Pollock likely won’t be up in the majors for good. He’s filling in for the injured Chris Young in the Diamondbacks already crowded outfield. At least it’s crowded when everyone is healthy. With Young on the DL and Justin Upton banged up for the time being, Pollock is getting his chance. But while his stay this time may be brief, he ultimately should end up as a part of the Diamondbacks outfield of the future.
But what kind of future will that be for Pollock? Let’s take a look.
What we know: Pollock is a 6’1” 205 lb. right-handed hitting centerfielder whose tools rate as at least average in every category, but has no one outstanding tool. He should be able to stay in centerfield, at least for the first part of his career.
Of course, he won’t be playing centerfield in Arizona anytime soon as long as Chris Young is around, but we don’t take that into consideration.
Pollock has played just one full minor league season, having missed the entire 2010 season due to injury. In 2011, when he played 133 games in Double-A, Pollock put up an interesting stat line. He hit .307/.357/.444 with just eight home runs, but 41 doubles. Scouts think he will develop more home run power, which he hasn’t shown in games yet, but unlike many players with limited power, he does collect doubles by the bunches. He doesn’t strike out a ton (14% of his minor league at-bats), but doesn’t walk a ton either.
Like we said before, he’s average or slightly better, almost across the board, all of which makes him an interesting, and valuable prospect, despite having a limited ceiling.
But what is his ceiling?
Well as a career .298 hitter in the minors who doesn’t strike out too much, I don’t think some .300 seasons are out of the questions. Scouts believe his power will develop a little further, but I’d limit it to no more than 15 homers in any given season. He will hit the gaps, meaning his best years will be 40 double seasons. And he doesn’t walk a ton, but 60 walks in a 162 games season is certainly within reach.
So let’s start there.
Only three outfielders since 1961 have had seasons where they hit over .300 and hit more than 40 doubles but less than 15 homers.
The HOF after their names rule out the late Puckett and Clemente. But Shannon Stewart’s name jumped right off the page at me.
This is why I love doing these comparisons. I had forgotten all about Stewart, and probably wouldn’t have considered him at all, but he ends up being a great comparison. And Diamondbacks fans shouldn’t be disappointed by this result.
It’s easy to forget that Stewart, also a mid-first round pick (19th overall in 1992), had a heck of an eight-year prime:
During this span, Stewart averaged .301/.365/.444 with 34 doubles and 12 homers a season, while striking out 69 times per season and walking 50 per year. And his .809 OPS during that time is right on-par with Pollock’s .801 OPS last season in Double-A.
Stewart played primarily left field, but likely could have played center had he not played along side of Gold Golvers Jose Cruz, Jr., Vernon Wells, and Torri Hunter during the prime of his career (sound familiar?).
Stewart was never a great player, but he was a good player for a long time, and that’s exactly what Pollock should end up becoming.
Now that’s the best case scenario. What if Pollock’s power doesn’t develop at all?
Well if that happens, he likely will never hit more than 10 homers in a season, but also likely won’t hit 40 doubles. Those totals will probably be closer to 30 per season.
Only two outfielders have had more than one season in which they hit over .300, had at least 30 doubles, less than 10 home runs, and less than 100 strike outs: Rickey Henderson and Lonnie Smith.
Henderson is out for the same HOF reasons as Clemente and Puckett earlier. But Smith I like.
First of all, remove the random 1989 season in which Smith hit 21 homers and slugged .533. It was 61 points higher than in any other season and 13 more homers than he ever hit before or after. I don’t think Lonnie even knows what happened.
But during the five year stretch of Smith’s prime, from 1982-86, Smith hit .285/.360/.400 with 27 doubles and seven homers a season, while also stealing 48 bases a year. The one part of Pollock’s game we haven’t touched on yet is his base stealing ability, which might be the part of his game that’s the furthest above average. Pollock has stolen 50 bases in 208 minor league games, and done so at a clip above 80%.
The Smith comparison shows us that, even if Pollock’s power doesn’t develop, he still has enough ability to become an everyday player, and above-average regular.
