When Gregory Polanco was coming through the Pirates Minor League system he was one of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball. Polanco made his Major League debut in June of 2014, and set the baseball world on fire. Polanco started his Major League career with an 11 game hitting streak, and he posted a .288/.374/.375/.749 slash line with a .340 wOBA and a 120 wRC+ in his first month in the Majors. However, Polanco would begin to struggle mightily after this big first month.
Form July of 2014 through the end of last season Polanco slashed just .246/.310/.369/.669 with a poor wOBA of .297 and a below league average wRC+ of 90. Despite his offensive struggles Polanco still played strong defense posting two defensive runs saved in 2014, and then five in 2015. However, all many people wanted to talk about with Polanco was his offensive struggles.
Many people overlooked the fact that Polanco did not turn 24 years old until September of last year, and was further ahead of schedule in terms of his development than most players are. Polanco has matured, become more patient at the plate, and now he is starting to hit like the star everyone expected him to be while in the Minors.
So far this season Polanco has slashed .295/.413/.475/.888, and that is just the beginning. Gregory Polanco has also posted an excellent .387 wOBA and 143 wRC+ so far this season. Also, Polanco ranks sixth in the Majors in WAR (1.2). The biggest change Polanco has made this season though has been his approach at the plate. Polanco has a 17.1% walk rate this season and a 11.8% strikeout rate. Both of those are huge improvements over the 9.6% and 8.4% walk rates and 18.9% and 18.6% strikeout rates he posted his first two seasons in the Major Leagues.
Polanco has also been hitting the ball with much more authority this season. Polanco’s average exit velocity this season has been 92.09mph, and the league average on exit velocity is 89.04mph. And Polanco’s ISO, which measure’s a hitter raw power and how often they record an extra base hit, is .180 which is well above the Major League average of .140. So not only has Polanco been more patient and selective at the plate, but he is also hitting the ball with more authority and with more power than ever before.
Gregory Polanco has also played the best defense of his career so far this season. Through the Pirates first 18 games Polanco has a Major League best 5.2 dWAR, a Major League best 61.9 UZR/150, and his three defensive runs saved is good for 16th best in the Majors. So can we please put to rest the ‘Gregory Polanco is not a good fielder’ myth?
Even if you want to use the eye test and ignore numbers, Polanco is passing that with flying colors this season. He has looked much more comfortable at the plate. Also, his swing has become a lot more short and compact. One of his big problems the past two seasons was his wing getting too big and loopy, especially against left-handed pitchers, but that has not been a problem at all this season.
The Polanco breakout should not come as a surprise though, and here’s why. Since July 12th of last season Polanco has had 397 plate appearance, in those 397 plate appearances he owns a .284/.347/.437/.784 slash line. To go along with that strong slash line Polanco has posted a .340 wOBA, 117 wRC+, and a .163 ISO in that time period. And these number would probably be even better if not for a knee injury that slowed Polanco last September.
When Gregory Polanco was coming through the Pirates Minor League system he was touted as being the next great Pirate outfielder. Through his first two seasons in the Major Leagues Polanco showed flashes of his greatness, but now he is finally putting it all together. Gregory Polanco is blossoming into a star before our very eyes. Sit back and enjoy it, everyone. The best outfield in baseball resides in Pittsburgh.
* – stats are from Fangraphs and MLB