Gregory Polanco is one of the most talented prospects in baseball – a can't miss prospect. Everyone in the baseball universe knows that. When he was called up by the Pirates this season folks became giddy in the fantasy game as they ran to the waiver-wire to add the future star. For a while he was a star, then he was a decent player, then he stunk, then he got himself sent back to the minors. I'll detail his rise and fall as an example of what can happen to even the best of the best prospects in the game.
Of all the offensive players called up this season, none has a better chance of being a five category performer than Polanco. He should be added in every league that starts five outfielders on the chance that his talents shine through in year one even if there should always be some guarded skepticism with any young player, even a prospect of Polanco's talent.
That last part many missed. What happened on the field that made me look like a genius on both fronts? Let's take a look.
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In 19 games in June Polanco hit .288, went deep twice, drove in 10 runs, scored 14 times and stole four bases. It was an excellent first month by any measure. He was everything that he was advertised to be and the world rejoiced thinking they had picked up the next great fantasy baseball star. Oops.
In July Polanco had three homers, 10 RBIs, 16 runs scored and four steals in 25 games. While that's certainly solid production and pretty much on par with what he did in June, warning signs were everywhere. Polanco, in six more games played than June, walked three fewer times with eight free passes. More disturbing was his nearly doubling of strikeouts from 13 to 25. Polanco also saw his batting average tumble to .214 as he lost more than .100 points on his OBP which fell from .374 to .269 in July. Simply atrocious.
Polanco's game continued to spiral out of control in August. He hit .210 for the month with a .286 OBP and .352 SLG – all marks below the league average. While that is all terrible stuff it doesn't even come close to reaching the depths that he plunged too. Over Polanco's last 10 games he had two hits in 33 at-bats as his OPS was .179. Honestly, you really can't do any worse. As a result he was demoted to the minors with the expectation that he would be recalled when the rosters were expanded in September.
Polanco has appeared in 64 games totally 249 at-bats. If we extrapolate his current performance out to 500 at-bats we would end up with a player batting .241 with 12 homers, 24 steals, 60 RBIs and 82 runs scored. Those numbers would make him a 5th outfielder in mixed leagues as I suggested he could be. It's obviously quite possible that he could boost that average a bit given time since he does have a solid approach at the dish.
Facts are fact though. Polanco's production tailed off to the point where it ceased to even exist. This is what often happens to young players, even the best of the best. Be it because they fail to adjust, the opponent adjusts to them, the pressure gets to them, their bodies wear out from the long season, they get hurt or they just hit a rough patch and are swallowed up by a small sample size. The game is not that easy even for the best talents there are.
Nothing that has happened this season with Polanco tarnishes his future outlook one iota. However, this is yet another example of why depending on rookies each season is such a hit or miss proposition. I say it all the time. Give me the old boring guys who go out, produce, and play 140 games. I'll almost always take that guy over the next young hotshot who know one has a handle on.
Polanco is just another cautionary tale of a youngster struggling upon reaching the big leagues. It happens to almost everyone (Mike Trout hit .220 in his 40 game audition in 2011). While Jose Abreu and Billy Hamilton have been great in 2014, think about all the rookies that have failed to match preseason expectations. Here's just a few names: Xander Bogaerts, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Trevor Bauer, Taijuan Walker, Kevin Gausman, Archie Bradley...
Remember those cautionary tales in 2015... even though I know you wont. 'So Ray, I'm thinking of taking Kris Bryant in the 5th round...'
Listen to Ray Flowers' show Monday through Friday from 7-10 PM EDT on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87). You can also hear me hosting my own show Sunday nights in the same time slot, 7-10 PM EDT.
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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