Jorge Polanco takes the brunt of the blame in the Twins infield defensive issues, especially now that Miguel Sano has been moved off of 3B. Coming off a year of -7 defensive runs saved at the age of 26 years old, it’s fair to wonder just how long Polanco can continue manning the premier position.
Let’s get it out of the way right now, Polanco didn’t have as healthy a season as his 142 games played suggests. His ankle, which required surgical intervention this offseason, likely hampered his range. His Universal Zone Rating was his worst in 3 seasons. In addition, he was in question for Opening Day with shoulder inflammation that very well could have lingered and contributed to his 13 throwing errors. Better health could allow for an improvement in Polanco’s defensive game.
Polanco may look to follow the steps of another AL shortstop in the coming years. Marcus Semien was considered a butcher at the position early in his career with a -8 DRS in his first full season. He was unspectacular until 2018 and 2019 where he put together a fantastic 26 combined DRS.
While Semien worked to improve his game, some of his improvement may have been out of his control. Another A’s infielder had a breakout season in 2018 by the name of Matt Chapman. While fantastic in his rookie season (15 DRS), Chapman erupted for a combined 64 DRS in 2018 and 2019.
He was one of the greatest defensive 3B in baseball. Having such a stud defensive player allowed the A’s to tweak the alignment in the infield, particularly for Semien to be able to shift more often since Chapman could make up the difference. While not quite the defensive wizard, Josh Donaldson should be a massive upgrade from Sano at 3B for the Twins. Anywhere near his 15 DRS in 2019 would afford an opportunity for the Twins to take a page out of Oakland’s book and shift Polanco to better facilitate his weaknesses.
In that same vein, the ability to be able to afford to have Polanco remain at shortstop if his defense improves has to do with the rest of the infield as well. If Polanco’s defense makes you cringe, Derek Jeter’s metrics should make you sick. He saved more than 1 run defensively in one single season of his career and had multiple years of being in the -20s.
While there was a certain iconic factor to Jeter remaining at shortstop throughout his long career, the rest of his infield was more often than not fairly impressive. He lined up alongside players who put together some strong seasons defensively such as A-Rod, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixiera who certainly softened the blow of his defensive shortcomings.
Defense is more revered in present day baseball and good teams simply don’t want to field a subpar infield. For that reason, some questions about Polanco’s future may have to do with things like “How will Sano take to 1B?” “How long can Donaldson play an impressive 3B?” “Can Arraez improve upon his neutral defense he showed in his debut?”
Not every player is capable of performing at a Gold Glove level, and Polanco has consistently raised concerns at one of the most important infield positions in his career so far. At 26, it’s coming up on make or break time, as soon his range and athleticism will have nowhere to go but down.
Can he make improvements through hard work and good health? Can Donaldson and the Twins scouting team help mask Polanco’s difficulties? Can his blemishes be covered by the performances of the rest of the infield? 2019 showed that his bat belongs in the lineup everyday, but how long can he continue to line up at shortstop?
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