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Gregory Polanco: The End of an Era and What Could Have Been

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With the news coming out on Saturday that Gregory Polanco was designated for assignment by the Pirates, a whole flood of emotions hit the airwaves. Some rejoiced, others felt indifferent, and a select few were disheartened to see a genuinely good person leave the team the way he did. Some would argue that this situation was an extremely messy situation, and it should’ve been handled differently. All we know is that an end of an era has occurred.

To start it all off, the Pirates signed Polanco out of the Dominican Republic for $150,000 as a hitter. When the Pirates found Polanco, he was just a 17-year-old pitcher who was looking for an opportunity to hit instead of pitch. The Pirates took a gamble and at the time, a lot of people were thrilled to have him in the system.

Everywhere you look as a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, you’ll see articles, and opinions on Polanco. Questions like “what if Polanco hadn’t been plagued by injuries?” and doubts about the Pirates’ development swirl.

But the biggest question of all is, what went wrong? There are myriad possible answers to these questions, but those answers may not be what we want to hear.

When you start thinking about these questions, it may take you back to a time when the Pirates seemed prime for playoff runs thanks to an outfield that was seemingly loaded. A ‘dream” outfield. You had Starling Marte in left field, Andrew McCutchen in center field, and Polanco in right. We even saw contract extensions handed out.

Polanco received a 5-year, $35 million guaranteed contract with a $3 million signing bonus. It went against the typical Pirates move. But they felt that the time was right. And Polanco was a special player.

To say that Polanco meant a lot to this city may be a bit far-fetched, but at the time, everyone was pounding the table saying that this will be the guy to put the team over the top. His ceiling said he was a five tool player; he could hit for contact, hit for power, steal bases, could field, and had an arm that you’d have to respect as a baserunner.

In fact, if you go all the way back to 2013, Polanco was ranked as the No. 13 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB Pipeline. The report on Polanco was “with a long, lean frame {Polanco} is an aggressive swinger who started to learn the value of plate discipline.”

To answer “what exactly went wrong,” I think we need to go back to 2018 on a Friday night in September against the Miami Marlins. On one of the worst slides in the history of baseball, Polanco sustained a serious injury to both his shoulder and leg. Ever since his shoulder injury, Polanco was never the same. His swing looked awkward, his arm looked lifeless, and the speed was gone.

Can we blame not living up to expectations on one singular play? That’s probably an oversimplification, but the injury seemed to be a turning point in Polanco’s career.

Answering the question of “what could have been,” is a little murkier. We will never truly know. Prospects are a crapshoot, so maybe the simple answer is maybe this was it. Maybe Polanco was never going to be more than a serviceable player.

You may not like that answer, but history will show that an average player is more likely than a five-tool superstar.

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