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April 29, 2014

Overthinking It

Three National Leaguers in the News

by Ben Lindbergh


Thoughts on three young National Leaguers in the news today, plus a bonus item about the Blue Jays:

Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco Promotion Watch
As Daniel Rathman pointed out in today’s What You Need to Know, the Pirates—whose shutout loss to St. Louis on Sunday dropped them to 10-16 and (now) nine games back in the NL Central—aren’t hitting. A big part of Pittsburgh’s problems at the plate has been the team’s lack of production from right field, where Travis Snider, trade chip Jose Tabata, and Josh Harrison (for one plate appearance) have combined for a .221/.289/.279 triple-slash line. As Dan also observed, the Pirates’ top healthy prospect, Gregory Polanco, plays right field for Triple-A Indianapolis, where he’s hitting .400/.460/.644. It doesn’t take Branch Rickey to connect the dots and conclude that the team’s greatest minor-league strength could be the solution to one of its major-league weaknesses.

It’s no surprise, then, that “When will the Pirates promote Polanco?” is the most popular question in Pittsburgh, rivaled only by “Why won’t the Pirates promote Polanco today?” Tribune-Review Pirates beat writer Rob Biertempfel became the latest to ask on Sunday, when he spoke to general manager Neal Huntington. Huntington, who said that service time considerations are “not a driving factor” in the team’s deliberations about when to call up a prospect, insisted that the Pirates have performance-based concerns about Polanco. What those concerns are, though, he was unwilling to say.

He’s continuing to refine some of the intricacies of his game. Somebody asked the other day for a detailed list of what he’s working on. When Andrew (McCutchen) was coming up, I gave a detailed list as to what he was working on, then watched major league teams attack those weaknesses I’d identified in spring training. So, I’m not going to give you a detailed script that opposing teams can attack when Gregory gets here.

Now, we know how this typically works: teams often keep their prospects in the minors until the Super Two deadline has passed, sparing themselves an extra year of arbitration. Until then, they’re forced to stall, and to explain why they’re stalling. To avoid negative PR and problems with the Players Association, GMs usually indulge in a little light fabrication, but the struggles of Snider and Tabata and the blistering start by Polanco aren’t making the explanations any easier for Huntington. Given how well Polanco has played, staying light on specifics might be the best choice. As Biertempfel noted, though, Huntington’s refusal to list Polanco’s weaknesses on the grounds that tipped-off teams could exploit them is a stretch, given that the Pirates’ opponents have had plenty of time to come to their own conclusions about how Polanco can be beaten.

Huntington justified his non-answer by claiming he’d been burned by his forthright response when similar questions were asked about Andrew McCutchen, who made his major-league debut in 2009 on June 4 (right around when we might see Polanco) after hitting .318/.423/.561 in 26 Grapefruit League games and .303/.361/.493 in 49 games for Indianapolis. After combing Google for Huntington quotes about McCutchen from 2009 spring training—when McCutchen was almost exactly as old as Polanco is now—I came up with only one, from a March 31 story about McCutchen’s demotion to the minors (and the Pirates’ possible financial motivations for making that move):

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Notes from the Field: ... (04/29)
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