Minor league notebook: Imminent promotion not changing Polanco
INDIANAPOLIS — He leads the International League in nearly every hitting category, has been featured by dozens of national media outlets, and a promotion to Pittsburgh likely will happen this season.
But none of that has changed how Gregory Polanco approaches each day with the Indianapolis Indians. His routine is simple but effective.
Polanco arrives at the park early enough to get extra hitting work in or maybe practice fielding balls off the outfield wall. He'll handle any media requests, of which the team averages at least one a day. He also may have an occasional postgame meeting.
When other players are going out for drinks after a game, Polanco is at home talking with his parents before going to sleep. Then it's the same routine the following day.
“I like to have fun like almost everyone,” Polanco said. “During the season I just focus on baseball. Everything is baseball. I don't go out or anything. I just focus on what I need to do tomorrow.”
Polanco's parents are both police officers in the Dominican Republic. The organization's top-ranked prospect talks with his parents before each game and again when he gets home. Usually it's just an update on how the game went and catching up on family matters.
“I grew up with good discipline,” Polanco said. “They taught me how everywhere I go, you act the same and don't forget where you came from.”
Polanco's quiet nightlife is by choice because he's personable with teammates and talks with everyone, Indianapolis hitting coach Mike Pagliarulo said.
“He's always happy and joking around,” Indianapolis first baseman Matt Hague said.
On the field, he's leading the International League in batting average (.400), hits (38), runs (21), RBIs (25) and on-base percentage (.457).
“Of course, he hasn't seen the consistent major league-type pitching,” Pagliarulo said. “But even the guys that have had some success against him haven't been able to repeat that too much.”
But Polanco is not only feasting on Triple-A retreads, facing eight pitchers who are ranked a top-20 prospect in their organization. He's hitting .348 in 23 at-bats against them.
Polanco went 2 for 5 against Toledo's Robbie Ray, the No. 2-ranked prospect in Detroit's organization. He was also 2 for 4 with a home run against Casey Crosby, the Tigers' 11th-ranked prospect.
“He's like an avatar out there. He just towers over everybody else,” Hague said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Polanco. “But he can still bunt if he wants a hit. He's smart and not afraid to hit it on the ground to beat something out.”
Pagliarulo has not noticed any trends in how teams are trying to attack Polanco, which he credits to the prospect's ability to quickly adjust.
“A team may get him out inside, but in the next at-bat he can turn around on a 95 mile per hour fastball inside,” Pagliarulo. “You can't stay with him just one way. … He's making adjustments within the game, and at times, during an at-bat. That's what you have to do to play in the major leagues, adjust from pitch to pitch, as opposed from game to game or even at-bat to at-bat.”
So, could Polanco hit at the major league level today?
“I think against certain pitchers he could, but we want a major league player,” Pagliarulo said. “We want to make sure we send a complete player up there.”
That means plenty of extra work in the outfield, practicing how balls will come off the wall and playing out different scenarios.
“We're similar (to Pittsburgh) in that our cutoffs and relays are structured the same way,” Pagliarulo said. “So when he's coming up firing the ball, he's looking to hit one place and we don't want to miss those things. He's still young and there are a lot of plays he hasn't seen yet and a lot of baserunners he hasn't seen yet.”
The 22-year-old's hot start has created plenty of speculation and media attention on when a possible call-up from the Pirates may occur. He has been featured in over a dozen national stories.
“I think it's important that you're mature enough to handle it because there are plenty of 22-year-olds that cannot handle it,” Pagliarulo said. “... He could handle any market or major league city.”
Lambo refinds swing
Somewhat lost in the hype surrounding Polanco is Andrew Lambo, who is hitting .353 with 11 doubles and 19 RBIs with Indianapolis.
Lambo leads the International League in doubles and ranks third in batting average and on-base percentage (.439).
Lambo and Polanco have combined for 44 RBIs. That is more than half the amount of four teams in the league, including Charlotte (79 RBIs), Norfolk (80), Syracuse (80) and Scranton (85).
Brian Peloza is a freelance writer.