Though Polanco originally tried out for teams as a lanky left-handed pitcher out of the Dominican Republic, the Pirates signed him for $150,000 as an outfielder in 2009. After three nondescript years in Rookie ball, he broke out in 2012, winning Most Valuable Player honors in the low Class A South Atlantic League by batting .325/.388/.522 with 16 homers and 40 steals.
While Polanco didn't quite duplicate those numbers in 2013, hitting .285/.356/.434 with 12 long balls and 38 swipes, he made an even better impression on scouts while climbing from high Class A Bradenton to Triple-A Indianapolis. In between, he put on a batting-practice show at the Futures Game, and he established himself as an elite prospect. If all that wasn't enough, Polanco claimed the Dominican Winter League MVP Award during the offseason.
Polanco entered 2014 ranked No. 13 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, and though the season is only two weeks old, he has continued to boost his stock. In his first 12 games for Indianapolis, he batted .426/.471/.681 with six extra-base hits, including two homers, and a steal.
"He's done a little bit of everything," said Kyle Stark, Pittsburgh's assistant general manager. "It's been fun to watch. The exciting thing about him is he's extremely driven and has very good feel for making adjustments, so it allows him to keep getting better."
With all due respect to Jonathan Mayo's choice of D-backs right-hander Archie Bradley, no Minor Leaguer is more deserving of a promotion right now than Polanco. And the Pirates would be best served by making that happen pronto.
In Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh does have the reigning National League MVP Award winner at Polanco's natural position of center field. The Bucs also have gotten acceptable play from corner outfielders Starling Marte and Travis Snider. But for a team coming off its first playoff appearance in 22 seasons and looking for more, Polanco can be a catalyst. Getting him acclimated to the big leagues now would put him in better position to make a difference in September and October.
Polanco has the physical ability and the savvy to impact the game with each of his five tools. All of them grade at least plus if not better and it's difficult to distinguish which stands out as the best.
Though Polanco's 6-foot-4 frame and long arms add length to his swing, his quick hands allow him to make consistent hard contact at the plate. He controls the strike zone, patiently waiting for pitches to punish and taking walks if they don't come. Once Polanco finishes developing physically, he should grow into at least 20-homer power in the Major Leagues and could be a 30-30 threat in his prime.
With his well-above-average speed, Polanco steals bases and covers lots of ground in the outfield. He's a quality center fielder whose arm strength can be an asset in right.
It's telling that after playing almost exclusively in center field in 2013, Polanco has spent all of his time at Indianapolis this year in right. McCutchen isn't going anywhere, but Polanco would make the Pirates better if he were playing alongside him.