Gregory Polanco: A Future Star in Syracuse?

Indianapolis Indians star prospect Gregory Polanco takes the field once again against the Chiefs today in what could be Polanco’s final series in the minor leagues. Need a quick guide on who Polanco is and what you might see on him? Here’s a look from one of our interns here in the broadcast booth, Daniel Comisi:

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The 22 year-old Dominican came into the 2014 season listed as the 10th best prospect in all of major league baseball according to Baseball America. But if you take out the guys who are in the majors right now, (Bogaerts, Taveras, Tanaka), he is the seventh top prospect still in the minors and the second-best outfielder, behind the number one prospect, Byron Buxton. Even though Polanco is ranked the seventh prospect in all of the minors, only Archie Bradley with the Arizona Diamondbacks is in Triple-A and there has already been plenty of questioning of why Bradley was not called up in April. The other five are in Double-A or lower.

Polanco has shot up the Pittsburgh organization after being signed as an international free agent with the Pirates in 2009. In the year of 2013 alone, he went from High-A Bradenton, to Double-A Altoona, and spent the final two games of the year with Triple-A Indianapolis. If you only look at his Double-A and Triple-A stats: through 127 games, he is batting .303 with 12 home runs, 7 triples, 29 doubles, and 28 steals in 40 attempts (70% success rate). But the stat that I was drawn to was this: through 467 games and through 1944 plate appearances to date, Polanco has only struck out 303 times and has walked 184 times. That is a very low strikeout rate (15.5%, the MLB average is 23.1%) and a high contact rate (74.9%, the MLB average is 71.5%).  With his speed, he has the capability of turning a routine ground ball into a base hit – as he did last night – and would be great at the top of the Pirates lineup.

Polanco is the best prospect in the International League and has the capability of being the next Wil Myers or Yasiel Puig, who will make an immediate impact and be in the running for Rookie of the Year award even though he has spent the first 60 games in the minor leagues. Similar to Puig, if Polanco was born in the U.S. he would most likely be a star running back or linebacker in football with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound build. But since he was born in the Dominican Republic, where baseball is the best way to get off the island, he was surrounded by baseball.

So why is he still in the minors if he is the next great prospect in Triple-A and the Pirates desperately need him in right field? Well, the most educated guess that I can make is that the Pittsburgh Pirates are using a strategy that most MLB teams use when dealing with the “Super Two” exception. While this is a very complicated rule, here is the simplest way I can put it. A “Super Two” player is a player who is the top 22 percent of the players with more than two years of service time but less than three. David Schoenfield of ESPN wrote a very good article about Polanco and why he is still in the minors. In Polanco’s case, the first professional game he played was with Low-A State College in 2011, which would make the 2014 season his third year in the Pirates organization. Since he is in the top 22% of prospects and is between two and three full seasons in the Pirates organization, Polanco would have the ability to file for arbitration a year earlier than the other 78% of players and receive drastically more salary because he projected to be a top player and is hitting the ball extremely well in the minors. But if the Pirates hold Polanco in the minors until mid-June, it will delay his arbitration clock and Polanco will have to wait an extra year to file for arbitration and get the big contract. Most small-market teams like Houston (George Springer this year) and Tampa Bay (Wil Myers last year) do this because they do not have the money to pay for their top prospects like the Los Angeles Angels can do with Mike Trout, who signed a six-year $144.5 million deal this offseason.

So if you can make it to the ballpark during the next three games, I highly encourage you to do it, because he will be one of the next big stars in the major leagues. But Chiefs tickets are much cheaper than the Pirates and you will be able to see two of the top teams in the International League playing each other. First pitch for every game of this series is at 7:00.

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