Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
I've been troubled by this thought for a little while now. Where does A.J. Pollock come up short that keeps the Diamondbacks from seriously considering him for one of the outfield rotation spots? Isn't he as good as Gerardo Parra? Is he not capable of taking on several hundred Major League at bats or more? Is he destined to be a career minor leaguer?
Let's take a closer look at A.J. Pollock and see if there's a case to be made for him to be considered for the 2013 outfield rotation.
Pollock was drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 draft out of Notre Dame, one pick after Bobby Borchering and eight picks before Mike Trout. So he was highly thought of. He passed over the rookie leagues and was sent to South Bend in the Midwest League right after the draft. He didn't exactly tear it up that year but he wasn't horrible either, hitting .271 with an OPS of just .695 and 10 stolen bases. The next year in Spring Training Pollock fractured the growth plate in his elbow which required surgery and cost him the entire 2010 season.
Pollock didn't let that deter him though as he made it back for the Arizona Fall League (hitting .313 playing every other day) and then impressing with a solid pre-season camp before being aggressively sent to AA for the 2011 season. Pollock proceeded to put together a very good season in Mobile hitting .307/.357/.444/.801 with 41 doubles, 5 triples and 8 homers while stealing 36 bases playing center field every day.
Many thought Pollock was getting close to earning a Major League Roster spot. The signing of Jason Kubel nixed that idea as Gerardo Parra became the 4th outfielder and Pollock was sent to AAA Reno. He performed well in Reno but not as well as Adam Eaton who was passing him on the prospect chart and eventually even took over his CF job in preparation for the majors. Pollock meanwhile was called up and down to the big club multiple times throughout the year to fill in for injuries but always for short stints. A couple of times he was called up to play in one game and then sent back down the same day. His AAA season didn't match up with his AA performance but that was to be expected given the constant rotation to the majors, the demotion due to Eaton's emergence, and the mental strain of watching all of his AA and AAA teammates earning Major League jobs while he was left to toil in Reno.
It would have been a little unrealistic to expect Pollock to do something serious with his scattered 93 plate appearances, and he didn't. But it wasn't exactly a disaster either. It took him a few games to land his 1st Major League hit but he ultimately put together a collection of professional at bats and finished hitting .247 with a .710 OPS and a couple of home runs. His defense was very good as he actually earned +0.20 dWAR for his efforts, compared to -0.30 oWAR for his offense. He was not overmatched, but he didn't over-impress either. You can chalk most analysis of his Major League sting up to the "small sample" problem. It was enough to show he wasn't overwhelmed but not enough to say he'll do a lot more. It's still a big unknown if he can handle an extended stay in the show with out sinking to a slash of .215/300/325/.625. That's what I worry about for him if he has to play every day.
Comparison to Parra
To give Pollock any kind of serious consideration for the 4th (or even 5th) OF job it really has to be done at the expense of Gerardo Parra. I thought that Parra might find himself on the trading block with Pollock slated for that bench position. But that hasn't happened, which doesn't exactly bode well for Pollock. In light of the current outfield group being 3/4ths left handed, it seemed natural to me that Pollock would make for a better 4th outfielder than Parra, all other things being equal.
Therein lies the question...are all things equal between Parra and Pollock? It depends on where you look for evidence and who you ask. The answer right now according to the powers that be is, "No." One could argue otherwise, it's only a matter of how well. Looking back into the minor league performances, one really has to focus on Pollock's AA season in 2011 and decide if that surpasses what Parra was able to demonstrate at the same level. Any objective analysis of their minor league performances though has to conclude that Parra showed a little bit more than Pollock did during their development years. Not by a very wide margin mind you but certainly better and typically at a younger age at similar levels. Parra is still a fairly young player given his Major League experience and he has to be rated the better player. Pollock has almost no Major League experience while Parra has three full seasons.
One would probably have to make the argument that Pollock does a lot of the little things better (read intangibles) to give him a leg up on Parra. On the surface (and this is strictly my opinion) he just seems like a more heady player than Parra. You don't see Pollock running around doing dumb things, making bad base-running errors or crazy throws. It might also be safe to say that Pollock is a better center fielder than Parra is. That might be one of the stronger arguments in favor of keeping Pollock over Parra. He's played CF throughout his baseball career except for a short stint when Eaton was prepping for the majors, and he's played it well.
