By Jason Shetler
Gregory Polanco had himself a breakout year for the West Virginia Power in 2012, and was named the Pirates Minor League Player of the Year that season. He also performed well the following year, to the point where he played across three levels (Bradenton, Altoona and Indianapolis).
Entering 2014, Polanco was rated the top prospect in the Pirates system. He returned to Indianapolis to begin that year, and was called up to Pittsburgh in June. Polanco scuffled his rookie season and was briefly demoted back to AAA. 2015 began rough for him, but he was able to perform much better the second half of the year. Polanco is off to a hot start in the early going of 2016. The biggest difference has been his approach at the plate. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers and metrics for Polanco so far this season compared to the past two years.
2014: .307 OBP, 9.6% walk rate, 18.9% strikeout rate, 88 wRC+
2015: .320 OBP, 8.4% walk rate, 18.6% strikeout rate, 94 wRC+
2016: .405 OBP, 15.6% walk rate, 13.9% strikeout rate, 141 wRC+
While Polanco had some pretty good walk rates the last two seasons, his ability to draw the base on balls has really improved even more so the early part of this year, leading to a .405 on base percentage, which is currently the best mark among all right fielders in baseball. He’s been able to create a ton of runs, as evidence of his 141 wRC+ while the strikeout rate is down by about 5% compared to 2014 and 2015. Polanco’s plate discipline has also shown improvement so far with a 25.8% chase rate, around 5% lower compared to last season (30.6%). According to Statcast, he has a 91.7 mph launch speed, above the MLB average at 89.2 mph. Polanco has also been squaring up the baseball extremely well with a 28% hard-hit rate, which is the best percentage right now of any batter in the National League. His significantly improved approach is beyond encouraging, and it’s easy to see why the numbers have been solid thus far in 2016.