I know it is only the first week of the season, but everyone expected Pittsburgh to be a sinking ship considering they shipped pitcher Gerrit Cole and ,face of the franchise, Andrew McCutchen out of town. Instead, the Pirates have somehow managed to start the year with a 7-2 record so far.
It isn’t the Pirates year. It is more likely than not, based off of the competition around the league, that they’ll miss the playoffs. But don’t fret Buc-o fans! The future is bright!
There are a couple of things to be excited about and Gregory Polanco’s performance, thus far, warrants attention.
Polanco was so highly touted coming up through the Pirates system, but has mostly disappointed since being up in the bigs. He shined as a 5-tool player in the minors, showing speed (78 stolen bases between 2012-2013) and solid pop in his bat.
Yet it never came to fruition for the 6’5″ right fielder out of the Dominican Republic. He hasn’t been bad per say, but he hasn’t reached his potential. At only 26-years-old, this may be the season Polanco breaks out.
Through eight games in 2018, Polanco is hitting .310 with 3 homers. To compare, last season Polanco hit his third home run on May 28. Polanco was already showing this type of power in Spring Training.The right fielder connected on 3 round-trippers in 16 games.
I am aware that it is a long season. I am aware that my takes are on the hot seat after writing the article on Shohei Ohtani, but you can’t deny how encouraging it is to see Polanco raking.
He has never had a problem with his fielding (only 18 errors in 502 games played). He has shown glimpses of the speed I mentioned earlier, in the MLB. Now its time for Polanco to put it all together, and start hitting the ever-living crap out of the ball.
He is a career .253 hitter, and has never topped 22 home runs in a season for Pittsburgh. That is going to change this year.
Of his nine hits so far, seven have gone for extra bases. That’s no coincidence. Polanco is starting to be more selective at the plate, deciding when, and when not, to try and hit baseball’s to the moon.
According to fangraphs.com, Polanco is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a career low rate. In 2017, he did it 35.3% of the time. In 2018? He’s cut that number down to 24.2%. And when he does swing, he is making the hardest contact he has ever made in his young career. His hard contact rate this season lies at 41.7% , up nearly 12% from his career average.
It’s not shocking that Polanco has been able to hit the ball far for extra-base hits. He’s a freakin’ huge dude. Is he hitting 30 bombs because of it? No, but he definitely can. He has the potential to be such a great hitter. MLB.com didn’t rank him as the thirteenth best prospect in baseball in 2013 for no reason. The guy can flat out play.
Someone is going to need to lead this Pirates franchise with McCutchen out of the picture. The face of the franchise is gone and Pittsburgh needs someone to step up and become, “The Man” for their baseball team. Based on these encouraging signs so far, Polanco looks ready to spearhead that task with a great 2018 season.
-Jarrod Ribaudo (@Jribs53)