Gregory Polanco was on pace to have a career best season for the Pirates until knee and shoulder ailments slowed him. Could he be in line for a breakout in 2017?
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a rough 2016, as they failed to live up to their playoff hopes. Even though the struggles of Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole will surely be the theme of the 2016 season, the budding performance from Gregory Polanco should not be overlooked.
Gregory Polanco posted a, .258/22 HR/86 RBI/17 SB/79 R/.786 OPS line, the best run production numbers of his young major league career. But, on the surface, fantasy owners will see the .258 AVG and think that maybe Polanco is not worth the weekly headache. Do not be fooled by that.
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Polanco was one of the best fantasy OF over the first half, batting .287 with 12 HR, 50 RBI, and 9 SB. Everything was in line for him to post a monster season, but injuries ruined his second half. He admirably played 144 games in 2016, but he routinely need PRP injections in both his knee and shoulder to stay on the field. Over the second half his production slipped all the way down to a, .220/10 HR/36 RBI/8 SB/.682 OPS line.
He may have slowed down the stretch regardless, but he was clearly hindered by these annoying ailments. Even with his 2nd half woes, his batted ball data was still solid. His 24% LD, 36% Hard contact, and 14.4% HR/FB rate, were career highs amid the injuries. His K% was up, but he maintained a 80% Contact rate thanks to shortening his swing, so everything is trending up.
Polanco will be only 25-years-old heading into next season, and it seems that he is just starting to fully grow into his 6’4/230 lbs. frame, so the power should keep climbing. Polanco was able to swipe 17 SB in 2016, after a 27 SB campaign in 2015, so he will surely be able to eclipse the 20+ SB mark next season as long he avoids any prolonged ailments.
The only real concern with Polanco, besides his supporting cast, is that this will be the second offseason in which he has had PRP treatments on the same knee. It will be something to monitor next spring, but if he enters the season healthy, look out. The Pirates desperately need Polanco to continue his development and become a middle of the order force.
A key to a great draft is identifying unheralded breakout candidates. Some will look at Polanco’s line and be underwhelmed by his numbers last season. But, do not make the same mistake. He was in the middle of his breakout before the injuries, and his batted ball data supports that he was hitting the ball as well as ever. He is a top-10 talent that can easily be had for a 3rd or 4th round selection. Target him aggressively.