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Pirates call up prized prospect Polanco

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 11:01 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Gregory Polanco takes off from first base during the first inning of the Black and Gold intrasquad game Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker tags out the Brewers' Rickie weeks on a pick-off during the fifth inning Sunday, June, 8, 2014, at PNC Park.

When Pirates second baseman Neil Walker felt a pain in his gut Monday, it triggered a series of moves that will culminate Tuesday with top prospect Gregory Polanco finally taking the field at PNC Park.

Late Monday, Walker was placed on the 15-day disabled list after having an appendectomy. The club then announced it intends to call up Polanco from Triple-A to fill Walker's roster spot.

“The wait is over. My dream has officially come true. Pittsburgh, see you (Tuesday),” Polanco wrote on Twitter. “Pirates fans, thanks for being patient with me. You guys are awesome!”

While Walker is out of action, Josh Harrison and Clint Barmes will play second base. Harrison started there Monday when Walker was scratched.

Polanco will start in right field — completing the “Dream Outfield” that includes Starling Marte in left and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen in center — and could be used as the leadoff hitter.

Polanco's arrival likely means either Travis Snider or Jose Tabata eventually will be released or traded.

Last season, Polanco, 22, was named the Pirates' minor league player of the year. The outfielder was a Florida State League all-star with High-A Bradenton, then finished the season at Double-A Altoona.

In 62 games with Indy this year, Polanco batted .347 with a .945 OPS. He hit seven home runs and had 15 stolen bases.

During spring training, Polanco turned down a seven-year, $25 million contract offer from the Pirates. The deal included three option years that could have raised the total value to more than $50 million.

In 10 spring training games this year, Polanco batted .273 with an .804 on-base plus slugging percentage. Although he hit at an even more torrid pace with Indy, Pirates management resisted promoting Polanco right away.

“I understand the fans' desire to see Gregory Polanco,” president Frank Coonelly said May 11. “He could be a five-tool player. We want to make sure we put him in a position where he's ready to go when he comes up here.”

A left-handed batter, Polanco was signed for $150,000 in April 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. Rene Gayo, the Pirates' director of international scouting, recalled the first time he saw Polanco play as a gangly teenager.

“He jumped out at me,” Gayo said. “He played with great enthusiasm. He played great all the time. He didn't have much power, but he was a great gap hitter. Lots of doubles and triples.”

Polanco is listed at 6-foot-4, 222 pounds. Gayo projected Polanco to be an elite outfielder but knew it would not happen overnight.

“There's a fine line between projection and insanity,” Gayo said laughing. “But I thought once this guy gets man strength, he's going to be a special animal. He struggled in rookie ball because he's so big.”

Manager Clint Hurdle compared Polanco to Larry Walker, a five-time All-Star whom Hurdle managed with the Rockies from 2002-04.

“He doesn't have the bulk of a Walker, but he has the size and the presence,” Hurdle said. “Walker ran the same way. It didn't look like he was running fast, but the stride covered a lot of ground. Then you'd look at your stopwatch and go, ‘Oh!' ”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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