Gregory Polanco runs down fly ball during workouts at Pirate City.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Right field at PNC Park will continue its wait for Gregory Polanco, who was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis Friday by the club to refine his game.
Polanco had an impressive spring in the Pirates major league camp, flashing power, speed on the basepaths, discipline at the plate and athleticism.
There never was a serious likelihood he would break camp on the 25-man roster because the Pirates can delay a year of arbitration by pushing his debut to June and have long said they'd prefer him to log more minor leagues at-bats.
The question is, how long until he returns?
"While we're excited about where he's going, we don't feel he's ready to come up here and help this team win major league games and thrive," said general manager Neal Huntington of the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Polanco.
"Survival results in some guys never getting to that next level. Sometimes, it delays it by years. We're looking forward to Gregory hitting the ground running when he gets to the big leagues. Helping us win games and push toward October. He's got the ability to impact the game in a lot of different ways."
Polanco, 22, had six hits in 22 at-bats in 10 games. He hit one home run off a breaking ball, and ripped a double against A.J. Burnett. He also struck out four times.
With the exception of struggling with a handful of breaking pitches out of the zone, Polanco never looked out of place, not even when he batted in the No. 3 spot.
"As we told Gregory, there are some organizations that would probably put him in the big leagues," said Huntington. "Because he could probably go compete there. He can probably go survive. That's not what we want to do. It's not what we're about.
"I've said it from day one, when you put a player in the big leagues because you need him and not because he's ready, in our minds that's the wrong reason."
Polanco did not appear fazed when told he was leaving the major league camp. He smiled and laughed with teammates around a folding table in the clubhouse, displaying the same easy-going demeanor he showed every other day.
"They said go down there and get ready, try to get better and improve every day. The manager told me I want to see you as soon as I can," said Polanco. "I said 'yeah.' "
Polanco will play almost exclusively in right field for Indianapolis, and Huntington said Polanco's maturation at the plate will dictate his promotion date.
"Our challenge is to not get too excited too soon and put him in a position that he's not ready for. That's what's made this decision so difficult because he is so talented, he is a great young man and he's a good worker."
Manager Clint Hurdle said when Polanco returns, the Pirates want it to be for good.
"And, as Neal has said so many times, to thrive, not just survive," said Hurdle. "Every time he steps into the box, there's going to be a pitcher thinking, 'That's a springboard to the big leagues.' ... So what an opportunity for him to go and add quality to his at-bats. He'll see spin when he's behind in the count, he'll see changeups. He's going to see everything."
Once upon a time, Polanco was a pitching prospect in the Dominican Republic, but was identified by the Pirates' Latin Americas staff as a potential outfielder. "Our guys recognized the tools, the frame, the work ethic, the character of the young man and what he could become as a position player," said Huntington.
The third of six children is the son of two police officers. He signed with the Pirates in March 2009.
"I felt proud, you know, me and my family," said Polanco. "That day I said I've got a chance now to change my life. And now I'm closer."
His teammates spoke very highly of the ability they saw this spring.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen said he doesn't see a steep learning curve there. "I already know what he's capable of doing. He's showing it now. There's really no difference in the way you play the game from the minors to when you come up to the majors. It's just the situation that changes. The game itself doesn't.
"I'll do my best to try and help him when that time comes," he said. "I just look forward to when he gets the opportunity, to him showing up to shine."
Left fielder Starling Marte might relate best to Polanco because they are from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and have carried heavy expectations.
"He works hard every day. Gregory is a big prospect and has great potential," said Marte. "Great power, speed, he's got everything. He's the guy. We're waiting for him."
The two spent all winter playing on the same team, and Marte credits Polanco -- who was the league's MVP and rookie of the year -- with helping his game this winter. He awaits his friend and countryman's arrival in Pittsburgh.
Said Marte, with a smile: "One day we will be together."
Kinney embraces moment
Josh Kinney picked up a save Friday after entering the game in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and no outs. He got Ronny Cedeno to pop up, walked Cesar Hernandez then got Wil Nieves to ground into a double play to preserve the win.
"He has a passion for the game that's probably unparalleled in that clubhouse," said Hurdle of the 34-year-old reliever. "You look at his age, his resume. He's got bright eyes, big ears, he's getting things with a smile on his face and loving every minute of it.
"So, as he came into the game today, I said 'This is right up your alley.' Big smile on his face. Let's go, this is going to be good. ... For those guys to see a man that's been around the block a couple of times still have that kind of enthusiasm, still have that passion -- it's infectious."
Kinney was born in Coudersport, Pa., and grew up in Port Allegany, and is trying to make the roster.
Right-handed pitcher Duke Welker also was optioned to Class AAA Friday morning. ... Edinson Volquez is expected to start for the Pirates today against Tampa Bay's Jake Odorizzi. Also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates are Vin Mazzaro, Jared Hughes, Andy Oliver and Daniel Schlereth. ... Charlie Morton is scheduled to pitch five innings or throw 80 pitches in a minor league game at Pirate City.
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