Pittsburgh Pirates | Prospect Gregory Polanco headed for talented outfield

Polanco, aka El Coffee, could join Pirates OF in '14

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 27, 2014 

BRADENTON -- He has no idea where it came from.

But years ago, one of Gregory Polanco's managers started calling him El Coffee.

Pittsburgh's most prized prospect has embraced the moniker, even using it as his Twitter handle (El--Coffee) that allows him to communicate with more than 8,400 of his followers.

"He just said, 'We're going to call you coffee,'" Polanco said. "'OK.' It stuck with everybody. But I like it."

Rated the No. 1 prospect in the Pirates' system who wrapped last season with Triple-A Indianapolis, Polanco probably won't be making any cups of coffee with the big team in Pittsburgh.

When the Pirates call him up, something they are expected to do during the 2014 season, expect Polanco to stick, making him the next homegrown player to take root in PNC Park's outfield alongside Andrew McCutchen in center and Starling Marte in left.

Though he's just 22, Polanco, considered baseball's 13th-best overall prospect by mlb.com and 10th by Baseball America, was named the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 and the MVP of the 2013 Dominican Winter League.

Some scouts have compared him with a young Darryl Strawberry, albeit

with a better glove.

It's a lot of hype. Yet the soft-spoken Polanco, a member of the Pirates' 40-man roster for the first time, said he doesn't have a hard time blocking it out and concentrating on baseball.

"I just come to the field focused day by day and not thinking about what's going to happen," said Polanco, who hit .312 with 30 RBIs and 24 steals in 57 games last year with the Pirates' high Single-A affiliate in Bradenton prior to his promotion to Double-A. "I try to get better every day, and continuing to make adjustments."

Travis Snider and Jose Tabata are competing to be the Pirates' starting rightfielder, assuring that Polanco will head to Indianapolis at the conclusion of the spring and the packed-with-potential outfield of Marte, McCutchen and Polanco will have to wait.

So Polanco is using this spring to soak in all he can from Marte, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic who hit .280 with 41 steals last season, and McCutchen, the NL's reigning MVP.

"I learn a lot," Polanco said. "I always see what they do ... batting practice, outfield drills. ... Everything they do is working, and I want to see what can work for me so I can be better, so I can be like them."

A former first-round pick out of high school, McCutchen remembers when he was the Pirates' hot young prospect. Now he's ready to start help mentoring one.

"I'm looking forward to get to know him on a personal level. He seems like a real good guy from the years I've known him, and I'm going to enjoy getting to know him a little more this year," McCutchen said. "Unless it's a ground ball, we should have the opportunity to catch it, that's the way I look it. It's going to be a pretty fast outfield.

"I can't wait to see what Polanco does while he's here."

Manager Clint Hurdle's experience with Polanco has been limited to watching the player partake in minor-league workouts and the Dominican Winter League.

Hurdle, however, said he has faith in the people whose job it is to help mold Polanco into the player everyone expects him to be.

"That's where the trust comes in with the people that you work with, the player development staff that has watched him develop for the past three seasons and the growth that he's shown," Hurdle said. "I feel very comfortable getting him in play with the rest of the guys as he comes in and competes."

With a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging) of .277/.350/.419 in 410 minor-league games, Polanco has already crafted quite the résumé for a guy who has taken just nine at-bats in Triple-A.

Consequently, the kid they call Coffee is excited for the next step.

"With Cutch and Marte, we could have a very good outfield," Polanco said. "I'm very excited and proud of myself, and I'm just waiting to see what happens."

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