Polanco, a 22-year-old outfielder and much-lauded Pirates prospect, was summoned from Triple-A and was in the starting lineup Tuesday, playing right field in the Pirates' 7-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. In his first game, Polanco received a big ovation from the Pittsburgh crowd, then singled and scored in his second at-bat, going 1-for-5 on the day.
There were reports last week — many of them, from reputable sources — that Polanco was going to get his long-awaited call-up Friday, but that didn't happen. Just add that to the people who have been saying since April that the Pirates needed to call up Polanco.
Polanco's a big guy, 6-feet-4, 220 pounds to be exact, and he's often been compared to Darryl Strawberry. Plus, he's got a cool nickname and plenty of tools, so he ought to be fun to watch. Here, in our Learn the Name feature, is your big-league intro to Gregory Polanco:
Why you should care right now: For all the buzz, the Pirates generated last season as baseball's postseason darlings, they've had a pretty ho-hum 2014 thus far. Here's their shot in the arm. With the team flopping around between third and fourth place in the NL Central since mid-April, they needed a boost. The Pirates (30-34, 7 1/2 games back) seemed sly about bringing up Polanco. Mostly because of the Super 2 deadline but also because they have usually been patient with their prospects. Still, he's a five-tool player, a left-hander with a smooth swing who could help the Pirates in a number of ways.
Where'd he come from: Polanco, who was reared in the Dominican Republic, was signed by the Pirates as an international free agent when he was just 17. He's been in the Pirates minor-league system since 2009, obviously building up the anticipation for his arrival.
The numbers: This season in Triple-A, he was flat-out beastly. He hit .347/.405/.540 with seven homers and 49 RBIs in 62 games. He also stole 15 bases, showing off those five-tool skills that have caused Pirates fans to already fall in love with him. He was No. 10 on Baseball America's top prospect list heading into this season. Another important number: 2 — he hit second in his debut, right in front of reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen.
Best case: Polanco joins the Pirates and gives them a big boost like Yasiel Puig did for the Dodgers last season. He doesn't mirror Puig's historic first-month production (who could?), but he becomes a solid No. 2 hitter and gives the Pirates another big bat in the lineup, who, like McCutchen, hits for average and power. With a solid summer, he's in the conversation for NL Rookie of the Year.
Worst case: Polanco isn't as ready as everyone thought and needs a while to adjust to the big leagues. It's common. Even Mike Trout wasn't great right away. Polanco shows flashes of his drool-worthy potential, but doesn't really find his stride until next season. With Polanco's contributions inconsistent, he yields playing time as the season goes on.
Will you care in a month? Certainly. With all the hype, Pirates fans — and likewise, MLB fans — sure would be disappointed if Polanco was back down in the minors soon. He's not here to test the waters, he's here to contribute, to add another young star to the Pirates roster.
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