Some batters require an acclimation period upon first playing in the major leagues, but Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco has instantly taken a liking to big league pitching. With at least one hit in each of his first nine games, the recent call-up has set a Pirates franchise record for longest hitting streak to begin a career, per the team's official Twitter account.
Listed at No. 10 on Baseball America's preseason prospect rankings, Polanco started the year at Triple-A Indianapolis with the expectation that he'd arrive in the majors by midseason. The five-tool outfielder forced the Pirates' hand by June 10, though, producing a .347/.405/.540 slash line with seven home runs and 15 stolen bases over 274 plate appearances for Indianapolis.
Polanco's raw numbers were backed by a strong 16.1 percent strikeout rate and solid 8.8 percent walk rate, making it hard to deny that the 22-year-old lefty was ready for the big show.
A sample size of nine games shouldn't carry too much weight, but boy has Polanco made the Bucs look silly for not calling him up sooner. Not only does he have a hit in each of his nine games, but he also has five multi-hit performances and is 17-for-45 (.378 batting average) overall.
Josh Harrison, owner of a .308 average, had been doing an admirable job in right field, but the Pirates' lack of a more permanent outfield option made it difficult to take advantage of his versatility. With Polanco cemented alongside Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Harrison is free to play wherever needed, which is currently at second base in place of an injured Neil Walker.
Polanco's presence quite clearly gives the Pirates added offensive firepower and versatility, but will it be enough for the team to overcome a 35-37 start to reach the playoffs for a second straight season? Sitting eight games back in the division and just four back of a wild-card spot, the Pirates certainly shouldn't be left for dead. However, the team's starting rotation, which has been decimated by injuries, may be too much for even Polanco and McCutchen to overcome.
As for the future, few teams will be more fun to watch, with the Bucs expected to trot out a Marte-McCutchen-Polanco outfield for the next half-decade or so.
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