Feb 27, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco (62) prior to the game on deck against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Pittsburgh Pirates have a chance of rolling out an outfield that includes three solid defensive center fielders that can hit this season, but with Andrew McCutchen the reigning MVP and Starling Marte having moved to left, Gregory Polanco‘s only fit is in right field. Due to service time implications, it does not appear Polanco will be in the big leagues until the middle of the season, but he appears ready to contribute should he surprise people and break camp with the team.
There is currently a three player battle to be the opening day right fielder, assuming the Pirates do indeed delay Polanco’s big league career a couple months. Jose Tabata appears to be the leading candidate to secure the job, and despite seeming like he has been in the mix for a long time, he will be just 25 this season. Tabata has had a solid spring, which should be enough to keep Polanco down at Triple-A for a little while. Travis Snider and Andrew Lambo are both options in right, but both are having an abysmal spring thus far, and Lambo wasn’t much better in Venezuela this winter.
Meanwhile, Polanco had a fantastic season in the Dominican Winter League, winning both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, while posting the second best batting average and OBP in the league. His triple slash line was an impressive .331/.428/.492 while launching five long balls and leading his team to within two games of the league title.
He is a true five-tool player, with excellent speed, glove, and bat, and looks like he could end up hitting for a really good average and 25+ home run power. The part of his game he needs to focus on most is his approach at the plate. He has yet to take a walk this spring, but does have a career minor league walk percentage near 10% and a strikeout rate of 16%.
Polanco is a future top-to-middle of the order hitter, but could thrive in the back of the Pirates order this season. Once Polanco takes over in right field, it could be hard to argue any team, outside of maybe the Los Angeles Dodgers, have a more talented outfield than the Pirates. After finally breaking the two decade long playoff drought in 2013, there are a lot of good things for Pirates fans to look forward to, and Polanco is right at the top of that list.