Another edge is that Pollock probably has a little more pure speed than Parra. He posted slightly higher SB totals in the minors but not much more. I give Pollock only the slightest of edges in the speed category but I give him a definite edge in being a better base-runner. Most people are better base runners than Parra, unfortunately. I haven't really seen enough of Pollock to be able to say he'll be a better pure base stealer than Parra but we know that hasn't been one of Parra's strong suits to date. Another slight edge to Pollock. On the power front they seem very similar. Neither has any significant power to speak of though both are capable of hitting the occasional home run. Pollock did impress in 2011 with his 41 doubles, 5 homers and 8 triples in Mobile in 2011. The Southern League is hardly a hitter's paradise so those numbers suggest he has some functional pop in his bat. Parra on the other hand never put up an extra-base season like that one but he has collected 8 home runs in back-to-back seasons so he is showing some double-digit home run potential. Pollock hit 2 home runs last year in 81 at bats for Arizona so with enough at bats he's probably safe to hit 8 home runs in a season as well given 400-500 PAs. I call it a wash on power potential.
What's the Problem?
There's at least some empirical evidence to make a case that Pollock is on a par with Parra, though I accept that plenty of analysts would probably conclude that Parra is the more valuable player. Analyzed in a vaccum I'm inclined to agree that Parra is a slightly superior player than Pollock. But when analyzed with the current Diamondback roster in mind, I'm leaning toward the idea that Pollock would make for a better 4th outfielder for this team the way it exists now. Here are my list of reasons:
1. He's right handed, creating more natural platoons with Kubel and Eaton.
2. He's a more natural center fielder. When you want to give Eaton the day off against a tough left-hander Pollock offers a better match-up and better defense in center field.
3. Pollock is more mature and less prone to "out-of-control" actions. It would seem like the kind of trait you want from a bench player. This falls into the whole intangible realm. I give Pollock better intangibles.
4. Parra currently has some real trade value. You could get something for him now. If you let Parra go through another season of regression you won't get anything for him. If they're close to being equal why not trade the one who will bring a return and add value somewhere else where it's more needed?
The Case for Parra
Parra has now spent three productive seasons in the big leagues. You know what you're going to get with him and that's plenty good for a 4th outfielder who can play all three positions. It's entirely possible (if not probable) that Pollock will never be able to achieve that level of play over the course of 1000+ at bats. It might be risky to swap out Pollock for Parra before you truly know what Pollock will give you. I've stated on more than one occasion that I'm far from convinced Pollock could stand up to the exposure of a lot of at bats. I guess it depends on how much you buy into that AA season in 2011. Maybe Pollock needs to put up a really good ST to show he's capable of elevating his game and forcing the team's hand on him or Parra. They're both the same age so there's no opportunity value either way. has the club already made up its mind here? Would they even consider trading Parra if Pollock had a breakout Spring?
It's also not beyond reason for Parra to play back to his 2011 season and even exceed it. Some have made the case that Parra's 2012 regression was partly due to his part-time job, which is generally believed to be harder to produce from than a steady full-time job. If that's in fact the case, the question now lingering is whether Parra is unable to adapt to that role and produce at a higher level, or if perhaps the light bulb will come on now that he's more experienced in that role and he'll be ready to overcome that. I'm not one who thinks an .800+ OPS season is in the cards from Parra, but I'll be happy to be wrong about that.
In any case, in spite of my well-known reputation for not being a Parra-lover, it's a tough call whether Parra or Pollock would make for the better 4th outfielder. I believe I've laid out enough of a case to say Pollock would be the better choice, but it's hardly an obvious one. So all you Parra-lovers, feel free to jump in and make the case why Parra is the right choice. I'd love to see the light bulb come on for him and see him grow into the impact player some of you believe is inside of him. Maybe it's ready to come out now. I think maybe one of the great differences in this argument is that Pollock would serve as the better 4th outfielder but Parra would serve better as a better everyday player if one of the other starters goes down for an extended period. That in itself might be enough reason to keep Parra. However, if one assumes no major injuries are forthcoming, I like Pollock better off the bench, as a pinch runner, a pinch defender, a pinch hitter, as a spot starter against lefties, etc.