Pirates fans, the charade is finally over. Gregory Polanco is on his way to the majors.
The team announced the decision late Monday, after its 6-2 win over the Cubs. Second baseman Neil Walker was placed on the 15-day disabled list following an appendectomy. That precipitated the roster move that will bring Polanco to Pittsburgh. Josh Harrison, who had been the primary right fielder recently, shifts to second base to replace Walker, making room for the organization’s top prospect.
Polanco has been having an outstanding season for Triple-A Indianapolis, batting .347 with a .945 OPS (both ranked second in the International League) with 17 doubles, seven homers, 49 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.
As could be expected, Polanco was held out of Monday’s game but found out about his call-up shortly afterwards. As MiLB.com’s Ashley Marshall reported, Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor waited to break the big news to Polanco in front of coaches and teammates.
“Our manager does a real nice job of telling guys when they’re getting called up, but tonight he did it in front of everyone, which was unusual,” hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo told Marshall. “Dean was going around talking about the game and he pointed to Polanco and said, ‘Oh, and you’re going to Pittsburgh.’ Some of his teammates were cheering harder than he was. Some guys were jumping up and down and others were hugging him.”
The 22-year-old phenom arguably should have made the Pirates roster out of spring training. But keeping Polanco in the minors past the Super Two deadline — thus preventing him from gaining a fourth year of arbitration eligibility — was almost certainly a deciding factor for a club with a small-market payroll like the Pirates. A strong spring from Travis Snider also provided some justification for sending Polanco to Triple-A to begin the season.
But now that Polanco has presumably passed the threshold for Super Two status (believed to be two years, 121 days of major league service time), the Pirates can do what they should have done going into the season and put their best lineup on the field.
As a team, Pittsburgh right fielders have batted a collective .264 with a .676 OPS, six doubles, four homers and 20 RBI. But that includes the production of Harrison, who’s batted .310 with a .785 OPS at the position. Snider has a .191 average, .553 OPS, two homers and seven RBI when playing right field, while Jose Tabata compiled a .649 OPS and only three extra-base hits.
It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that Polanco will provide a significant upgrade to the Pirates outfield and batting order. Pittsburgh currently ranks eighth among NL teams with 252 runs scored and has a -16 run differential. MLB fans are also no longer deprived of seeing another potential young star.
This move was long overdue. (It felt even more so, with recent call-ups like the Astros’ George Springer and Rangers’ Rougned Odor making meaningful contributions.) But with the Pirates three games away from the league’s second wild-card spot, there is still time for their top prospect to have a big impact on their season.