and it is getting better."

Polanco said learning how to play in right field has been a process because it is much different than center.

He already is much more comfortable in right than he was a few weeks ago.

"It doesn't sound like a big difference, but there are some nuances out there in terms of angles and the fact that the wall gets to you quicker in the corners," Treanor said.

Polanco said: "In center field, the ball is in front of you no matter which side it is hit from. But, in right, the ball is coming from the side, the angle is different. It curves away from you from righties, so it is harder, and I need to do my best to get comfortable like I am in center field.

"I'm learning to play the game still but I think I am getting close [to being ready for the major leagues], but I'll just keep playing until it is my turn."

As Treanor said, it isn't a matter of "if" Polanco gets the call, but when. Fans would like it to be sooner, particularly in light of the Pirates' offensive struggles through a 9-14 start entering the weekend, but it is unlikely he will be in Pittsburgh before June as general manager Neal Huntington has made clear. The plan continues to be to bring him along slowly, and the more at-bats he gets in Class AAA the better.

There is also that issue of his arbitration years and the Pirates' ability to get an extra year of control over his contract if they keep him in the minors until June - similar to how they handled starting pitcher Gerrit Cole last year.

Regardless of when it arrives, Polanco's teammates - especially the ones who have spent time in the major leagues - believe he is as good as advertised.

"Absolutely," said pitcher Jeff Locke. "Trust me, he has more than what it takes.

"This was my first chance to play with him as I've always been a few levels ahead of him in the system, and it is impressive. He has as much talent as anyone. I'd put him there with guys like [Starling] Marte and Pedro [Alvarez].

"He is extremely talented. The sky is the limit. And the best thing is, he is very quiet in how he goes about his business, and that goes a long way toward earning respect. If you have to tell people you are good, you probably aren't that good, and he doesn't say a peep, just comes to work every day."


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.

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