Monday, April 24, 2017

Polanco Providing Poise

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports
Shortstop is becoming a position of strength across baseball. Names like Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are becoming household names. These budding infielders are leading the next generation of baseball stars. It is truly seems like the sky could be the limit for each of them.

The sky has not been the limit for the Twins when it comes to the shortstop position. In fact, the position has become a revolving door in recent years. While other organizations are building their franchise around a star shortstop, Minnesota has struggled to fill the void.

Even in midst of a young season, Jorge Polanco is providing poise at one of baseball's hardest positions.

Doubling Down On Defense
Polanco's biggest question marks as a prospect were on the defensive side of the ball. The Twins blundered a little with his development last season as he didn't play a single inning at shortstop in the minors. Twins manager Paul Molitor was asked about how the organization handled Polanco during spring. "I wish I had a better explanation for you. But I think myself, a lot of other people, realized  we didn't handle it the right way."

Even with this organizational blunder, Polanco seems to have overcome some of these defensive faults. According to FanGraphs, he currently leads the American League in defensive runs saved (3). The only player with a better DRS mark this season is the Cubs' Addison Russell. Polanco also ranks in the top-10 across baseball in RZR, UZR, and defensive WAR.

Looking For Lumber
Being a two-way player is what separates many of the young shortstops mentioned above. Polanco was never expected to be an elite hitter but he showed positive signs as a prospect. So far this season, he ranks third in the American League in shortstop WAR. He has the third fewest strikeouts and the fourth highest OBP. This puts him ahead of players like Carlos Correa, Troy Tulowitzki, and Elvis Andrus.

Much of Polanco's offensive success has come against left-handed pitching. He has hit .364/.391/.591 (.982 OPS) against southpaws with three extra-base hits in 22 at-bats. His OBP is almost 100 points lower against righties and this has come in 21 more plate appearances. He does have an impressive 6 to 5 strikeout to walk ratio versus right-handed hurlers.

Waiting In The Wings
The Twins have other young shortstop prospects waiting in the wings. Former first round pick Nick Gordon is off to a hot start at Double-A. Through 14 games, he is hitting .339/.397/.464 with four extra-base hits in 56 at-bats. After playing every game in 2016 at shortstop, Gordon has started four games at second base this season.

Gordon's time at shortstop is being challenged by Engelb Vielma. When it comes to shortstop, Vielma is widely considered the better defender. Vielma has started six games at shortstop and seven at second base. There have been questions about Vielma's offensive in the past but he is hitting .340/.365/.400 to start the year.

While shortstop might have been a weakness in recent years, the Twins look poised to stop their revolving door. Polanco is emerging as a very viable shortstop candidate. If he can't keep up his hot start, Gordon and Vielma are waiting for their own opportunity.

Who will be the Twins shortstop by 2018? What about 2020? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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