PITTSBURGH — Billy Hamilton and Gregory Polanco are nothing alike physically. What they represent to the future of their respective teams as well as their current roles at the top of their lineups is the same.
Hamilton, the Reds’ spry speed demon of a center fielder, is proving worthy of the team’s decision to insert him into the starting lineup from the outset of spring training despite his limited experience at the position. Polanco, who more in the mold of Los Angeles right fielder Yasiel Puig, including his position, has been in the big leagues for just one week but the Pittsburgh Pirates are envisioning a similar impact as they try to get back into the National League Central race.
The Pirates (34-35) are one-half game ahead of the Reds (33-35) heading into Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series at PNC Park.
If either team is going to get over that .500 hump and work their way back into division contention with Milwaukee and St. Louis, their young star prospects are going to be a big reason why.
Hamilton leads NL rookies with 25 stolen bases and 31 runs scored while his batting average (.264), on-base percentage (.301) and slugging percentage (.382) are all near his season highs.
"Every time something doesn’t work, it’s another opportunity for him to learn from that experience. I can’t expect him to play like a veteran in his rookie year," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "He’s not quite there yet but he gets better every day. We’re watching the evolution of a terrific player in every facet of his gameâ¦ It’s pretty impressive what we’re seeing for a guy who got off to a relatively slow start."
Polanco has begun his major league career with 12 hits in his first 31 at-bats covering his first six games. He has at least one hit in each game; the last Pirates player to accomplish that feat was Roberto Clemente, the legendary Pirate right fielder who has a bridge named after him beyond PNC Park’s center field. Polanco had five hits, including his first career home run that was the game-winner in Pittsburgh’s 8-6, 13-inning win at Miami last Friday.
Polanco was hitting for average (.347), power (.540 slugging) and getting on base (.405) for Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis in 62 games before getting called up.
"As a fan I’m looking forward to seeing him play," said Price. "And hopefully we have something for him to makes things a little bit more difficult than they have been so far."
While Hamilton began this season facing the likes of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha (twice) and David Price, Polanco will easily be seeing his most marquee pitcher tonight in the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.
The Pirates have been calculated with bringing Polanco, a native of the Dominican Republic, along. He’s still 22 years old (Hamilton is 23) and for the first four years of his professional career he didn’t play above the Single-A level. Last year he played at High-A, Double-A and Triple-A, producing a .285 batting average, .356 on-base percentage and .434 slugging percentage in 126 games.
He’s getting a chance in the big leagues because second baseman Neil Walker is on the 15-day disabled list following an appendectomy. It is unlikely Polanco is going back to Indianapolis anytime soon.