Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco is on the fast track to PNC Park. Every major scouting service has the young OF ranked as a top 25 prospect. Polanco is 5 tool player. He is a potential star and most people believe he will get the call up to the majors in the middle of the 2014 season. The Pirates are set in LF with Starling Marte and CF with Andrew McCutchen. It appears that Polanco’s immediate future in Pittsburgh will be as the right fielder. But that might not be the best usage of the talented young prospect.
The Pirates have a number of internal candidates to play RF this season. Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, Jaff Decker, and Andrew Lambo are all in the mix. The alternatives at 1B are significantly thinner. They have Gaby Sanchez to occupy the right side of the platoon and the unproven Andrew Lambo. The Pirates have been shopping for a 1B all offseason to no avail. As the roster currently stands, 1B is the Pirates biggest hole. It is my belief that Pirates should start giving Gregory Polanco some reps at 1B to potentially fill that hole if it still exists at mid season. Polanco could get a crash course on playing 1B in Spring Training. His playing time at AAA Indianapolis should then be split between 1B and the OF during April and May. If Polanco could add this positional versatility it means the Pirates would have an elite prospect that they could turn to during the season to fill in at four different positions. If production is lagging at either RF or 1B Polanco would be the player internally the Pirates could turn to. If Marte or McCutchen were to get injured Polanco would be in line to plug those holes as well.
This wouldn’t be the first time a team has employed this strategy with an elite defensive OF prospect. In the late 90′s the Angels moved Darin Erstad to 1B because they had a crowded outfield and a hole at 1B. He bounced back and forth between CF and 1B much of his career depending on what needs the Angels had in a given season. Erstad proved to be a natural at 1B. He would eventually win gold gloves at both CF and 1B.
This is not to say that Gregory Polanco would pick up the 1B position as easily as Darin Erstad did. However, Polanco does have many of the same tools. He is left handed, nimble, and has good heighth for the position. He is a natural athlete. Polanco should be able to learn the 1B position well enough that he could competently play it if called upon at mid season.
There are still some players on the trading block such as Justin Smoak, Ike Davis, and Mitch Moreland that the Pirates might end up acquiring to play 1B in 2014. Even if they do acquire one of these players I still think it makes sense to get Polanco accustomed to 1B. That added positional versatility could still come into play. All of the 1Bs that are available have flaws and question marks. The Pirates have no immediate prospects at 1B to turn to. If whomever they turn to at 1B washes out they are left with no good internal options.
Some would argue that putting Polanco at 1B would waste his athleticism. However, I would argue that 1B is a more important defensive position for the Pirates than RF. The Pirates have constructed a ground ball heavy pitching staff. They have embraced a strategy of over shifting the infield defense. A mobile left handed 1B could allow for more radical shifts on right handed hitters. Polanco could play further off the bag than any other 1B in baseball. If PNC park had a spacious right field it would be a different story. However, right field at PNC park is not an extremely demanding piece of real estate to defend. Would Polanco’s range really add much over an average player within the smallish right field dimensions of PNC Park? For these reasons I believe the Pirates should consider Gregory Polanco as an option at 1B.