When I’m trying to figure out what a young or an unproven player will do in a coming season, most of the time I’ll try to find some sort of statistical signifier that points in one direction or another: Josh Harrison’s xBABIP, Gerrit Cole’s short stretches of dominance, etc. For Gregory Polanco, the argument is still a little bit more visceral. It goes like this:
There will come a point in Polanco’s career when his physical gifts are no longer enough to get excited about and his big league performance will count for more, but that point is not at the age of 23 with only 312 big league plate appearances under his belt. The Pirates still very obviously believe in Polanco: they would not have traded Travis Snider away for what amount to future considerations if they didn’t.
At this time last year, we were still uncertain of how Polanco would hit in Triple-A, and mostly everyone pointed to one part of his Double-A stat line that stood out upon even the lightest scrutiny: he’d managed walk and strike out at the same rate. That was an impressive thing for a 21-year old with less than 200 games of minor league experience above the rookie leagues, even though his overall stat-line at Double-A in 2013 was not overwhelmingly impressive.
If you want to try and pull one positive out of Polanco’s big league struggles last year, I think it’d probably be that despite all of his struggles and the fact that he looked lost at the plate for long stretches as the summer wore on, he still managed to draw a walk once almost every ten plate appearances. Obviously he struck out quite a bit, but I think that you can argue that for a rookie with limited minor league experience on his first go-round with the National League, that his approach was pretty solid. If you mix that in with the fact that he probably got a little bit unlucky (let’s go back to the trusty old xBABIP calculations from last year: Polanco BABIPed .272 with an xBABIP of .295), and, well, it seems clear to me that there’s already the outline of a successful player sketched out.
Obviously there are no certainties here, but I feel relatively optimistic about where 2015 is headed for Polanco. Despite his struggles, his rookie season had some highlights, and he’s a year older now. The Pirates expressing their confidence in him via the Snider trade means he doesn’t have to worry about being benched at the first sign of trouble. All that’s left to do is for him to go out and hit.
<500 is an ongoing series previewing 2015 for each key Pirate in fewer than 500 words
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