It has been a mostly steady climb for Pittsburgh Pirates OF Gregory Polanco. Will his ascent continue in 2017?
Last season, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 25 year-old left fielder became a legitimate power threat by hitting 22 home runs. He led the team with 86 RBI, swiped 17 bases and increased his walk rate while maintaining a comparable strikeout rate. All of that amounted to a 2.5 fWAR season.
If he can become a bit more selective while maintaining the power, Gregory Polanco could emerge as the Pirates most valuable player by the end of the season. Now in a new position, will Polanco continue to trend upward?
Keep on Keeping on
In 2016, Polanco had a great first half of the season. Over his first 77 games, he hit .296/.375/.515 with ten home runs, 23 doubles, and 36 walks. Polanco was a different player in the second half slashing a meek .221/.267/.412. He tallied 12 home runs, 11 doubles, and drew just 17 free passes. Sure, his home run power remained steady throughout the season, but Polanco simply did not hit and get on base enough to be a productive hitter during the second half of the season. During the first half, he was able to put together long at bats and wait for his pitch. That was not the case in the second half.
There could be a few reasons for this. One, Polanco could have fatigued over the season and just ran out of energy towards the end. As we see, Polanco has slightly beefed up during the offseason. His current self is much larger than he was say two years ago. Perhaps he took this approach to build strength that could be maintained over a full season.
Another reason Polanco might have struggled in the second half last year is that he lost focus at the plate. As stated earlier, Polanco walked 36 times in during the first half of the season but walked just 17 times during the second half. His power numbers did not dissipate but his ability to hit for average did. That tells me that he did not necessarily get tired but actually just endured a long slump. Over his first three seasons, Polanco has been known to go through extended slumps. He will need to avoid such a slump in 2017.
How will he fare in left field?
Perhaps you’ve heard that the Pittsburgh Pirates are shaking things up in the outfield?
Last year, Polanco played primarily in right field and did a decent job there. He had four defensive runs saved and recorded a UZR of 5.9. These may not be gaudy gold glove numbers, but they are still positive numbers. Polanco held his own in right field over his first three years improving his play each season.
That should be the case for Polanco in left field. The transition may be a difficult one at first, but Polanco has the tools to be a successful outfielder at any spot. His biggest adjustments will be to the size of left field at PNC Park, which is much larger than right field. He also must deal with the changes in ball flight in left field, which is the opposite in right field. For example, a fly ball hit by a left handed batter to right field may tail towards the gap where that same ball would tail towards to line in left field.
The move to left may be a blessing in disguise, as Polanco will have more room to correct any bad routes that he may start out on.
Overall, I think Polanco will be fine in left field for the future.
Will the WBC have any effect on his season?
Polanco is playing for the Dominican Republic in this year World Baseball Classic. It is always interesting to see how players fair during the season after not having a conventional spring training. With the WBC, a player is thrown into the fire of competitive play as early as the second week of March.
This could end up having an impact on Polanco’s season, and for the Pittsburgh Pirates. We saw how he struggled to put in a full season of production in 2016. Could an extra three weeks of highly competitive baseball in March negatively effect a season that lasts all the way until September? Maybe. Maybe not. Depending on how much playing time they get, players such as Polanco, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Cervelli will be examined a little more closely in 2017 after playing in the WBC.
Polanco will indeed have a breakout season in 2017. A slight fatigue and a minor lack of focus derailed a fine 2016 season. That will not be the case this year as Polanco has another year of experience under his belt. Also, at the age of 25, Polanco is now really starting to tap into the potential strength his body holds. The young outfielder looks like a completely different player than the gangly, often-awkward player of 2014.
With more experience and added strength, Polanco will be able to put up the .296/.375/.500 type of slash line he did over the first half of 2016. Couple that with 25+ home run potential and Polanco could even be an MVP candidate. Hitting even 22 home runs again with that line would result in a WAR close to five.
If that is the case and Polanco does have a breakout year, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be a real force on offense in 2017.
Photo Credit – Flickr Creative Commons