Does WL batting title put Polanco on faster track?

A year ago, Starling Marte’s sensational performance in the Dominican Winter League lay the foundation for his solid first full big-league season. The Latin American offseason leagues are mega competitive and pressure packed, especially for native sons. Earning playoff MVP honors by batting .422 for champion Escogido pumped up Marte’s confidence, and he didn’t miss a beat with the Bucs (recall his .327 April average).

Is Gregory Polanco now retracing those steps?

Polanco played his final regular-season game Saturday, and ended it tied (with Moises Sierra) for the Dominican batting title with an average of .331. Closer looks at his Escogido resume are even more impressive: An OPS of .922, and only slightly more strikeouts [34] than walks [28] in 194 plate appearances.

Did that showing speed up his clock? The Pirates have been adamant about keeping him cropped out of the 2014 picture. On a recent visit to the Dominican Republic, did GM Neal Huntington see anything to make him change his mind?

Short answer: No.

“We talk all the time about being big fans of winter ball — with the environment and intensity, it’s a great way to shorten the development curve for a young player,” Huntington told me. “At the same time, the one game I saw Polanco play, he was facing a pitcher throwing 80-83 miles. So it’s not always the best competition.

“But,” Huntington was quick to add, “he looks great. He’s coming along very well.”

He just does not figure to arrive earlier than projected. The Bucs are very good at sticking to timetables. In case you need a reminder, hitting .520 in a dozen Grapefruit League games in the spring of 2012 did not get Marte to Pittsburgh earlier than planned; rather, it got him sent to Minor League camp, before he could continue the persuasive show.

Marte did check in late July. The Polanco precedent has been set.

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