Pirates outfield prospect Polanco is working hard to refine his game
BRADENTON, Fla. — Gregory Polanco makes it seem so effortless, cruising from first base to third on a single or gliding deep into the right-field corner to snare a fly ball.
With a 6-foot-4 frame, Polanco generates above-average speed with his long, powerful stride. Yet years before Baseball America ranked him one of the 10 best prospects in the game, Polanco was a gangly teenager in the Dominican Republic who covered ground like a turtle.
“He was so big, but so weak,” said Rene Gayo, the Pirates' Latin American scouting director. “When I first saw him, I thought he'd be an average runner at best.”
Gayo recalled the first time he watched Polanco run the 60-yard dash, a mess of flailing arms and elbows, frantically pumping knees and an awkward gait. He was timed at 7.4 seconds.
A year or so later, Polanco ran the 60 again. Gayo looked at his stopwatch, then did a double-take.
It read 6.9 seconds.
“When I heard that, I said, ‘Hey, I'm fast,' ” Polanco said, grinning. “I knew then I could run.”
In the Dominican, Polanco's coaches wanted to make him a left-handed pitcher. So he ran every day with the other pitchers and slowly built up strength, which Polanco now credits for his speed.
“He just matured and became a man,” Gayo said.
It was not an instant transformation. Polanco did not simply wake up one morning with blazing speed. In rookie ball in 2010, Polanco still struggled with his body and batted .202. He also had 19 stolen bases in 53 games.
By 2012, it was all coming together. At Low-A West Virginia, Polanco batted .325, discovered his home-run stroke and swiped 40 bags.
Polanco made rapid progress last year, starting the season at High-A Bradenton and ending it at Triple-A Indianapolis. In the offseason, he continued to pack on muscle without sacrificing speed and reported to spring training camp at 220 pounds.
When the players assemble for workouts, it's easy to spot Polanco's head bobbing above the crowd. He draws admiring stares from his teammates.
“Gosh, I think he's taller than I am,” laughed 6-7 reliever Jared Hughes.
“He's huge,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “He looks like a freak of nature to me. We're going to have a pretty fast outfield.”
McCutchen already has won a Gold Glove. Left fielder Starling Marte was a finalist last year. When Polanco gets to the majors — don't be surprised if it happens by July — the Pirates will have one of the most athletic outfields in the game.
“With McCutchen, Polanco and Marte, there are some tremendous things we think we can do defensively to really shrink the outfield for our pitchers,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
General manager Neal Huntington has always said it will take three players with center-fielder ability to tame the spacious outfield at PNC Park. Polanco, like Marte before him, works in center in the minors.
While Polanco was with Bradenton, the coaches started positioning him closer to the infield. It's a more aggressive defensive style that he quickly mastered.
“At first, I was surprised and I felt uncomfortable, like every fly ball was going to go over my head,” Polanco said. “After a week, I felt a lot better. Now when a fly ball comes, I can run without taking my eye off the ball and get to it easier. I feel like a more complete outfielder now.”
When Marte, McCutchen and Polanco patrol PNC Park, will any fly ball ever touch the grass?
“I would say, no,” Polanco said. “That's the attitude we have. Marte is fast. McCutchen has a Gold Glove. I'm fast, and I can cover a lot of ground. It's not going to be easy for a hitter to get a double or triple. Any fly ball out there is going to be caught.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
- Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 28, 2015
- Pirates notebook: No sign of improvement for RHP Sadler
- Cole collects MLB-best 14th win as Pirates take series against Nationals
- Starting 9: Pirates help and the illusion of help
- Pirates minor league report: Moore a breakout star in Morgantown
- Making splash at MLB trade deadline not always in buyers’ best interest
- Pirates notebook: Cervelli cherishes All-Star gift from teammate Burnett
- Nationals pound Burnett, Pirates
- Pirates notebook: Ramirez thrown into spotlight upon joining Pirates
- Rossi: Pirates, Cardinals deserve October showdown