Attention to detail fuels season prep for Pirates' Gregory Polanco
March 25, 2016 12:00 AM
The Pirates' Gregory Polanco drives the ball to right field during a game against the Tigers on March 2 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SARASOTA, Fla. — In the mornings, on his way from the McKechnie Field batting cages back to the clubhouse, Gregory Polanco stops by the sliding mat. He’ll practice a few slides, then go on with his day.
“You do two or three, that’s good,” baserunning coach Rick Sofield told him.
To hear Polanco tell it, every aspect of the game received attention this spring. He has not one focus but many. He showed both potential and production in his first full season in the majors last year. The next step is maintaining it.
The first thing Polanco brought up on his to-do list was to “get my bat right,” meaning find his timing by the time the season starts. Polanco hit .256 last season with a .320 on-base percentage and .381 slugging percentage. That line improved to .276/.324/.425 in the second half the season, thanks in part to a .330/.380/.500 performance in 121 plate appearances in August.
Polanco went 2 for 4 Wednesday and hit his first spring training home run, but what impressed manager Clint Hurdle the most was an out — a well-struck ball against Zach Britton, the Baltimore Orioles’ left-handed closer.
“He’s continuing to work to get his swing in a good place,” Hurdle said. “That’s why we got the volume of games we got. We’re trying to get him synced up a little bit where the swing’s working from back to front. Every once in a while, he’ll get a little rotary, a little corkscrew-ish.”
Polanco resembles a small forward or tight end more than he does a right fielder. He has 230 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-5 frame. But he said he worried about getting too big and too tight, so he incorporated a lot of stretching into his offseason workouts. The Pirates email him workout plans — squats, bench presses, pull-ups, lat pulldowns — but he isn’t squatting much these days, he said, to protect his left knee, which hurt him at times last season. Polanco said the knee doesn’t hurt now.
In the field, Polanco spent time this spring slowing things down. He must ensure he cleanly fields ground balls in the outfield with runners on base, he said, rather than rush the play and try to throw someone out. Hurdle said he saw defensive improvement last season.
“I saw a man more comfortable and consistent in some outfield routes than when he first came up,” Hurdle said. “The routes were inconsistent, going to the wall was a challenge. Now he goes to the wall, he takes better routes, he goes and digs it out of that corner with a reverse-spin throw really well.”
Polanco spent the offseason in Santo Domingo in his native Dominican Republic, where he again worked out with Starling Marte. He didn’t take any vacations, but as Polanco put it with a smile, “The Dominican is like vacation. You can do whatever there. You can go to the beach, you can go to the mountains.”
McCutchen, Marte and Polanco compose one of the best outfields in the game. A step forward from Polanco would ease the pressure on the offense after the departure of Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. So Polanco tries to get his swing right, get his slides right, keep loose, improve jumps on steal attempts, clean up his defense.
“There’s different parts of the season where he’s a very, very consistent offensive performer,” Hurdle said. “The next challenge, as it is for every guy, to be a special player up here is the overall consistency.”
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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