Pittsburgh Pirates: A Look at Tito Polo

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a reputation of producing outfielders.  This is especially true with their Latin American signings.  Here comes another Latin outfielder to pay attention to.

Tito Polo may be the next outfield prospect who is making a name for himself.  The now 21-year-old signed out of Colombia in 2012 for an undisclosed amount.  Polo was viewed as a toolsy player with great speed, defense, and some gap power.  When Polo signed, the concern about him was whether or not he would be “big enough.” He was 5’8” and 150 pounds when he signed.  The good news is that he did grow in to be a more projectable player.  He is now 5’11” and 180 pounds, about prototypical for an outfield prospect.  This year he has continued to physically fill out and his gap power has turned into home run power. He has a quick, short swing, but he is prone to striking out.  In fact, that was a big issues for him in his 2015 season.

With that being said, he has put together a strong minor league career thus far.   At the DSL he hit .278 and at the GCL he hit .291.  He spent all of 2013 and 2014 at those two levels.  Last year he skipped over both Short-Season teams and played for the Low-A West Virginia Power.  He played in 102 games and batted a career worst .236 with a low OPS of .641.  With that, the Pirates knew that he was young for the league and had a lot of developing to do yet at the level.  The Pittsburgh Pirates organization decided it would serve Polo best to start the 2016 season in Low-A to let him continue to develop.

What did Polo prove to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Low-A this year?  He proved that they were right in that he needed more experience at that level, and that if he gained it he would improve.  This season he played 54 games for the Power.  He put on a clinic, and finally broke out the way that many were hoping the toolsy outfielder would.  He had a batting average of .302 for the Power, and he posted an outstanding .909 OPS. He showed a great balance of power and the ability to get on base.  His on-base percentage was at .368 and his slugging was .552, both much higher than his number in 2015.  To go along with those strong numbers, Polo hit 12 home runs and swiped 20 bags as well.  Polo has always had the tools, but really showed them off in a refined way this year.

The Pirates saw this and believed he showed the improvements needed at the Low-A level, and moved him up to High-A Bradenton.  He has not missed a beat since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates advanced level team.  So far he has played in 39 games for the Marauders.  In those games he posted a batting average of .283 with 4 home runs and 14 stolen bases.  He has seen his OPS drop to .738, but that is to expected with the jump in levels.  The best thing about his stat line at High-A is that he already walked 15 times.  To compare, Polo walked only 13 times in his 54 games at Low-A.  Although Polo’s numbers have regressed somewhat since being bumped to Bradenton, he is still producing at a very productive rate.

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In the games I have seen Polo play this year, there have been a few things that have stood out to me.  First, his athleticism.  This is the most obvious thing, as the term that is repeatedly used with him is toolsy.  Polo has the ability to play all three outfield spots, showing plus speed and a strong-arm.  Also, as mentioned earlier, he has a great blend of power and speed that he shows off at the plate.  He can beat out an infield hit, but he can also clear the wall.

The second thing that impresses me is that he makes a lot of hard contact.  Even if he never develops major league discipline, he makes enough hard contact that he will get plenty of hits.  He is similar to Starling Marte in this regard.  When Marte was working through the minors he had discipline problems (still does, although improving).  With that, Marte was able to hit the ball hard and consistently get himself on base that way.

The last thing that really sticks out to me about Polo is his quick hands.  When pitches get ahead in the count on him, he is still able to battle at the plate because of his hands.  He also is able to let pitches get deep in the zone.  Because of this, Polo is able to read the pitch, catch up to it, and put it in play.

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Many view Polo as a potential fourth outfielder, based on his all around game.  The big question is whether or not he will continue to develop as an all-around hitter.  Will his power continue to show as he moves up the minor league latter?  Will he limit his strikeouts and make enough contact to get regular at-bats?  In general, will he learn how to lay off pitches out of the zone so that he is not striking out and makimg soft contact?  If he can continue to develop as a hitter and continue on the path that he has shown this season, Polo has a good shot at being a regular, everyday player for a major league team.  Will it be for the Pittsburgh Pirates?  It could be.  The Pittsburgh Pirates do not need to rush him through the minors.  Obviously the outfield is set right now, and he has a few other players like Austin Meadows, Barrett Barnes, and Elvis Escobar in front of him in the minors.  The Pirates can continue to let him work out his flaws in the minors without having any sense of urgency.

All Stats our courtesy of Baseball Reference*