Like the Athletics, the Pirates are an organization that must rely on smarts in place of money for them to compete. They are in a slightly better position than Oakland because they have enough money to tie up some of their young stars. Andrew McCutchen signed such a deal a few years ago for six years and 51.5 million. McCutchen still has two more years on that deal. Similarly, they signed Starling Marte to a six year deal for 31 million dollars before the 2014 season.
It would seem that their method for building a winner is to develop talent and then buy out arbitration and early free agent years before it gets prohibitively expensive. Gregory Polanco will probably be on that path following the 2016 season if everything goes to plan. So, for the next two seasons, the Pirates will have one of the best outfields in the major leagues. They hope that is enough to carry them in a very difficult NL Central.
The NL Central is one of the more top heavy divisions in baseball. The Cardinals, Cubs, and Pirates had the best three records in baseball last season. The Cubs went on a spending bonanza this offseason, so they look to be the favorites. For the Pirates to compete, players like Polanco will have to take the next step in their development.
Where he has been
Polanco has been shooting up the ADPs lately and I suppose that makes sense on a certain level. There was a lot of growth between year one and year two. However, a lot of that growth came through sheer playing time. He played in 153 games and had over 650 plate appearances last season. So, any growth we see this year will have to come via the quality of his performance.
There’s some hope that exists there. He should have better batted ball luck this year and his strikeout and walk rates have been fairly favorable so far. More importantly, his home rate on fly balls (5.5%) was well below the league average and much worse than his rookie season. So, he could end up becoming a 15 home run kind of threat very easily with normal luck and production.
Where he could go
A part of the Polanco charm is that he developed into a pretty solid right fielder last season (+11 defensive runs saved). Add that to these numbers and you can see how he might be viewed in a much nicer light. He seems to be shaping up into a poor man’s Jason Heyward, We saw how much money that got Heyward this offseason.
The numbers above may not blow your skirt up, but he aims to be a solid contributor in all five offensive categories and his walk rate is good enough to add a sixth category. The problem is that he is not elite (or even really good) in any of them. He is being selected as a third outfielder according to his ADPs and that feels a little ambitious given where he is likely to end up in all the categories.
A Rosy Picture
Fantasy players are in the same boat as the Pirates. The Pirates could give Polanco a long-term extension, but they aren’t sure what they have yet. The same is true of fantasy players. A vote for Polanco is a vote for growth. Sometimes that growth comes and sometimes it doesn’t. That is one of the pitfalls of betting on young players. Sometimes they become McCutchen and sometimes they become Kevin Young.
The rosy picture isn’t rosy because the rosy picture is built on what he has already done. Most prognosticators are not fond of creating numbers out of thin air. I think Polanco could develop into a .280/15/90/70/30 guy, but I don’t rely on “I thinks” when building my draft list. A good fantasy player has to take some chances and hope for out of context numbers to win. The question is when and how often to take those risks.