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Pirates

Colin Dunlap: Have Patience With Polanco

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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Hit the brakes a little bit. Or else, there’s a chance you just might let yourself down.

As the buzz has traveled from Bradenton, Fla. to Pittsburgh in the buildup to the 2014 Pirates season, it seems much of the din has been centered around outfield prospect Gregory Polanco through the early days of Spring Training games.

And how could it not?

He’s 22.

He’s 6 feet 4, meatier than 215 pounds.

He’s drawn on-field comparisons to Darryl Strawberry.

He’s the guy you just can’t take your eyes off of; a specimen who doesn’t just dress the part, but can play it, too.

Polanco is the best-of-the-best among the prospects, the guy some have said — when accompanying Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte someday — will give the Pirates the best outfield in the National League.

But here’s some advice: Relax.

Slow it down. Decrease your expectations a tad.

You see, it’s worth noting that Polanco has packed on the muscle in the off-season, looking to add an element of power to his game that has forced him to the No. 10 spot in Baseball America’s list of Minor League prospects and almost certainly will force him into the starting right field spot in Pittsburgh at some point this season.

With Polanco, there’s so much to like. There is that speed on the bases (38 stolen bases last season) and in the outfield, along with his ability to drive the ball to all fields from the left side. He has also displayed more than enough average as he’s progressed through the developmental chain, posting a .277 mark in five seasons as a pro — most notably hitting .325 in 115 games in Class A West Virginia.

But as with any prized prospect, there is that inability from many in the fan base to take a step back as he approaches the top level and understand there’s still a ton of room to grow. Or, furthermore, that there’s never a sure bet in any of this.

The pervading thought and even spoken assumption from too many has been that it isn’t a case of “if” with Polanco, but rather “when.”

OK, all well and good if you feel that way — but sprinkle in some perspective. Polanco played only a handful of games in Indianapolis at the tail end of the season last year and zipped through Class AA Altoona with just 68 games played.

Will Polanco turn out to be very good for the Pittsburgh Pirates? If you would ask me to bet on it, I would lean heavily toward “yes,” would think that he has a very good shot to be a player who helps the big club in a big way.

But I’ve lived through Tony Alvarez.

And Chad Hermansen.

And J.J. Davis and Mark Farris and Shon Walker and Charles Peterson.

All young men with colossal anticipations who turned out to be massive misses.

That said, I’ve also lived through Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker — three guys saddled with huge expectations from draft day on, who have turned into undeniable cornerstones of this franchise.

In short, prospects are just that — prospects. And that’s what Polanco is at this point until he proves it in Pittsburgh when given the chance.

Until then, let’s relax and let it all play out.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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