2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: A.J. Pollock signing gives Dodgers' outfield a path forward
A.J. Pollock signed with the Dodgers Thursday, a rare moment of activity in a slow offseason. What does it mean for his and the Dodgers' Fantasy prospects?
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The slow offseason picked up a bit Thursday, with several teams coming to agreements with various free agents for the upcoming season. The biggest deal was, of course, the Dodgers' decision to add A.J. Pollock. And not just for what it means for Pollock.
But we'll start there. The Fantasy world is still waiting for Pollock to recapture his 2015 greatness, and we'll still buy into him with the hope he can get there someday. That won't change with his move to the Dodgers. But will it increase his chances of getting there?
Well, the real question is: Can the Dodgers magically prevent injuries? It's not that Pollock has been especially bad since that big breakout a few years back; he has an .800 OPS over the last two seasons. However, he's played fewer than half of all possible games since, and his performance has certainly been impacted.
For example, in 2018, he got off to a monstrous start, fueled by an offseason swing change intended to increase his power output. It unequivocally worked, as Pollock hit .289/.349/.620 with 11 homers and nine steals through the first quarter of the season. Yeah, nearly a 40-40 pace. He looked like he hadn't just re-discovered his 2015 form; Pollock looked like he had found a way to take his game to even higher highs than ever before.
And then he fractured his thumb, landing on the DL for a month and a half. When he did come back, it was as a shell of his pre-injury self, hitting .236/.297/.407. There really is no doubting Pollock's skills, even as he enters his age-31 season. The question is, again, whether he can stay healthy.
Pollock missed significant time with elbow, groin, quad, and hand injuries over the last three seasons. On the one hand, it's distressing that he's missed so much time. It might be fair to wonder if he is just more prone to injuries than the average player, for some reason.
On the other … at least it hasn't been recurring injuries. In a couple of instances, the injuries were pretty much fluke occurrences — he tore his UCL and fractured and dislocated his elbow while sliding in an exhibition game in 2016, and then fractured his thumb making a diving attempt at the final out of a game last May. Those kind of injuries can happen to anyone, and you can easily write it off as a string of dumb, rotten luck.
If you believe the latter, there's serious value to be had with Pollock, who has first-or second-round upside and likely won't be taken until the sixth or seventh in most drafts. We've seen similar situations with players who were discounted due to a history of seemingly random injuries, and it's paid off with the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Nola, among others. It's a huge opportunity to find profit on Draft Day, if you believe the luck is about to turn.
Of course, this was all true of Pollock no matter where he signed. He has boom-or-bust potential in Los Angeles, just like he did in Arizona, or anywhere else. What his signing in Los Angeles means for the Dodgers' lineup is arguably the more important question.
Pollock likely slides into the leadoff spot and center field, both of which are natural fits for him. However, this was a Dodgers' roster already overflowing with outfield talent, and something's got to give. Even after trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp earlier in the offseason, we're still left with Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo as starting-caliber options in the outfield, with Chris Taylor and Max Muncy capable of logging time there if the need arises — and given a similarly crowded infield, it may.
What does that mean? Someone's probably getting traded. And "someone" is probably Pederson. He has been the subject of trade rumors in recent days, and those should only heat up with the Pollock signing. Pederson actually improved his game significantly in 2018, even if the final numbers don't show it. He cut his overall strikeout rate to 19.2 percent, below the league average, and only struggled to a .248 average thanks to a .253 BABIP. A little better luck and an everyday job elsewhere would make him a very viable breakout candidate.
Moving Pederson would help clear up that glut, with top prospect Verdugo (hopefully!) finally getting his shot. He comes to the Fantasy picture with a well-developed hit tool and middling power, a profile that could take off with a bit more growth in the majors. He's a solid bet to help in average, and might be capable of 25 homers to boot — he's a strong sleeper in H2H leagues especially.
With Bellinger locked in at right field and Max Muncy (hopefully!) locked in at second base, this Dodgers' offense looks as formidable as it ever has. If Pollock can stay healthy, this should be one of the league's best.
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