Polanco hit with the rookie blues

PITTSBURGH – When Gregory Polanco was tearing apart minor league pitching, some Pittsburgh Pirates fans were outraged that he was still at the Class AAA level.

What was the delay in bringing him to the major leagues? Was it all a ploy to delay his eligibility for arbitration and free agency?

No doubt starting the clock on his service time was a factor. It’s the one bit of leverage the teams have, and they use it. The San Francisco Giants didn’t bring up highly-regarded Buster Posey until the end of May in his rookie season with the same motive in mind.

But that wasn’t the only reason to keep Polanco at AAA. There were some questions about whether he was ready for the major leagues after just limited experience at the upper levels of the minors.

There’s no question Polanco has talent. But just about every player needs that time in the minor leagues to develop. Andrew McCutchen had 1,967 at bats in the minor leagues before he was promoted to the Pirates. He had 780 at bats at the AAA level.

Polanco, meanwhile, had 1,743 at-bats in the minor leagues. More telling is the fact that 257 came at the AAA level and 243 were with the Curve in Class AA. That’s barely a full season’s worth of experience above Class A.

When Polanco got to PNC Park on June 10, it didn’t look like any of that mattered. He hit safely in his first 11 major league games, and had five multi-hit games including one with five hits. There was speculation about whether his abbreviated season would work against him in Rookie of the Year voting.

He was hitting .365 on June 21, and the cries were even louder: Why wasn’t he here at the start of the season?

Now we know the answer to that. The evidence that has accumulated since then suggests Polanco truly may not have been ready for the major leagues.

Since those first 11 games, he’s hitting .212. Manager Clint Hurdle, who is desperate to win games, started Travis Snider instead of Polanco on Tuesday night against Atlanta. No surprise there. Snider has been hot and deserves the start ahead of Polanco.

There’s a lot to learn, and the major leagues are a tough place to get schooled. Those basic batting stats don’t even take into account some of the defensive adventures Polanco has had in right field.

Polanco played a catch-able fly ball into a game-losing double over the weekend in Washington.

The grim fact is the Pirates were actually getting more from Jose Tabata, who was banished to the minors.

Polanco is still a talent. He still has a chance to be an excellent player for a long time. But right now he’s a rookie whose inexperience is showing.

Johnny Football

The Steelers have said they don’t expect Johnny Manziel to start for the Cleveland Browns in the Sept. 7 season opener at Heinz Field.

You have the feeling they wish he would. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has made a specialty of confusing rookie quarterbacks, and the Steelers would undoubtedly like to test their new-look defense against Manziel.

They’d probably have him so flustered he wouldn’t know which sideline to flip off.