Friday, August 19, 2016

Jorge Polanco May Be What's Wrong With Minnesota

In 2016, very few things have gone right for any extended period of time for the Twins. Whether it be losing, injuries, or mismanagement, the group has not had a good showing coming off of a near playoff year (flukey as it may have been). There's one guy, and his situation, that may embody most of the shortcomings for Minnesota this season, Jorge Polanco.

Now, before you go leaping off the deep end, Jorge Polanco has been arguably one of the best players from the Twins in 2016. He's absolutely nowhere near their list of problems. However, the handling, utilization, and understanding of Jorge Polanco may almost perfectly describe a host of the Twins shortcomings this season.

Starting the year off down at Triple-A, Polanco was looking up at a roster that didn't seem to have much room for him. Brian Dozier was entrenched at second base, and at some point, the plan was for Miguel Sano to take over at third. Really, the only thing left up in the air was whether or not Minnesota had a real shortstop. For the better part of the first half, Eduardo Nunez played out of his gourd, earned an All Star trip, and held down the role. When he was flipped to San Franscisco though, it finally became time for Polanco to play.

By this time, Polanco had already been shuffled between Triple-A Rochester and the big leagues three different times. Each time he was called up, manager Paul Molitor seemingly didn't know how to use him. He didn't find time in the lineup, and he was passed over for lesser options. Molitor's public comments were of the vein that as a young player, there may not be much of a role for him one the big league club at the current juncture.

Here's the problem with that train of though, Jorge Polanco is 23 years old, and already out of options a season from now. He's one of Minnesota's best prospects, and there's very little track record of him being given any considerable run to showcase his talents at the highest level. On a team with a record among the worst in baseball, there's no excuse to continue to exclude him.

Finally, the training wheels come off. Since his most recent promotion he's played in 18 games for the Twins. Polanco has hits in 16 of those games, and has gone from hitting at the bottom of the order, to being among the top three. He owns a .347/.355/.440 slash line, and has been a catalyst for the Minnesota offense. If there was one thing known about Polanco, it's that his bat would play, and it has.

Then there's the other side of the equation, defense. Molitor shuffled Polanco around between third, second, and short to start. Despite knowing that two-thirds of those positions were supposedly spoken for, Polanco still being utilized as a utility type. It wasn't until his eighth game with the club, following his recall, that he finally played shortstop. Then, Molitor played him there three games in a row, and eight of the last 11 contests. The decision is only concerning because of the way in which we've gotten here.

Despite playing nearly 3,000 minor league innings at short in his career, Polanco played a whopping zero there this season for Triple-A Rochester. Although it appeared that was his best bet for consistent playing time, Minnesota operated using the idea that Polanco's arm wasn't strong enough for the role, as absolute truth and didn't manage their roster accordingly. Since, and with the understanding that it's a small sample size (just 72 innings), Polanco has been worth 3 defensive runs saved and posted a 1.8 UZR. Those marks make him easily the only productive defensive shortstop the Twins have had this season. Having had 40 chances now across his post-recall time at short, Polanco has committed just one error, and it was of the fielding variety.

At this point, Jorge Polanco is no more than long term answer at shortstop for the Twins than he may have been entering the season. What he has been however, is a tale of youth that has been underutilized, an organization that was ill-prepared, and a management style that doesn't suggest awareness of the positioning in the standings relative to the long term goals of the club. If Minnesota is actually going to rely upon their developed talent as they should be, knowing when to get the acclimated, comfortable, and productive is something that can't continue to be overlooked.

For now, Polanco may have given the Twins enough leash to save themselves, but this is a trend that can't continue to happen.

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