MLB Top-100 Prospects Face Off: Gregory Polanco vs. Oscar Taveras
As MLB top-100 prospects go, Gregory Polanco and Oscar Taveras are king’s of the mountain. For the Cardinals, Taveras is the future in right or left field. In both 2013 and 2014, he was the third ranked prospect in all of baseball per Baseball America. Polanco is more of a fast riser. From unknown to a top-10 overall ranking in two seasons, a dominating start in Triple-A has sent his prospect status to the stratosphere. Both MLB Top-100 prospects have similarities: left-handed hitters, corner outfielders, natives of the Dominican Republic, top-10 overall rankings and big numbers in Triple-A. But who’s better? Having had multiple looks at both within the past month or so, let’s compare both hitters from a scouting standpoint to project who’ll be the better impact bat.
Physical Projection: At a legitimate 6-foot-4, Polanco is listed at two inches taller than Taveras. In person, the Cardinals slugger appeared shorter, but it may be due to a muscular, maxed out frame. Even so, Polanco’s lean upper half and wide hips point to a player who’s still growing. Already 220, the possibility is there for Gregory Polanco to to be 240-plus pounds at physical maturation. This would leave him one of the more imposing hitters in the game.
On the other hand, Taveras is compact and powerful already. Watching him explode through baseballs is a thing of beauty, but forces evaluators to question how much more he’ll improve? When comparing the MLB Top-100 prospects, Polanco earns the nod for physical projection. Plus, the Pirates prospect is already a better all-around athlete than Taveras by a wide margin. This leaves little concern as it pertains to added size and if it will negatively affect Gregory Polanco at the place.
Batting Eye: Comparing walk and strikeout rates are misleading when comparing Polanco and Taveras. At the plate, St. Louis’ top prospect is hyper aggressive and often makes contact early in counts, minimizing his opportunity to earn free passes or punch out. Given the fact Taveras rarely misses pitches he swings at, limiting the number of bad pitches the outfielder chases is key. In game action Taveras was best when he worked deeper counts, looking for a pitch to drive. The problem is he did this just a couple of times in the two game look.
As for Polanco, he consistently worked deeper counts across three games and identified pitches to drive. And while this happened a number of times, the left-handed hitter also struck out looking at a 3-2 fastball after taking the first five pitches thrown to him. At times, he walked a fine line between being patient and watching at bats pass by due to looking for fastballs middle-in. For now, Polanco earns the edge in batting eye. However, Taveras has more room to grow in this area going forward.
Hit Tool: Both MLB Top-100 prospects project for plus hit tools. In fact, both received 55/65 grades in their individual scouting reports. For Oscar Taveras, his ability to square up pitches is special. It’s as if the ball and bat barrel are magnetized and attracted to each other. And while this speaks to a future .300-plus hitter, he must put his compact frame and elite contact skills to best use by tightening the strike zone. Swing only at balls between the knees and letters and Taveras will thrive. Chase trash pitches will lead to his being fed more until his batting average bursts.
With Polanco, he simply doesn’t miss anything middle in. This will allow him to crush nearly every mistake. Opposite of Taveras, his larger frame will force the outfielder to command a larger strike zone. Plus, Polanco needs to improve his ability to drive balls the other way. Fortunately, the MLB Top-100 prospects’ batting eye is better than Taveras, meaning he can see more pitches and work better hitters counts. This will minimize any weak areas and still allow Polanco to find success.
Power Tool: Projection. Who has more of it? This is the big question and reason for writing this piece in the first place.
As with other areas mentioned, both Polanco and Taveras are awfully close in present power and future projection. For Taveras, his swing features more natural lift than the Pirates prospect. Plus, his compact size and swing plane point to a future hitter with few, if any holes. The question is how often will Taveras give away at bats by chasing bad pitches and making weak contact? If this is brought under control, then 70-plus power is possible (30-37 home runs). For me, seeing is believing though and I’d rather be conservative and be proven wrong than drop an even bigger grade and have it fall short.
With Polanco, his swing has little lift. This creates top spin, leading to three balls in the three game look hitting the outfield wall. Each was hit hard enough to leave the park, but hard line drives six feet off the ground don’t result in home runs. Fortunately, lift can be achieved through minor swing tweaks and the left-handed hitter already possesses the ability to identify pitches to drive. Plus, additional projection helps the overall power profile. It’s not a large advantage for Polanco, but one nonetheless.
The MLB Top-100 Prospects Face Off Verdict
Oscar Taveras versus Gregory Polanco is a lesson in splitting prospect hairs. Both project to be All-Star level hitters at the MLB level, but scouting preferences lead to the evaluation the Pirates prospect has a slightly higher offensive ceiling. In a Twitter exchange with @cjloken, he mentioned Polanco being the better defender and faster runner, but not as strong a hitter. The reason Polanco is better in both areas is athleticism which is also important for offensive projection. Given this fact, Pittsburgh’s top prospect can add size without it negatively affecting his swing. Oscar Taveras can’t. If both MLB Top-100 prospects were unleashed on Major League pitchers today, Taveras would be a better power producer initially, but would lean in Polanco’s favor over the course of their respective careers.
28 May 2014 / Mike Newman / 2
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