- A.J. Pollock does have trouble staying healthy, but when he's playing, he's one of the most underrated fantasy threats available.
Certain player types emerge every February and March as fantasy baseball owners prepare for their drafts and auctions. The specific players who fill those roles change, but the roles themselves carry over from year to year. Identifying the players who fit each archetype before you sit down to build your team can help you find hidden value and avoid impending busts. We’ll take a look at the 10 most identifiable, enduring archetypes in our Player Profile series. In this edition, we consider The Sleeping Giant: A.J. Pollock of the Arizona Diamondbacks
You know those Twitter memes that go viral that pose a question to users, and then ask them to quote the tweet with their answer? I saw one this winter that asked tweeters which athlete whose career was ruined by injuries would they retroactively grant a clean bill of health if they could. I fear that one day down the road Pollock will be a potential answer to that question.
Pollock is entering his age-30 season and his sixth full year in the majors. For his career, not counting his brief appearance in 2012, he carries a 162-game average of .288/.344/.467 with 17 homers, 30 steals, 40 doubles, a 114 OPS+ and 6.0 bWAR. Using Pollock’s first full season, 2013, as the start of our sample, that’s a better batting average than Nelson Cruz, better OBP than Justin Upton and betting slugging percentage than Brian Dozier. The one problem? Pollock has played more than 140 games just once in his career, and has missed fewer than 30 games twice.
We got a great look at what Pollock can be when he stays on the field. He played 157 games in 2015, his third year in the league. Pollock was an All-Star that year, slashing .315/.367/.498 with 20 homers and 39 steals. Coming off an electric campaign and heading into his age-28 season, Pollock was a late-first or early-second round fantasy pick in 2016. He then lost nearly all of the season because of a fractured elbow suffered at the end of spring training.
Pollock spent about two months on the DL in 2017, missing 50 games with groin and calf injuries. His rates dipped to .266/.330/.471, but he was just as effective in the counting categories, hitting 14 homers and swiping 20 bags. That translates to 20 homers and 29 steals in a full season. Pollock again tantalized his owners with what could have been, but there was no question about his contributions when he was on the field.
If there’s one thing we know about Pollock, it’s that he’s an injury risk. He has missed significant time in three of his five seasons. On top of that, it is a little concerning that he was felled by leg injuries last year. We could look the other way after the elbow injury, especially considering his power came back in full. Pollock’s speed and baserunning is a significant part of his appeal, though, and if last year’s injuries fundamentally change his style of play, he won’t carry nearly as much value has he once did. For what it’s worth, he had 11 steals in 37 games before the injuries, and just nine in 75 after them.
And yet, it’s those injuries that make Pollock The Sleeping Giant in 2018. Neither the groin nor calf issues were significant tears that we’d expect to have lingering effects close to a year after the fact. In other words, there’s no reason to expect Pollock to be any less active on the basepaths this year than he has been previously in his career. As of early February, Pollock carries an ADP of 63.3, which places him 18th among outfielders and 44th among all hitters. If Pollock were guaranteed to play 140 games, he’d likely be a second-round pick in all fantasy formats. As it stands, you can get him, on average, in the sixth round of a 12-team league or fifth round of 14- and 15-team leagues. Even with his health risks, he is well worth the gamble.
As power has exploded across the league, speed has become an even more precious resource. The number of guys who can push 40 steals is dwindling. The 20/40 potential club is low on membership. Pollock is one of the remaining few. He’s going to hit at the top an order that Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and David Peralta, and is still in play for J.D. Martinez. Even without Martinez, Fangraphs projects the Diamondbacks to score 761.4 runs this season. In Pollock, you not only get legitimate .280/.350/.480 100-20-60-40 potential, but you should expect 18-homer, 30-steal, 80-run floors with strong rates, should he stay on the field. You get all that at the same cost in a typical draft or auction as Tommy Pham or Eric Hosmer. No disrespect to those two, but they do not carry Pollock’s ceiling or per-game floor. The Diamondbacks centerfielder is, without question, the Sleeping Giant looming in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts this season.