Early in the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting criticized from all angles over their treatment of prospect Gregory Polanco. The 22-year-old outfielder carried a .400 average into May for Triple-A Indianapolis, while Travis Snider (82 wRC+ over the first two months) and Jose Tabata (84) struggled in right field for a Pirates club that at one point sank to 9.5 games out in the NL Central.
While Pirates general manager Neal Huntington indicated that he felt Polanco needed more time in Triple-A, the team was accused of being cheap — for reasonably wanting to ensure that they delayed Polanco’s free agency by a year — or overly conservative, watching the division slip away a year after making the playoffs for the first time in two decades. When Polanco finally came up in June and promptly set a Pirates rookie record by collecting at least one hit in each of his first 11 games, it seemed as though perhaps the dissenters had a point.
On Monday, Polanco was optioned back to Triple-A. He’d struggled so badly after his hot start that his wRC+ now sits at 88, 12 percent below league average and barely better than what Snider and Tabata had done. It’s a valuable lesson: No matter what the minor league stat line says, hotshot-prospect hitters often struggle in their first extended look in the majors. So why is that?
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