Pirates Gregory Polanco pivotal to season success


Perennial MVP candidate? Check.

Potential perennial MVP candidate? Check.

A second potential perennial MVP candidate? Check!

What team might provide a lineup so potent that three players could all vie for one of Major League Baseball’s most sought after individual prizes?

The Pittsburgh Pirates. And here is the scary part. That list encompasses just the outfielders. Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte. Gregory Polanco.

The Pirates prepare to break camp in Florida with an outfield sporting one of the game’s very best, one of the game’s most promising and one of the game’s most athletically gifted rising stars.

And while Pirates fans are always ready to sing the praises of their MVP center fielder or the Clemente-esque characteristics of their speedy left fielder, some might still not be sold on the promise of Polanco, and for good reason.

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Polanco, the long and strong 2013 and 2014 top prospect in the Pirates farm system, according to Baseball America, came out of the gate in second-coming fashion, free swinging into his first wave of big league pitching with great success. Then reality caught up to him and Polanco struggled down the stretch in 2014.

So what might 2015 hold for the youngster with so much promise?

Well, his late surge in Spring Training has again raised eyebrows. Just what if this monster of a man with superstar potential does pan out? What if those 15 pounds of muscle weight he added to his 6’5″ frame during the off season will help him put some of those long fly outs from last year over the wall? What if his taste of Major League play in 2014 brought perspective and taught him that it is necessary to practice your craft, not just rely on your God-given ability?

Nothing is scarier to opposing pitchers than a five-tool baseball player who actually works to hone his craft. Too often, some of the most gifted athletes are so used to dominating their way up the food chain that when the reach the pinnacle, if success in the batter’s box doesn’t come easy, it doesn’t come at all.

Case in point, Jose Tabata.

But Polanco appears poised to move past that and into a realm where greatness is simply what he is about, along with his fellow outfielders.

After a slow start, his bat is heating up – his .OPS surged from a paltry .407 just 10 days ago to a more palatable .671.

He has reached base in seven straight games and has homered in his last two outings.

Couple his immeasurable raw skills with the rest of the Pirates outfield and it is a recipe for success.

McCutchen and Marte, along with an apparently rejuvenated Pedro Alvarez at first base, can help to protect Polanco in a lineup that also boasts significant pop with Neil Walker and Josh Harrison.

With a solid foundation around him to help deflect pressure and pick up the team when necessary, Polanco can learn from his mistakes and build into the ballplayer that sizzled in his 2014 call up.

His late surge in Spring Training has again raised eyebrows. Just what if this monster of a man with superstar potential does pan out?

And, while that solidifying group will help to insulate Polanco and let him develop, the team’s ultimate success remains pinned on the prospect. Outside of the loss of Russell Martin, the team is essentially the same team that put together 88 wins and a second-consecutive playoff birth last season. There was a platoon in right field for much of that year. But the safety net of a better-than-given-credit-for Travis Snider is gone. The team essentially replaced him with Corey Hart, but…

The team will go as far as Polanco’s success. If he can muster a first full season with anything comparable to his outfield colleagues, the Cardinals better watch out. That two game division pennant last year won’t get them by this time around.

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