There was perhaps no better definition for the term "pop-up prospect" than the Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco in 2012. Signed for a meager $175,000 in 2009, Polanco had produced very little return on investment from 2009-2011, but broke out in a big way, producing a .325/.388/.522 slash line in a full season at Lo-A. While he was a bit of an unknown heading into this offseason as a potential one year wonder, Polanco's current success has more and more people jumping on his bandwagon, myself included. I was so interested, that I went up to Bowie a couple weeks ago to check out Polanco and his teammate Jameson Taillon. I was able to get some video of Polanco, but I'm no cinematographer, so we'll see how that turns out. I was also able to meet up with Zach Mortimer, a member of Baseball Prospectus' prospect team and he's been kind of enough to lend me a brief scouting report for Polanco that I'll quote a little later.
While Polanco's aforementioned slash line from 2012 is impressive as a standalone, we should note that he also added 40 stolen bases in 55 attempts. All this while showing impressive plate discipline, with a walk rate of 9% and a strikeout rate of only 13%. 2013 hasn't been as glamorous as 2012, statistically, but it has seen Polanco rise all the way to Double-A and earn a spot on the World roster at the Future's Game in New York. Thus far we've seen Polanco record a .305/.363/.456 slash line between Hi-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona. Polanco has been even better on the basepaths this season, pilfering 28 stolen bases in 34 attempts, a 10% increase in his success rate. While we have seen an increase in Polanco's strikeout rate thus far, it's a relatively minor bump and consistent with his career rate. Additionally, while there was a 3% drop in his walk rate in Hi-A, we've seen that rate rebound during his time in Altoona, to just under 10%. While his power has dropped off a bit, I believe once Polanco acclimates to Double-A (he's only had 61 plate appearances), we'll see a resurgence of his power.
While Polanco's numbers took a leap in 2012, so too did the maturation of his tools, earning average or better tools across the board in the offseason from the likes of Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. After seeing Polanco in person, I can attest that he is an impressive physical specimen and prospect alike. At 6'4/170, Polanco is long and lean. Despite his relative lack of muscle, he is not weak and can make loud contact. Polanco could be an impact defender in due time, covering large swaths of ground with his long stride. When speaking with Zach Mortimer, he gave Polanco above-average to plus tools across the board, even throwing down a 70 on his glove. He shows the ability to hit for average despite a relatively long swing, though he's done well to shorten it since last season. The length does allow Polanco to put a charge into the ball, as he did in his first at-bat at the game I attended, smashing a three-run home run. He might have to sacrifice some power to allow his hit tool to play to its full potential, or vice versa, but he shows above average potential in both categories. Where he will make his bones though is on the defensive side of the ball, where he demonstrates an average-to-slightly-above arm to go with his tremendous range. His legs play well on the bases, as we've seen, with his long stride allowing him to cover a ton of ground without much effort. This could be an impact fantasy skill for Polanco, to go along with his solid power.
Below is the video of the only at-bat I got from Polanco. I apologize for the bad footage/quality of the "editing" but it's not up my alley. I'm working on it.
Gregory Polanco (via Craig Goldstein)
For prospective owners of Polanco, it's important to note that I think his value will be inflated by his spot on prospect lists. He deserves to be rated well, but he will provide a ton of value on defense that won't affect most fantasy owners. That doesn't mean he's not worth owning though, as he'll provide stolen bases and won't leave the power categories empty. I think he's a 18-22 home run power guy at his peak with 40 stolen base upside, though he probably won't reach that peak year in and year out. I love him as a prospect and would be excited to own him in fantasy leagues, but I do think there's value to be had selling him if someone values him using his assets as a real life prospect versus his fantasy value.
Huge thanks to Zach Mortimer for taking in the game with me and chatting. Follow him on Twitter. He drops prospect knowledge daily and is one of my favorite follows.