New crop of prospects taking center stage for Bucs
With Polanco now a part of the present, Pirates' future has a bit of a different look
The Gregory Polanco era is off to a roaring start in Pittsburgh. The lengthy wait for the young right fielder ended Tuesday, and in his first six games in a Pirates uniform, Polanco has performed. Highlighted by a game-winning homer in extra innings on Friday in Miami, Polanco is hitting .407 with five RBIs and a .907 OPS after one week in black and gold.
For longer than most Pittsburgh fans would have liked, Polanco was the future for the Pirates. Now that he has become the present, the focus on recent changes on the farm for the Bucs.
The Pirates received some unfortunate news about their top Minor League arm right as the 2014 season began. Right-hander Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery in April, effectively ending his season before he threw an official pitch.
Taillon was the No. 2 pick of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft as a hard-throwing high schooler, and he was the Bucs' No. 1 prospect this preseason, according to MLB.com. Given how injury-riddled the Pirates' rotation has been this season, there's a decent chance Taillon would've debuted in the Majors by this point, but that will have to wait at least another season. Taillon split last season between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, where he combined to go 5-10 with a 3.73 ERA, recording 143 strikeouts and 52 walks in 147 1/3 innings.
"He is a driven young man, from a family of achievers," general manager Neal Huntington said in April. "But they are also going to help him understand the bigger picture, that getting back a month earlier and putting the next 10 years at risk is not the best way to go about it. We're looking at this as a long-term recovery process for Jameson to be successful and to have the great Major League career we expect him to have."
Nick Kingham, meanwhile, is a pitcher who is both healthy and making some noise in the Minors, as he was promoted to Indianapolis from Altoona last week.
A 6-foot-5 righty, Kingham got called up after compiling a 3.04 ERA in 12 Double-A starts. He's been good of late. In his last five starts for Altoona, Kingham had a 2.65 ERA, 23 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 innings. The 22-year-old debuted for Indianapolis on Friday and made his best start of the season at either level, throwing seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts.
The distinction of the top-rated player among healthy Bucs prospect belongs to shortstop Alen Hanson. The 21-year-old was promoted to Altoona for 35 games last year and has spent the duration of his 2014 campaign there as well. Hanson was hitting .271/.309/.438 with six homers, 36 RBIs and 12 steals entering Sunday.
Shortstop is again where the Pirates turned with their first pick of the 2014 Draft when they made Arizona high schooler Cole Tucker the 24th overall pick. Tucker is just 17, but he signed with Pittsburgh on Thursday and will begin his professional career in the Gulf Coast League later this month.
"I feel like if I want to be a Major Leaguer, I have to improve every aspect of my game," Tucker said when he met with the media for the first time. "There's nothing I do right now that is good enough to be out on that field. I need to improve as a hitter, as a student of the game, as a person, as a fielder, a runner. I need to get stronger. I need to do a lot of things so I can put on this uniform every day and play in the big leagues."
Among other prospects, Tucker will be joined by fellow 2014 Draft picks right-handed pitchers Mitch Keller and Trey Supak -- the Bucs' third and fourth selections of the Draft, respectively -- in Bradenton, Fla. It's a long way from Pittsburgh, but if Tucker and others pan out, they could have fans clamoring for their debuts just as they did for Polanco's.
"We feel like we've added another deep class," Huntington said. "We like our early picks, we like some guys we took in the later single-digit rounds. We like the upside of some guys we took in the teens. The overall package, we like it a lot."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.