Above-average regular is a good term for Diamondbacks fans to focus on with regards to Pollock, because that’s the best scenario for his career. He’s not going to be a multiple-time all-star, but he could be a key piece on some very successful teams. Thus far we’ve shown what kinds of above-average regulars Pollock could become, with two different styles of players, with Shannon Stewart being the best-case scenario, and Lonnie Smith being a more realistic high-end comparison.
But now we must consider what happens if Pollock’s power doesn’t develop, and he doesn’t become a .300 hitter at the major league level. He know he’ll be able to steal some bases, and control the strike zone to a certain extent, but the power and hitting ability are what’s in question.
If he doesn’t hit .300 regularly, then all of his auxiliary stats will drop down a notch as well. So for this comp, we’ll look for outfielders since 1961 who hit below .300 with more than 25 doubles, less than 10 homers, more than 40 walks, and who struck out in less than 15% of their plate appearances.
The only players to do it more than once were Henderson and Smith again, but the returns of my search gave me a long list of players who had at least one such season. And one name jumped out at me…
The former Phillie and Cub, and current ESPN analyst is the epitome of what scouts mean when they say a player is a second-division regular. Glanville was a regular for six seasons in the prime of his career, all on bad teams. He compiled some stats, but wouldn’t have been a starter on playoff teams during that time. When the second division teams no longer wanted him as a starter, he had a brief stint as a part-time player. He didn’t hang on too long as a role player, and his career was over by the age of 33.
There’s no telling if Pollock or any other player will adapt to a bench role when their time as a regular is over, so that can’t be factored in here, but the prime of Glanville’s career serves as a strong comparison for what could happen if Pollock never develops any power and doesn’t end up walking enough to be truly effective. Look at the six-year prime of Glanville’s career:
He hit over .300 twice, but also had years that he struggled. He hit double-digit homers twice, but averaged just eight homers a year. He had some decent doubles power, walked a little, but not enough, and didn’t strike out a ton, all attributes that could describe Pollock if he doesn’t develop fully.
This won’t make the Diamondbacks happy, especially if he ends up playing left field in difference to Upton and Young, but such is the reality of the situation. The good news for Diamondbacks fans is that a second-division regular like Glanville would have made a great fourth outfielder on a playoff team, so even if Pollock takes this developmental path, he won’t be a useless player.
But we still have yet to delve into the worst-case scenario. What of Pollock doesn’t even develop as an every-day player, and spends his career in a platoon situation? As a right-handed hitter, this is an even worse option, because his playing time will be limited as such.
The first player that comes to mind is Jason Michaels, who came up with the Phillies and excelled in a part-time role with them from 2002-2005. Serving as a fourth outfielder, pinch hitter, and part-time starter against left-handed pitching, Michaels got more playing time than your typical fourth outfielder because of the success he was having. But the Phillies knew his limits, and knew that he would not have success as a full-time player if he had to face righties on a regular basis.
When he left Philly for Cleveland and played more than ever, he posted career lows in OPS.
If Pollock never develops power, never becomes a true .300 hitter and never adjusts to the better righties in the majors, he runs the risk of having a career like Michaels. It’s not the worst news in the world, as Michaels was a valuable cog on teams for a solid stretch of years, but it’s also not what a team hopes for from their first-round picks.
The good news is that, given Pollock’s speed and ability to play all three outfield positions, he should always have a niche on a team. If it all goes well, he should be a solid, above-average major league regular, that might sneak onto an all-star team or two, but won’t be a perennial all-star or the best player on any playoff teams.
Shannon Stewart had a good major league career much like that, and if Pollock’s power fills in, he could do the same. If not, he could still be a regular for many years like Lonnie Smith. If the power doesn’t develop and he doesn’t progress as expected at the plate, he runs the risk of being a second-division regular or fourth outfielder like Doug Glanville. And if he never adjusts to right-handed pitching enough to play every day, he could be a fourth-outfield/platoon option in the mold of Jason Michaels.