INDIANAPOLIS -- Scouts rave about Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco.
His rare combination of speed, athleticism and baseball instincts led to promotions from Hi-A Bradenton to Double-A Altoona and Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis last season. And although the "five-tool prospect" saw action in just two regular-season games with the Tribe in 2013, the baseball world is already speculating Polanco's landing spot for the beginning of the 2014 campaign:
Pittsburgh or Indianapolis.
Tribe fans may be in for a real treat when the calendar flips to April, 2014, as the highly-touted outfielder, who made his Triple-A debut only three months ago, is placed on either the Indians Opening Day roster or potentially the Pirates Opening Day lineup. With most signs pointing to the first of the two options.
"Polanco showed some very positive signs when he moved to Double-A and Triple-A last season ... but he also showed signs that he had some work to do," Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington told the team's official website. "We are really excited and we see him in our outfield a long time. I just don't know it's going to be April 1."
If that's the case for the rising star, then the defending International League West Division champion Indianapolis Indians will boast one of the game's top prospects in their outfield to start the upcoming season.
Last year, in just his second full season in the Minors, Polanco hit at a collective .285 clip (134-for-470) with 44 extra-base hits, 71 RBI and 38 stolen bases between the Marauders, Curve and Indians. The five-tool standout established himself as an up-and-coming prospect at all three MiLB levels, and prior to making both his Double-A and Triple-A debut last year, he was selected to the Florida State League Midseason All-Star team courtesy of his 68 hits in 57 games with Bradenton.
"Polanco is special, just special," Pittsburgh Manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's tall, he's strong, he runs in the fashion Larry Walker used to run because his strides are so long ... He's very gifted and he's getting closer (to the majors) every day."
An unbiased source also confirmed the skipper's descriptions.
After rating Polanco as the No. 4 prospect in Pittsburgh's system prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America released its updated organization rankings and listed the outfielder as the Pirates' top overall farmhand entering the 2014 campaign. In addition, the well-respected publication also tabbed Polanco as the Pirates' "Best Hitter for Average," "Fastest Baserunner," "Best Athlete" and "Best Defensive Outfielder."
As some have said, "special."
"We're really excited about Gregory and where he could go," Huntington said. "If internal options don't work out (in right field next season), we've got Polanco on the horizon."
With Polanco impressing during his current stint in the Winter Leagues, both Huntington and the Pirates have found themselves fielding the question of exactly how far off that horizon is for Polanco's eventual big-league debut. The Pirates have begun addressing their top prospect's future role by hinting at a similar path to that of former Indians standout Gerrit Cole, who wowed the International League through roughly the first two and a half months of the season before joining the Bucs on June 11.
Then again, even with Polanco entering the season as highly-ranked in the system as Cole in 2013, the outfielder's near future is all still strictly speculation.
"Our goal is to try and keep him on track where if need be he could join us, possibly on the back end of the season, somewhere along the lines of a Gerrit Cole did, if it works out that way," Hurdle said on MLB Network during last week's Winter Meetings. "But he's developing well. He's learning lessons. He's getting better every day."
If not at PNC Park, Polanco's development will likely continue under the bright lights of Victory Field next season where his impressive skill set will be on display as the hometown Tribe pursues a third consecutive division title for the first time in franchise history.
As for Polanco's position during that run - and not in reference to suiting up for either the Pirates or Indians - Huntington was more up front when naming specifics for the not-so-distant 2014 season.
"We'll bounce him around to all three outfield positions," Huntington said. "Assuming he goes back to Triple-A with us, he'll play some center, some left, but it'll be primarily right."
Regardless of the three positions Polanco plays, it's certain all five tools will be on display for the hometown Indianapolis Indians.