Jorge Polanco must have been riding high back in 2019 as he made his first All-Star Game as the American League’s starting shortstop. He finished that season with career highs in nearly every offensive category, and the Twins were at the top of the AL Central. Life was good.
In each of the last two offseasons, he underwent ankle surgery. Polanco’s clearly-hampered swing was evident as he played through the injury. During the 2020 season, he played in 55 of the team’s 60 games, but his slugging percentage dropped over 130 points compared to 2019. Over the team’s final 15 games, he posted a .167 batting average with two extra-base hits.
Entering the 2021 season, Minnesota’s offseason plan included moving Polanco from shortstop to second base. He has always been stretched defensively at shortstop, and the switch may also take some pressure off his ailing ankles. He has been good defensively as he ranks just outside the top-3 AL second basemen when it comes to SABR’s Defensive Index. While the defensive switch has worked, his offensive numbers are what really needed to improve.
Quietly, Polanco has rediscovered his swing during the 2021 season. Over the team’s last 70 games, he is hitting .297/.355/.524 (.879) with 15 home runs and 17 doubles. If the season ended today, there’s a good chance he would be named the team MVP. On a last-place team, that might not mean a lot, but it might be a sign of him being healthy for the first time in multiple seasons.
Polanco is signed through 2023 as part of his 5-year, $25.75 million extension, but vesting/team options can keep in Minnesota through 2025. If he stays with the Twins, he will turn 31-years old in 2025, and the team would control the majority of his prime years. By being with the organization for this long, he also has the opportunity to be the veteran presence on a team that will include a young core of Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, and other prospects yet to debut.
Over the last decade, veteran players like Nelson Cruz, Brian Dozier, and Torii Hunter took on the team leader role to help nurture young players and be the contending team's voice. Polanco hasn't taken on that role yet, but looking into the future makes it easier to imagine him taking on the leadership role the future Twins will need on and off the field.
Do you think Polanco is the right veteran leader for the Twins turnaround? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.