By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 75 G, 293 AB, .276 BA, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 5 SB, .793 OPS
2016 season (Majors): 69 G, 245 AB, .282 BA, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 4 SB, .757 OPS
A 16-year-old Jorge Polanco signed with the Minnesota Twins as an international free agent back in 2009, and he has a good amount of professional experience for a 23-year-old. Polanco has parts of seven Minor League and three Major League seasons now under his belt, and he and the Twins are hoping that ‘17 is the year he finally realizes his potential and sticks as a big leaguer.
Spending most of his time as a second baseman, Polanco showed good plate discipline and a solid bat with enough pop and speed for an infielder to project as a future starter for the Twins. Polano actually debuted with the Twins in ‘14 for just five games and he made it to Triple-A the following year (with another four games in Minnesota for good measure).
Polanco’s numbers aren’t going to pop out at you, but as a middle infielder he can do what the Twins need from him. With a .286/.346/.411 line throughout the Minors and a .284/.340/.429 line in 78 big league games, there’s no doubt Polanco can make contact and get on base for Minnesota.
Polanco made contact at an 84% clip last season, above league average (80%), and his contact percentages on both balls and strikes were well above league average as well. He limits his swings and misses (6.8 SwStr%), and while he won’t hit many home runs, he does have the pop to hit doubles and enough speed to leg out triples. The speed doesn’t seem to translate to stolen bases, however. Polanco swiped a career-high 19 bases in ‘15 but was caught 10 times. Last season between the Minors and Majors he managed to steal just nine bags while getting caught seven times, so don’t expect more than 10 steals in a full season in the Majors at his peak.
Where Polanco really needs to make strides is his defense. With Brian Dozier locked in at second base, Polanco played shortstop full time with the Twins last year and struggled. He made 11 errors in just 47 games a shortstop, and his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of -10.9 and Def rating of -8.8 would both be in the bottom five in the league at his position if he had enough innings to qualify.
While trade rumors have been surrounding Dozier since last year, the Twins have kept the second baseman, meaning Polanco’s only spot in the Majors is at shortstop. Minnesota views Polanco as an option at the top of the order, and rightfully so, but the defense will have to come around at least a little bit in order for him to hold on to the starting job he seems slated for this year.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.