West Virginia outfielder Polanco impressive after slow start
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CHARLESTON, W.V. -- There is a five-tool outfielder for the West Virginia Power who has wowed scouts with his performance this season.
And it's not Josh Bell.
Gregory Polanco has pieced together an MVP-caliber season for the Power this season -- the kind of season many expected from Bell, a 2011 second-round draft pick who signed for $5 million but missed most of the season with a torn meniscus.
Polanco is second in the Class A South Atlantic League with a .328 batting average, has hit 15 home runs and has 40 stolen bases this season.
The combination of power and speed is not unique. That it comes out of Polanco's 6-foot-5 frame is.
"He's Avatar-looking. He's Jake Sully for me," West Virginia manager Rick Sofield said, a nod to James Cameron's 2009 movie. "That's ridiculous what he looks like. You would never guess he can run like that and throw. He's got all the tools. The body obviously gets you excited when you first meet him."
Dominican-born Polanco, 20, signed with the Pirates in 2009 for $175,000 but had three underwhelming seasons in the minors before he moved to West Virginia. With the Power, he made some adjustments to improve his swing.
Polanco said he worked with West Virginia hitting coach Edgar Varela to move his hand slot closer to his shoulders -- it was above his helmet -- which allowed him to generate more bat speed. There is less extraneous movement, and his timing has improved.
"Now," Polanco said, "I'm shorter and faster."
The improved swing is just one way Polanco has worked in the past season to elevate his game. In the offseason, he took two trips to Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., to work with Pirates personnel. There, he worked on conditioning, speed, muscle development, "everything," Polanco said.
"That was pretty hard," he said.
But it is paying off.
Though he is at least a few years away from being major league-ready, Polanco is now considered one of the top 10 prospects in the Pirates minor league system. At the start of the season, he was not among the top 50.
"I'm very excited," Polanco said. "It's my first year hitting over .300. It's my first full season. I feel comfortable here because I'm playing every day."
It's not just the hard work, Sofield said. It is also a mentality that leaves Polanco always wanting to outdo himself.
He recently injured his right ankle, enough to require a walking boot and a trip to the disabled list, when he tried to beat out a ground ball. He landed awkwardly on first base. But in the 10 games prior, Sofield said, Polanco generated about five infield singles that way, and countless others over the course of the season.
"Every ground ball, every 90 [feet] means something," Sofield said.
He has scored 80 runs and has 81 RBIs this season. But he always wants more.
"He's getting a little greedy to be good," Sofield said. "He's got a little greed in him. I don't think he's very satisfied with what goes on every day. Three hits today? He's looking for more."
First Published August 20, 2012 12:00 am