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Pirates Prospect Primer: Polanco blossoms03/28/2014 10:00 AM ET
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com
Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2014 season approaching, MiLB.com takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.
Shining star: Gregory Polanco, OF
In the span of just two seasons, the Gregory Polanco bandwagon has grown almost as quickly as the muscles enveloping his 6-foot-4 frame. Once a skin-and-bones tool bag, Polanco has added roughly 50 pounds since signing in 2009. Now weighing in at a muscular 220, his skill set has him poised to join Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte to form what could be baseball's best outfield by the middle of 2014.
The left-handed hitter is a five-tool talent, bashing 44 extra-base hits and swiping 38 bags with a .285 average and .791 OPS across three levels last season. Athletic enough to be a promising center-field prospect, the Dominican Republic native from Santo Domingo figures to be a plus defender in right thanks to quality range and an above-average arm.
"Just looking at his total career numbers, above A-ball, there's not many at-bats," said Pirates director of Minor League operations Larry Broadway, referencing Polanco's 252 at-bats above Class A Advanced. "Obviously, he played Winter Ball this winter, which was a big chunk of upper-level experience, but the biggest thing is really just logging some upper-level experience."
His foray this winter was a huge success -- Polanco batted .331 with a .922 OPS in the Dominican Winter League -- and a strong Spring Training has only put fuel to the fire of fans clamoring for his arrival in Pittsburgh.
"The sky is the limit for this guy," Double-A Altoona manager Carlos Garcia said. "He's a player full of tools and a player who is very mature. He understands what he has to do to be able to succeed."
Major League-ready: Jameson Taillon, RHP
Taillon's been a name on the prospect radar for years now, appearing at No. 9 on Jonathan Mayo's first MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list in 2011 and maintaining a spot within the top 20 every year since. He checks in at No. 16 on the '14 edition.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander's stuff has been undeniably good since going second overall in the 2010 Draft. Taillon packs mid-90s heat and pairs it with one of the Minors' filthiest breaking pitches -- a heavy, hammer curve. His changeup is now an above-average offering, according to Mayo, and the hurler has shown solid command of his three-pitch mix.
Triple-A, in Broadway's words, is a "finishing school," for prospects such as Taillon. If he stays healthy -- already a mild concern -- he will likely spend about half a season with the Indians before jumping to the Majors. Pirates fans are hopeful the transition is as smooth as that of former top prospect Gerrit Cole.
And what do the Pirates need to see from Taillon before pushing him into the MLB rotation?
"It's the little things about his pitch usage and attacking hitters," Broadway said. "How to think through a game while being able to compete at the same time. It's more he needs the reps of that level, understanding the upper-level hitters and what they're going to do to him."
Full-season debutants: Austin Meadows, OF and Reese McGuire, C
Pittsburgh's first-round picks from the 2013 Draft are, for the time being, a package deal. They played in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League together last season, and this year, both will join West Virginia in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Meadows left no doubt last season that he's ready for the full-season challenge. The center fielder posted a .918 OPS in 43 GCL games, then batted .464 in nine New York-Penn League contests split between the end of the season and the playoffs.
McGuire, selected 14th overall last summer, is a promising defender who is advanced both physically and mentally for a 19-year-old. He has a rocket arm and quality catching mechanics for a player less than a year out of high school, and the Pirates have raved about his intangibles.
"He's always just fit right in wherever he's at," Broadway said. "He works with the pitchers well. He has an advanced feel for being a teammate and leading staffs."
More to keep an eye on: With McGuire entrenched behind home plate, 2012 second-rounder Wyatt Mathisen is moving to third base full time for the Power, where the team is hopeful consistent at-bats and good health will lead to a breakout campaign. ... Another notable from West Virginia is '13 fourth-round pick JaCoby Jones, a tremendous athlete who moved to shortstop full time after playing both outfield and infield in college. ... The Pirates are encouraged by the defensive progress of Alen Hanson, with Double-A Altoona manager Carlos Garcia saying the 21-year-old looks much sharper after playing in the Arizona Fall League and Dominican Winter League. "You know, I had my doubts," Garcia said. "But right now, I don't have any doubt he's going to stay [at shortstop]."