Gregory Polanco was sent back to Triple-A on Monday, according to Ken Rosenthal, marking an end to a disappointing first stint in the majors but hardly the end of his career or future in Pittsburgh. After being one of the hottest hitters in the minors to begin the season, torching Triple-A to the tune of a .945 OPS in 62 games, there was much excitement about his arrival in Pittsburgh. After all, it was generally assumed (and rightly so) that one of the main reasons for the Pirates inactivity in this year's free agent market was the impending arrival of Polanco after the passing of the Super-Two deadline.
We have been spoiled by the early success of prospects in recent years, with Mike Trout essentially ruining things for everyone, though it should be pointed out that even he struggled in his first stint in the majors (.220/.281/390 in 40 games in 2011). It wasn't unreasonable for the Pirates to expect Polanco to come in and contribute right away, nor was it wrong to base part of their off-season plan around him, but it was a risk, one that small market teams have to take, and to this point, it hasn't worked.
That's not unique to Polanco either. Oscar Taveras has scuffled in his first taste of the majors, partly due to poor performance and partly due to inconsistent playing time. George Springer wowed us early on, but the Astros have to be hoping he'll be better than a .231 hitter with a 33 percent strike out rate when it's all said and done. Javier Baez has shown the prodigious power that we'd all heard about, but at the moment he's learning on the fly and flailing away while doing so. The Pirates don't have the luxury of the Astros and Cubs of being able to let Polanco struggle and work through it. They're in a pennant race and would be better served with him playing well and in their lineup. With one week left in the minor league season, this is their last shot to get him going this year without it costing them vital wins.
So at this juncture, it's important to remember a few things - (1) we can't expect all prospects, even the best in the game, to have success right away in the major leagues, and (2) just because they don't doesn't diminish their abilities or their future. Polanco is still every bit the cornerstone player the Pirates and their fans thought he was two months ago. He is still just as talented and all of the things that made him a top prospect are still fully in tact. It's just going to take an adjustment period.
Lastly, this isn't on the Pirates. As a small market team (though I'll listen intently to the argument that they need to spend more money), they were correct ot stay away from the free agent market this winter, knowing that they had a top prospect waiting in the wings. A richer team could have spent the money to ensure they got some kind of production this season. Small market teams have to bank on their prospects developing. Sometimes even the best laid plans just don't work out.