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Pirates notebook: Polanco ruled out as Opening Day option

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco prepares to take batting practice Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at People's Natural Gas Field in Altoona.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — A day after Neal Huntington said the club will likely fill its right field void internally, the Pirates' general manager all but ruled out top prospect Gregory Polanco manning the position on Opening Day.

The five-tool, 22-year-old Polanco made a successful leap to Double-A last season, walking (36) as many times as he struck out (36).

He's leading the Dominican winter league in on-base plus slugging percentage (.924). Huntington and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle traveled to scout Polanco in winter league play last month.

“Like with (Gerrit) Cole, I don't want to close the door completely … but it's going to be awfully hard for us to see Gregory Polanco ready based upon what we saw last year, based on what we saw this winter, more so than what we see next spring,” Huntington said Tuesday. “Spring training is the absolute worst time to make evaluations on a player. We're not going to get caught up in the results of spring training.”

The plan is to begin Polanco at Triple-A where he will play mostly in right field, but he also will play center field and left. The Pirates seem likely to begin the season platooning veterans Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, or Jaff Decker, in right field.

“(Polanco) showed some very positive signs when he moved to Double-A last year; as many walks as strikeouts, he drove the ball, but he also showed some signs that he had some work to do,” Huntington said. “We are really excited. We see him in our outfield for a long time. I just don't know it's going to be April 1.”

Burnett watch

While it was unknown whether he had scheduled a meeting with the Pirates, A.J. Burnett's agent Darek Braunecker was scheduled to arrive in Orlando on Tuesday afternoon. Huntington said the Pirates continue to “work through the process” with Burnett.

Mercer in line

As the roster stands, and considering the weak shortstop market, Jordy Mercer is on track to open the season receiving the lion's share of playing time at shortstop. “We're comfortable with Jordy as our shortstop but we'd like to supplement him, complement him as best we can,” Huntington said. “We'd like to add a player.”

Magic number

Huntington indicated the club was unwilling to commit more than 18 percent of its payroll to a single player.

“I know when I was with (the Cleveland Indians) and we looked at it, no team had won a World Series allocating 18 to 20 percent to one player,” Huntington said. “We are very cognizant of putting together as deep and as talented of a roster as we can, not anchoring too much into one player.”

While the Pirates have not made a projected 2014 payroll public, 18 percent of $80 million is $14.4 million, or approximately the amount of Burnett's prior qualifying offer.

Wilson a target?

According to multiple reports, the Pirates are receiving heavy interest in lefty reliever Justin Wilson. Huntington said Monday he believes the Pirates have a surplus of relief pitching.

New ticket plan

The Pirates announced new 13-game ticket plans. The plans feature Saturday, Sunday and weekday options. The weekday plan starts at $182. For more information visit pirates.com/tickets or call (412) 325-4782.

Piratefest schedule announced:

The Pirates have announced autograph sessions for their Dec. 14-15 Fanfest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center:

Dec. 14: 12-1:30 p.m.: Neil Walker, Justin Wilson, Jeff Banister; 1:30-3 p.m.: Jeff Locke, John Candelaria, Dave Parker; 3-4 p.m.: Grant Jackson, Omar Moreno, Kent Tekulve, 4-5:30 p.m. Clint Hurdle, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Stewart; 5:30-7 p.m.: Jaff Decker and Jose Tabata.

Dec. 15: 12-1:30 p.m. Starling Marte, Charlie Morton, Bryan Morris, Tony Sanchez; 1:30-3 p.m.: Decker, Stewart, Tony Watson and Grant Jackson, 3-4 p.m.: Josh Harrison, Walker, Parker.

The Pirates will host a Q&A for fans from 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday with team president Frank Coonelly, Hurdle and Huntington. For more information, visit pirates.com.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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