For the Pirates, this came down to Polanco or every SP not named Cole or Liriano. The case for Niese, Vogelsong and Locke boils down to having Ray Searage as their pitching coach. The case for Gregory Polanco is a lot more interesting and given his age (24) and pedigree, might this finally be the year that he breaks out?
Overall, Polanco wasn’t great last year with a fantasy line of 9 HR, 83 R, 52 RBI, 27 SB, .256 AVG and a .320 OBP. The run and steal total are both good, but everything else leaves a lot to be desired with Polanco checking in at average at best in the other categories. However he is entering what should be his peak years and there is reason to believe that he has upside across the board.
The main area where Polanco might have upside is with HRs. Polanco had a 5.5 HR/FB last year which is an absolutely terrible number. He does play in the 7th worst HR park for lefties, but he actually hit more HRs at home (6) than the road (3) last year in the same number of games. His HR/FB might never reach a good level but I would expect it to be higher than 5.5% in future years. Baseballheatmaps has an xHR (expected HRs) stat. Polanco was actually the most unlucky out of the 294 players on their leaderboard in 2015. He hit the 9 HRs mentioned previously but his xHR number was 12.15, a 3.15 difference. I think it’s reasonable to say that Polanco should be a double digit HR guy moving forward.
Polanco finished as the 33rd best OF according to ESPN’s 2015 player rater, with the big knocks being his HR and AVG. We’ve already talked about his HR upside but is there any hope for his average? Polanco had a .308 BABIP last year and given his profile, that doesn’t some unreasonable. We don’t have a large enough sample size to declare that BABIP his norm but it’s within reason. Unfortunately his LD rate is slightly below average and that might limit his BA ceiling without a major spike in BABIP (which isn’t completely out of the question). He also had a platoon split last year with a wOBA of .234 against LHP versus a .323 mark against RHP. None of these point to a major spike in BA coming, but keep in mind that he is 24 and is still coming into his own. He showed some improvements between 2014 and 2015 and those improvements could continue. I don’t think Polanco will ever bat .280 but if he can get his BA into the .270s he could become a top 20 OF.
Steamer is giving Polanco 14 HR, 78 R, 58 RBI, 26 SB, .263 AVG and .328 OBP in 2016. Let’s try to find a comparable stat line from 2015.
(Stats from Fangraphs)
Kevin Pillar finished 2015 as the 23rd ranked OF according to ESPN. Polanco likely won’t reach Pillar in BA but I would expect him to exceed Pillar’s 2015 in nearly every other category. If Polanco can hit .270 he’s easily a top 25 OF with upside if he runs more or if he sees a power surge. Currently available rankings put Polanco somewhere in the low to mid 30s. He should be a slight draft day bargain and is definitely a guy I would reach for. I’m giving Polanco a top 20 OF season with 16 HR, 84 R, 58 RBI, 30 SB, .269 AVG and .329 OBP. Polanco should be a great post-hype play this year.