Prospects that avoid strikeouts are great things. Just making contact does not write a player’s ticket to the majors, of course, but it is an important compliment to plus tools. Gregory Polanco has displayed above average BB/K numbers since he was old enough to vote, a trait that should substantially reduce his bust chances.
Polanco entered the Pittsburgh organization at the age of 17 and his statistical progression is apparent. He landed on Baseball America’s Top 100 after 2012 and proceeded to jump over 40 spots after 2013. He is ticketed to begin 2014 at Triple-A with an early summer promotion a distinct possibility.
Polanco spent 2010 and 2011 in Rookie ball, showing speed as his only standout tool. He stole 39 bases in just over 400 plate appearances but hit three home runs each year. He made some notable improvements his second year though, his ISO increased from .085 to .124 and his BB/K jumped from 0.22 to 0.73. In 2012 he made 485 plate appearances, so his 40 steals was in line with previous efforts. He also jacked sixteen home runs, had an ISO of .197 and kept his BB/K more or less level at 0.69.
Polanco essentially split 2013 between High-A and Double-A. Upon the promotion he improved in some areas, but slipped in others:
He evidently worked hard on his offensive approach, posting a .354 OBP at the higher level. Some work on stolen base efficiency is needed, although he could have simply slowed towards the end of the season. At 6’4” and over 200 pounds steals may not be part of his game forever. He topped things off by clocking a .922 OPS in the Dominican Winter League and taking home MVP honors.
Another advanced element of Polanco’s game is his success against same side pitchers. When facing southpaws in 2012 he hit an unsustainable .396/.456/.631. Still, one cannot have that kind of success with major flaws. In 2013 he hit .261/.318/.375, which are still perfectly respectable numbers.
Spray charts show he uses the whole field and is particularly strong going up the middle. He hit 87 balls to center field and 57 to both right and left. MLB.com’s scouting report says he has “five tool potential” and is a “special hitter with above average power”.
On a cursory level Polanco seems similar to Philadelphia’s Domonic Brown. Both rated highly as prospects, both made good contact, and both had high BB/K ratios. Brown generally had higher ISOs while Polanco steals more. Importantly, Brown did not “arrive” until his third big league season. Polanco also does not have a complete stiff in front of him on the depth chart. Jose Tabata posted a 118 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR last year. Polanco will have to earn his spot, and fantasy owners should put him on the back burner until he does.