Pollock taking advantage of opportunity with D-backs
After a breakout rookie season, Arizona's center fielder looks to build on success
A.J. Pollock has something to prove.
The 26-year-old was selected by the D-backs in the first-round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. At the start of the 2013 season, he was ranked by MLB.com and Baseball America as the No. 6 prospect in Arizona's organization.
So, what's Pollock got to prove?
In 2013, the D-backs planned to use Adam Eaton in center field and slot Pollock in as a backup where needed. In other words, Pollock's future with the D-backs appeared to be limited.
As it turned out, Eaton's elbow injury sidelined him for a good deal of 2013, and Pollock was called up from Triple-A Reno -- temporarily, many suspected -- to help fill the void. Pollock never returned to Reno.
The Hebron, Conn., native strung together a remarkable season for the D-backs, posting a slash line of .269/.322/.409. Even more impressive was Pollock's fielding prowess -- he was the owner of a .992 fielding percentage and was ranked fourth in the National League in Fangraphs UZR and UZR/150 fielding ratings.
On an Arizona team with star power like manager Kirk Gibson, Paul Goldschmidt and now Mark Trumbo, Pollock has flown under the radar -- as much as it's possible for a first-round Draft pick to fly under the radar.
Underappreciated? Maybe. But ask Pollock what it's like to have a more assured role on the team and he'll reply in his typically modest manner.
"Yeah, it's great. I came up and there was a different role for me," Pollock said. "I think this year I'll have a couple more opportunities to get in there. So I just got to make the most of it. I think we've got a great team. I think everyone here is really excited. The atmosphere here is pretty amazing. We all feel like we've got something special, and hopefully that leads to a bunch of wins."
Pollock is enjoying getting to know his teammates better this spring through a variety of team bonding activities.
"[We played] paintball. We did hiking at Camelback [Mountain]. We had a big golf tournament. And then we've had a lot of, just most of our talks, in the morning we come together as a team. It's really positive. We have a guy come in front of the team every day, it's a new person every day, and say something to the team. It's just really, really a positive atmosphere," Pollock explained. "Gibby's big thing is he wanted to create just a very positive, empowering environment, and so far, it's been pretty exciting."
But as always, it hasn't been all fun and games.
"It was an emphasis coming in here in Spring Training to just work on us as a team and just getting us to, kind of, get to know each other a little better," Pollock said. "I know you play a lot of baseball and you're on the field with each other every day for 162 games, but we did a bunch of stuff away from the field this year in Spring Training, just having fun with each other after games and after practices. It's going to be crucial coming down here postseason time that we all trust each other and have each other's backs."
Overall, for Pollock, staying grounded by keeping it loose and going back to basics is the key to a successful season.
"For the team, I think it's just keeping that clubhouse nice and light, not taking it too seriously, just kind of having fun with each other, sticking together as a team, having each other's backs," Pollock said.
"And for me, just getting on base, doing the little things to score runs and help the team score runs to win games. It's pretty simple, but that's what I'm going to concentrate on doing and playing good defense. Other than that, there's no secret recipe to winning."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.