A.J. Pollock vying for spot on Opening Day roster
Allen Lorenz (A.J.) Pollock IV knows what it is to be a fourth and he may be just that kind of outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks come April 1.
Offseason acquisition Cody Ross is likely to be sidelined until late March with a leg strain and, although he’s been optimistic about his recovery, if the 32-year-old’s injury lingers any longer than the given timetable, the Diamondbacks will need to call upon another outfielder to take his spot on the Opening Day roster. And all signs are pointing to Pollock.
He has big league experience, playing in 31 games over five stints with the Diamondbacks last season. Granted, the 25-year-old’s major league numbers weren’t the most impressive, but he was frequently praised for his solid, reliable play. Whether he was wisely taking an extra base or running a savvy outfield route, the organization seems to trust Pollock’s maturity and readiness.
“A.J. has always been a really solid player, but he’s having a great spring for us,” Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson remarked in a recent conversation with reporters. Later, when asked if Pollock was ready to play in the majors everyday, Gibson responded, “He’s pretty damn close.”
He has proven lower-level success, being named the 2012 Pacific Coast League playoff MVP and Triple-A National Championship MVP for the Reno Aces. Pollock compiled 136 hits in his 106 games with Reno last season — good for a .318 batting average. And while with Double-A Mobile in 2011, he tallied 169 hits in 133 games, giving him a .307 batting average and an .801 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) percentage.
Additionally, Pollock was a standout amateur player. In 2006, he was named the Connecticut state Player of the Year and he was a back-to-back team MVP while playing for the Fighting Irish in South Bend — the city where he began his professional career, ironically.
He has upside, considered to be the Diamondbacks’ eighth-best prospect, according to MLB.com, trailing the likes of Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley and Adam Eaton, among others. A former first-round draft pick and a two-time All-Big East first team outfielder, Pollock was ranked the second-best pure college hitter prior to the 2009 draft by Baseball America. And, just last season, the publication named him the best defensive outfielder and best hitter-for-average in the Diamondbacks organization.
He has versatility. “You can see his tools,” Gibson said of Pollock’s spring training. “He does it all well. He’s a grinder, he wants to get better, and he can play anywhere.”
Meanwhile, Triple-A Reno manager Brett Butler, who has seen a lot more of Pollock than Gibson, having managed him for most of the 2012 season — an experience he called a “manager’s dream” — also pointed out the young player’s versatility. “He’s a complete player,” Butler said. “He’s what you call a five-tool player.”
While at Notre Dame, Pollock was named an to the All-Big East team as a third baseman in 2007 and, as a pro, he has already played all three outfield positions as a Diamondback. A lot of that versatility can be attributed to natural ability, but perhaps just as much comes from the fact that Pollock has made the quality a priority, especially this spring.
“I’m just wanting to show them that I’m pretty well-rounded,” he said while suiting up for Wednesday’s 7-0 rout of the Brewers. “The more rounded you can get, the better chance you have of staying up [in the big leagues]. So that’s what I’m trying to do — just show a little bit of everything and hopefully it’s enough.”
Most importantly, Pollock IV has the confidence of his coaches. Gibson, again, thinks he’s “pretty damn close” to being ready to play everyday. And Butler? Well, Butler has plenty of praise too.
“To be honest with you, he’s probably the most polished outfielder we have in the entire organization,” he told me late Wednesday night in an empty lobby at Salt River Fields.
“There’s a real good possibility that he could make this club… He’s going to play in the big leagues for a long time, whether it’s with us or someone else.”