Pirates produce prodigious plan for prospects

Arguably the most talented player in Pittsburgh Pirates spring training camp is no longer in Pittsburgh Pirates spring training camp.

Gregory Polanco, the 22-year old slugger from the Dominican Republic was optioned to Triple A-Indianapolis, along with right-handed relief pitcher Duke Welker, on Friday.

Earlier this week, Pittsburgh’s top pitching prospect, Jamison Taillon, was part of the Pirates’ first round of cuts for this season.

Polanco was hitting a blistering .366 in 23 spring training plate appearances. Taillon allowed one earned run, four hits and didn’t strike anyone out in only 2 2/3 of Grapefruit League action.

These guys weren’t demoted for their solid statistics, though.

They were demoted for a brighter future.

Taillon had a 4-7 record with a 3.67 ERA in 110 innings pitched at Double A-Altoona in 2013. He totaled 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his 20 games there.

Taillon, the No. 16 overall prospect according to MLB.com, tossed just 37 innings at the Triple A level.

Polanco hit six homeruns, 13 doubles, with a .263 batting average in 286 plate appearances with the Curve. He also sports a nearly flawless .999 fielding percentage across all three outfield positions.

Polanco, the No. 13 overall prospect, played in just two Triple A games.

It’s not that guys of this caliber need any more seasoning. However, they’re still young. Polanco and Taillon are both 22, but their prospect potential is ready to burst.

The Pirates are notorious, in recent years, for bringing their highly regarded farm hands along slowly in the minors.

They also give these budding stars a proper welcome at the major league level.

In front of 20,683 fans on the afternoon of Thursday, June 4, 2009 – Andrew McCutchen made his major league debut.

At the time, he was 22 and the tiny dreadlocked strands of hair barely peeked out from underneath his cap.

McCutchen, not quite ‘Cutch yet, hit a single off of Mets’ pitcher Mike Pelfrey in his first big league at-bat. He went 2 for 4 in the Pirates’ 11-6 win, scoring three runs and stealing a base.

He started off his career hitting safely in 11 of his first 13 games. On June 17, he belted his first home run off, coincidentally enough, Francisco Liriano of the Twins. Liriano is now the ace of the Pittsburgh pitching staff.

Starling Marte was promoted to the Pirates while the team was on the road in Houston. That didn’t stop his debut from being memorable as he became the third Pirate in franchise history to homer in his first big league at-bat.

Marte blasted the first pitch he saw from the Astros’ Dallas Kuechel on July 26, 2012.

He’s been the everyday left fielder for a season and a half and was a finalist for the Gold Glove award last season.

With Marte, also a .275 career hitter who stole 41 bases in 2013; McCutchen the reigning National League MVP award winner after batting .317 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs and Polanco on the way, the Pirates could potentially have one of the league’s most explosive and exciting outfields.

When that time comes – likely in June or July – the Pittsburgh pitching rotation will boast two of the best young arms in the league, too.

Taillon joins Gerrit Cole, who had a sparkling debut of his own.

Cole, the first overall selection in the 2011 draft, struck out the first batter he faced in the big leagues, Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco, on three pitches. He polished off an 8-2 Pirates win going 6 1/3 innings allowing seven hits.

There were more than 30,000 fans in attendance that night – June 11, 2013 – and there will be at least that many when that same time rolls around this year and Taillon takes the hill for the first time.

For the Pirates to make these fairly early decisions on Polanco and Taillon, with 14 spring training games still left, it allows more proper decisions to be made regarding the major league roster.

There are still 51 players in camp and at least 12 are on the bubble to fill out the roster.

Polanco and Taillon were expected to be cut, but there still are nay sayers who would like to see the Pirates take a risk and let these guys have a crack against the best right away.

Time will tell if they blossom into all-stars, an MVP or Cy Young winner.

Time will also give them the best chance to reach that level of stardom.

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)