Outfielder Gregory Polanco: The Pirates best prospect in the Sally
In a down year for top flight prospects in the South Atlantic League, the West Virginia Power has been a breath of fresh air. West Virginia, the Pittsburgh Pirates Sally league affiliate, boasts 4 prospects that garner attention from prospect evaluators. While one of those prospects, Josh Bell, has been on the disabled list for most of the season, I had the opportunity to catch the other 3 prospects during a doubleheader against Rome earlier this month. While future articles will be written for the sleeper of the group, First Baseman Jose Osuna, and the more highly touted prospect amongst the mainstream prospect media, Alen Hanson, I want to first focus on the prospect that I think is the best prospect of the group, Gregory Polanco.
Before I begin, I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m down on Alen Hanson. He has deserved all of the attention he has garnered this season from Baseball America, Keith Law and other mainstream prospect writers. Hanson is clearly a top 50 prospect. In fact, for Bullpen Banter’s top 100 mid-season prospect list, I ranked Hanson in my top 50, ahead of his teammate Polanco, who didn’t break my top 50. This was before I saw each of these players play. If i was compiling that same prospect list today, Hanson would retain his top 50 ranking. However, Polanco would now sit inside the top 50 and a few spots ahead of Hanson.
The first thing that stood out about Gregory Polanco was his build. Right now, he’s a 6’4”, athletic but lanky 20 year old center fielder. He has a solid base and is able to generate his power from his lower half. While featuring quick wrists and above average hands, his upper half is lacking behind his lower half in muscular development. This isn’t uncommon for a player at this level and age. He has the body to build muscle, which should help him become an upper-echelon prospect in time.
On defense, Polanco is somewhat raw with his routes to flyballs. However, he displays the ability to track almost all the flyballs a center fielder would be expected to catch, even though his routes aren’t very fluid. When the baseball is struck by the batter, he shows good instincts coming in on balls. Because of his long strides, it almost looks like he is gliding to the batted ball. While his arm wasn’t tested by any base runners, he did showcase a strong arm while accurately throwing towards the cutoff man.
What sets Polanco apart from other prospects is his work in the batters box. From a pure statistical standpoint this season, it’s easy to project Polanco to super stardom. His .323/.386/.518 stat line is impressive for a 20 year old. Combining those stats with an extremely low sluggers strikeout rate, 58 times in 365 at bats, makes what Polanco is doing special. While scouting Polanco, it’s not one thing that stands out about him offensively, its the sum off all his parts and the potential of those parts to propel him to super stardom that makes what he’s doing special.
In the batters box, the left handed hitting Polanco is very much in control of the moving parts of his swing. Before getting into his batting stance, Polanco will spread his shoulders, his left arm pointed towards the catcher while his right hand, holding the bat, is pointed towards the pitcher. It seems like this stretch is employed by Polanco to help relax before getting set in his batting stance. When he comes set, his hands rest above his left pectoral but below his shoulder and his left elbow is pointed towards the umpire. As the ball is thrown, he lifts his right leg about 4 to 6 inches off the ground and strides the same distance towards the pitcher. His hands move out from his pec slightly as he starts his swing. There isn’t much movement cocking his arms for his swing. As he swings he does so with an uppercut, much like most left handed hitting sluggers. His wrist are quick through the zone and displays good bat speed. When facing the low to mid 90s fastball of Braves second round pick and left handed pitcher Alex Wood, Polanco showcased the ability to handle the fastball, even driving a 92 MPH offering off the high center field wall for a double.
During both ends of the double header, Polanco had 4 hits. He would have had 5 if it wasn’t for a play at first where Polanco clearly beat Major League rehabber Peter Moylan to the bag, who was covering first on a grounder hit in the 3-4 hole. Polanco’s first hit was a 30 foot single tapped down the line that just died in front of the pitcher. The second hit was the double mentioned above. He hit two singles in game 2, while also drawing a walk. Throughout the game, he displayed the ability to identify most pitches and showcased an above average eye for a 20 year old. I felt like he identified the changeup better than most young hitters in the Sally; although, the changeups he faced were not exactly plus offerings. When he is fooled by a pitch, his hips give it away almost immediately. In those instances, his usual fluid weight transfer is disrupted mightily, resulting in most of his weight being transferred to his stride leg unevenly, causing a loss of leverage and power.
As I mentioned while talking about his defense, Polanco runs with long strides. Although I didn’t get a home to first time on Polanco, he got down the line fairly fast. His long strides do provide for some difficulties on the bases. I did notice, on his successful stolen base attempt and a few attempts to steal second on balls that were hit foul, Polanco got caught between strides, which forced him to take a half stride. It looked awkward and may explain the double digit caught-stealing numbers. I felt like he had a good read of the pitcher and got good jumps during each attempt he made.
As a 20 year old in the Sally, Polanco has a few years to go before he is expected to be in the big leagues. As a hitter, I see the need for added maturity, both physically and with his swing consistency. In the field, he needs repetition to improve his route running. As a whole this season, I’ve seen some very ugly route runners like Jae-Hoon Ha. Polanco amazingly is one of the better route runners I’ve seen in the outfield. On the bases, Polanco needs to work on a consistent stride, whether it means shrinking his running stride so he doesn’t get caught in between strides so much. Overall, Polanco is a top 50 prospect, possibly a few months away from top 30 status as he continues to make improvements to his game. With Starling Marte graduating to the big leagues and Josh Bell remaining disabled, it will be interesting seeing whether Gregory Polanco can overtake Alen Hanson as the Pirates top position player prospect at season’s end on all the major top prospect lists, including the one here at Bullpen Banter.