The player within the Pittsburgh Pirates' system garnering the most attention this offseason is a 6-foot-4, 22-year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic whose recent destruction of the Liga de Beisbol Dominicano has led many to believe he is ready to join the Pirates at the onset of 2014.
Gregory Polanco, the top hitting prospect in the Pirates system, shares many of the identifiable tools players such as Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen had coming up through the minor leagues. Add in the fact that Polanco has a much larger frame and more potential for power, and the Bucs are blessed to have a pretty special prospect.
Born in Santo Domingo on Sept. 14, 1991, Polanco was originally signed by the Pirates as an international free agent on April 11, 2009. Over the past two seasons, he has been named a South Atlantic League Mid-Season All-Star, the South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Major League Prospect, a South Atlantic League Post-Season All-Star, the Topps South Atlantic League Player of the Year, a Topps Class A All-Star, an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star and a 2013 Futures Game Selection.
Over the past year, Polanco, a left-handed batter and thrower, has bulked up from a lanky 170 pound frame to a much stronger 220 pounds. Much of the weight gain has been a direct result of Polanco's time spent in the weight room.
Playing for the Leones del Escogido, the young outfielder is currently first in the Dominican Winter League with a .922 OPS, 82 total bases, 55 hits and 28 runs while being second with a .331 average, .428 OBP and 28 RBI. This is building off a 2013 season where he progressed from High-A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona and eventually Triple-A Indianapolis before the end of the season while batting .285 with a .791 ops, 30 doubles, 12 home runs, 38 steals and 71 RBI.
However, Polanco's numbers showed decline at each level, proving that he does need to see extended time with the Indianapolis Indians before he can take over the Pirates' right field job. After proving himself in winter play, he may only need a few months of seasoning before this is a reality.
And once a ready Polanco joins the lineup, the Pirates could be looking at a starting-eight such as this:
2B: Neil Walker
3B: Pedro Alvarez
1B: Andrew Lambo
C: Russell Martin
SS: Jordy Mercer
This lineup has speed throughout the lineup with Marte, McCutchen and Polanco as well as a proficient base-stealer in Martin. The team would have the best defensive outfield in the game, and power could be expected from one through eight, with each player having at least average power for their respective position. While the team might not have the highest on-base percentage, they will be able to make up for this with extra-base hits and by rarely allowing a pitcher to feel comfortable with a runner on first.
With so much potential and hope riding on his shoulders, Pirates fans are looking forward to the point this summer when the next great Pirate debut will take place.
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