In advance of the 2019 campaign, Twins infielder Jorge Polanco signed a $25.75MM guarantee that extended the team’s window of contractual control by three seasons through 2025. It proved to be an opportune time to strike for the Minnesota front office, as Polanco had a breakout showing that year.
Serving as the primary #2 hitter in a Twins lineup that set an all-time record for home runs, the switch-hitting Polanco tallied 704 plate appearances and posted a .295/.356/.485 line. He wasn’t the biggest power threat on that team, but he did pop 22 home runs. Perhaps of more importance, he was one of the lineup’s better contact hitters and on-base threats, setting himself up to score plenty of runs in front of middle-of-the-order presences Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler. Polanco earned his first All-Star appearance and some down-ballot MVP votes for that showing.
Going into 2020, Polanco looked like one of the better offensive middle infielders around. That year’s shortened season was a struggle, though. Over 226 plate appearances, he stumbled to a .258/.304/.354 slash, managing just four homers. His batted ball metrics dipped, and his overall offensive output checked in 20 percentage points below the league average by measure of wRC+.
Polanco’s bat bounced all the way back last season. He played in 152 games and tallied 644 trips to the dish, slugging a career-best 33 homers. From a power perspective, the Dominican Republic native had easily his best single-season marks. His .235 ISO (slugging minus batting average) was markedly above the .171 league average. So too were Polanco’s 89.4 MPH average exit velocity, 10.1% barrel rate and 37.4% hard contact percentage, all personal bests.
Few players had a starker improvement between 2020 and 2021. Among players with 200+ plate appearances in 2020 and 500+ plate appearances in 2021, only nine had a bigger year-over-year jump in wRC+. He’d shown in 2019 that he’s capable of putting up this kind of production, but it seems Polanco made an effort to be a bit more aggressive last year.
Before 2021, he’d never offered at more than 45% of pitches he’d seen in a season. Last year, Polanco swung 49.3% of the time, attacking pitches both inside and outside the strike zone at a greater frequency. That’s particularly true on the opening pitches of a plate appearance.
Polanco’s first-pitch swing rate last year was a career-high 26.9%, a few ticks above his 2019 mark of 23.5% and well above 2020’s 16.8%. In each of his two best seasons, Polanco’s done a strong amount of damage on opening pitches of an at-bat. Swinging more often early in counts held his walk rate to a below-average 7%, but his combination of bat-to-ball skills and power meant he was very productive even without drawing many free passes.
In spite of Polanco’s bounceback, the 2021 season was a nightmare for the Twins. The expected contenders fell into last place in the AL Central at 73-89, never looking like realistic postseason threats. They’re not planning to rebuild, and Polanco’s going to enter the 2022 campaign as Minnesota’s regular second baseman. If the Twins continue to struggle and an organizational reboot becomes more plausible at this summer’s trade deadline or next winter, a Polanco trade may eventually become a possibility. For now, the organization will hope the rest of the roster can have a similar bounceback in 2022 as Polanco himself did last year.