- Everything went wrong for Gregory Polanco last year. This season will be different.
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 Post-Hype Sleeper: Gregory Polanco of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gregory Polanco is used to hype. It was there when, after his first season of A-ball in the Pirates system, he was considered a top-50 prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. It was there heading into 2014 when, at the age of 23, the former rated him the 10th best prospect in all of baseball. It was there when he made his major league debut that June after hitting .328/.390/.504 at Triple-A Indianapolis.
The hype surrounded Polanco entering the 2016 season, even after he slashed .249/.316/.369 in his first 964 plate appearances. It was certainly there last year, thanks in large part to a 2016 first half in which he seemed to figure it out, hitting .296/.352/.506 with nine homers and six steals. He fell off a bit in the second half, but still left the yard 13 more times while swiping an additional 11 bases. Heading into his age-25 season, Polanco appeared set for a full-fledged breakout. The hype reached its apex. And now, for the first time in Polanco’s career, the hype is gone.
The Pirates would-be star couldn’t shake the qualifier, suffering though the most disappointing season of his career. He came out of the gates slowly and never got going, ending the year with a .251/.305/.391 slash line. What’s more, he was limited to 108 games because of injury. He was never healthy, beginning with a shoulder injury in spring training. There were groin and ankle issues early in the season, but it was the hamstring that plagued him. Polanco hit the DL because a hamstring strain for the first time on May 17. The hamstring would land him on the DL two more times in the season, costing him a total of about five weeks, and robbing him of the speed and athleticism that are hallmarks of his game.
It’s easy to see why there’s no hype around Polanco this season. He followed a predictable, if incremental, path to the brink of stardom, and then skidded out just when he seemed ready to take off. Now, it’s tempting, and equally understandable, for fantasy owners to look back at those first two seasons that previous looked like building blocks, and call them stumbling blocks. Polanco wasn’t building to a break out. He wasn’t gearing up for his mid-20s. He was sputtering because there was never anything in the tank. At least that’s how the thinking goes. And it’s that line of thinking that has led to Polanco’s 159.83 ADP, which has him rubbing elbows with the likes of Trey Mancini, Jay Bruce and Kevin Kiermaier.
All of this makes Polanco 2018’s post-hype sleeper. Well, all of that, and the fact that the underlying skill set that once made Polanco one of the game’s most promising young outfielders is still intact. And, of course, that he’s still young, entering his age-26 season.
There isn’t a ton we can learn from Polanco’s 2017 peripheral stats. It was, by all measures, a bad season, compromised from start to finish by various injuries. There is, however, at least one positive hiding in the muck. In a season in which more hitters struck out more often than ever before, Polanco cut his strikeout rate to 14.6%, down nearly six full percentage points from the previous season. That is the sort of growth in both skill and execution we would expect to see from a high-level player in his fourth year in the league and age-25 season.
A large part of buying into a post-hype sleeper is believing. Polanco is 26 years old, and was on a steady ascent before an injury-riddled 2017 campaign. He embarked one what appears to be one of the league’s most ambitious off-season workout programs, detailed in this excellent story by Stephen Nesbitt in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I refuse to believe that a player with this much promise for whom everything started to click just two years ago suddenly fell off a cliff. In fantasy leagues, nobody forces me to put my money where my mouth is, given that I can get him a few picks after Greg Bird and Hector Neris come off the board. That makes Polanco the perfect Post-Hype Sleeper.