Pirates land top teen OF on int’l market

January 16th, 2021

The Pirates added the top teenage outfielder in the 2020-21 international class to the organization.

The club announced that it agreed to a deal with Dominican center fielder Shalin Polanco, No. 11 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 International Prospects list. Terms were not disclosed, but a source told MLB.com the deal was for $2.35 million.

Polanco headlined a class of 15 players signed by the Pirates on the first day of the international signing period. He received what is believed to be the second-largest signing bonus given by the Pirates to an international amateur free agent, behind only the $2.6 million deal for right-hander Luis Heredia.

Polanco, a 16-year-old who boasts a projectable body, shows good bat speed with loose and free hands. The combination results in a balanced swing with some power. He has an aggressive approach with a good feel for the strike zone, and he makes tons of hard contact. Polanco drives the ball to all fields and shows power potential.

“We are excited to add Shalin to the Pirates organization,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said in a statement. “He’s an athletic outfielder and promising left-handed hitter with power potential. Junior Vizcaino and our international scouting group did a terrific job getting to know Shalin and his family, and we look forward to seeing him in a Pirates uniform.

“We are equally as excited about our entire international signing class and look forward to the time we can be on the field with them.”

On defense, Polanco shows average arm strength with plus potential. He consistently makes proper reads and takes good routes. His entire defensive package has above-average potential at center field.

“He’s a very projectable kid,” said Vizcaino, the Pirates’ international scouting director, “sort of a five-tool player. Can run. We think he’s going to stay in center field. Plus defender. Hopefully, hit in the middle of the order. And he has the makeup to be a leader on the team.

“We really like his makeup. We think he’s a great kid, works hard, kind of an over-worker. … He’s that type of player. He’s going to be somebody that’s going to come in and get dirty, and he’s going to lead by example.”

Among the Pirates’ other signings Friday were Colombian right-hander Jose Garces ($350,000) and Dominican shortstop Rubel Lebron ($350,000).

According to the rules established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the MLB Draft have the most money to spend on international prospects, with a pool of $6,431,000. Clubs like the Pirates that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Rule 4 Draft receive the second most at $5,889,600.

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Unlike in previous years, teams are not allowed to trade any of their international pool money. Signing bonuses of $10,000 or less do not count toward a club's bonus pool, and foreign professional players who are at least 25 years of age and have played in a foreign league for at least six seasons are also exempt.

Acquiring international talent has always been a focus for the Pirates, but they have shown a willingness to take bigger swings since Vizcaino took over -- and especially under Cherington. Rather than trying to make up for the unpredictability of scouting 16-year-olds by shying away from high-cost signings, Pittsburgh has in the past year spent big on Australian outfielder Solomon Maguire ($594,000), Taiwanese pitcher Po-Yu Chen ($1.25 million) and now Polanco ($2.3 million).

Vizcaino credited Cherington and Pirates management for allowing his group to pursue potential impact players.

“It’s awesome, because it allows us to compete,” Vizcaino said. “There’s no player that comes on the market that, as a staff, we feel like we can’t compete on.

“If another team gets a player that we like, it’s not because anyone in the front office has told us that, ‘No, that player, we can’t go after him because of resources’ or anything like that. It’s just because that happens sometimes in this market. That’s been the biggest, knowing that they have our back and knowing that they support us 100 percent. That’s been huge.”