First Pitch: Navy SEALs Training…Only the Pirates…Plus a Ton of Other Teams

The Navy SEALs discussion is back. Dejan Kovacevic brought the topic up for the third time tonight, this time mentioning a possible injury by Gregory Polanco. I say possible, because there’s some conflicting information. Here is what Kovacevic had to say.

Polanco’s ankle was sprained in mid-August, and it cost him most of his final month of play. But the Pirates still saw fit to have him participate in that first day with the SEALS last month, and as you might guess, the ankle was reinjured.

Worse than before.

It happened during a drill in which Polanco sprinted across the outfield, through an above-ground pool of ice water, then leaped into a sand pit.

(You’re still seeking logic?)

I know this because I asked Polanco himself. Through an interpreter, he described it in vivid detail.

I know this because a pitcher in his drill group independently described it the same way.

But sadly, I wouldn’t have known this if I had relied solely on the Pirates’ word.

When I initially asked the team two weeks ago about Polanco, this was the emailed reply from baseball operations — no name assigned — through a team spokesman: “Polanco was NOT injured during that workout. He actually injured his ankle during the season. He opted out of those workouts, as he has continued to battle swelling but no pain.”

If you believe the players — and I do — the statement was a bald-faced lie.

Not from the spokesman, but from baseball ops.

The truth: Polanco asked to be removed from a later workout on the beach when the pain worsened on the bus ride. By day’s end, the team had to fit him for a boot, which wasn’t the case when he first hurt it.

I was down in instructs a few weeks ago. I talked to Polanco on October 13th. I asked him “how did you hurt your ankle”. His response was “I hurt it in the season”. He also added that he would be back playing the following week (which happened to be “Hell Week, according to Kovacevic’s article).

That last note, prefaced by “the truth”, is partially incorrect. Polanco did have a boot when he first hurt his ankle. Tom Bragg reported this on August 15th in this article. The quote below.

Gregory Polanco was still missing from the lineup after also going down with injury last Friday. Manager Rick Sofield said he expects Polanco to be out at least another week and that he had his foot in a boot and had not been participating in baseball activities since the injury.

Polanco ended up missing the rest of the season (which ended about three weeks after that article). He was still in a boot when Kristy Robinson covered the Power in early September. So three weeks after his initial injury, he was in a boot. Three weeks after the reported injury during instructs he was walking around with no boot, and said he was expecting to play the following week. It doesn’t seem like the second injury was anywhere close to the first one.

It’s possible Polanco could have tweaked the ankle during a workout as Kovacevic said. The big question here is “why did the Pirates let Polanco participate in the workouts”? Without knowing the health status of Polanco at the time, that’s impossible to answer. But I find it hard to believe that the team would sit Josh Bell out until Spring Training because of continued swelling in his knee, but make Polanco run drills knowing he was still hurting. It doesn’t add up. It’s more likely that Polanco was healthy, or at least said he was healthy. And considering the recovery time of the two injuries, it’s more likely that he just tweaked the injury in instructs, since the first injury put him in a boot for almost a month, and the second injury didn’t have the same impact.

My biggest concern with the SEAL workouts the first time around was the potential for a prospect to get seriously injured. Jameson Taillon was injured a few years ago in an intense workout. The injury was minor, and didn’t impact his 2011 season. This injury, if accurate, wouldn’t hurt Polanco’s 2013 season. At the same time, you don’t want to wait until a big injury comes along to make a change.

But is a change needed? The reporting on this topic has mostly been “Look at this crazy thing that the Pirates are making their minor league players do! No one would do this! This is insane!” Except maybe it’s not.

Jim Rosati of North Side Notch and David Manel of Bucs Dugout were both tweeting stories tonight about other teams who participated in SEALs workouts. I started writing this after Jim linked to a story about the Maryland basketball team. After that, David posted a ton of other stories about other teams who participate in these drills. Check out his Twitter feed, linked above.

There’s this story about the US Olympians being “pushed to the limit” by the SEALs (includes video). Here’s another story about Michigan football. Another story, this time the Maryland basketball story, includes a video which features the Maryland basketball team taking off sweatshirts under water, doing exercises with telephone polls, carrying bags of sand while running, and actually running while carrying teammates on their shoulders. A lot of these drills are similar to what has been described about the Pirates’ workouts. Oh, and also in that article:

Ruiz notes the primary focus of The Program — which has been used by more than 160 college teams across the country in the past year — is not strength and conditioning but rather team building, leadership and mental toughness.

More than 160 college teams have used this drill. The US Olympians used this drill. So why is it a horrible idea for the Pirates? They’re not on an island on this one. This seems to be a growing trend. The focus here is on team building and leadership.

That’s interesting, because last week we heard Neil Walker discussing how the team in the majors needs veteran leadership. The “veteran leadership” phrase gets tossed around so much, and I never can understand what it means. It seems to me that A.J. Burnett was a leader. Rod Barajas didn’t do much on the field, but he also came across as a leader. And at what point does someone like Neil Walker or Andrew McCutchen go from “player with three years in the majors” to “veteran leader”? On that point, if leadership is such a good thing, then wouldn’t it be a great idea to try and create some leaders in the minors, so the team doesn’t have this issue in the future?

This is the same story as the last two times it was brought up. Nothing has changed, apart from a player having a minor injury. That’s a concern, but does that mean you shut it down? As pointed out above, this isn’t limited to the Pirates. Tons of teams see the benefit in this training. I’ve seen players injured in all sorts of situations. I’ve seen a pitcher get hit with a line drive during live batting practice. I’ve seen players injured running the bases in drills. If you shut down every activity where there’s a risk of an injury, you don’t have a game anymore. The reward has to outweigh the risk. I can’t say if that’s the case, since we don’t know the long-term impact of these drills. But just looking at how many teams across various sports are participating in the same drills, it doesn’t seem like the Pirates are alone in thinking that there’s value to be found with this approach.

Links and Notes

**Battling for a Starting Job in 2013, Presley Has Offseason to do List

**Grading the Pirates’ 2008 Draft.

**Charlie at Bucs Dugout gives his take on the Polanco story.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On