Gregory Polanco is not a prospect who has a lot of flaws in his game. He hits for average, has some power, good plate discipline, has a ton of speed, runs the bases well, and has a strong arm and a ton of range in the outfield. If there’s one flaw I saw when watching him during the 2013 season, it was his struggles with running routes.
Polanco covers a ton of ground in the outfield, and does fine going left to right. However, he struggled at times with balls that were hit straight away to center field, and with balls that were hit behind him. A guy with his speed and range shouldn’t have any problems going back to the wall to make a catch. So in his final few weeks in Bradenton, manager Frank Kremblas positioned Polanco in shallow center field, forcing him to hustle back to the wall as fast as he could, thus getting used to what he would have to do to make plays that were behind him.
“That helped me a lot,” Polanco said. “The first time he moved me very shallow, I was surprised, and I felt uncomfortable. One week from that I felt a lot better, and that made me comfortable. That helped me a lot in the outfield.”
The results did come quickly. By the time he was ready to move up to Altoona, Polanco was making plays in the outfield that he was having trouble with earlier in the season. He was using his speed and range as he should, and was looking like a strong defensive center fielder.
“I feel like more complete of an outfielder now,” Polanco said of the work.
The 2014 season is most likely going to see Polanco’s debut in the majors. He will start the season in Triple-A, but could make it to the majors by mid-June, depending on how well he does against the talent in Triple-A. He just finished an off-season that saw him dominate the Dominican Winter League, which is pretty much the equivalent of Triple-A pitching. Despite his skills in center field, he will most likely play right field in the majors, since Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte currently occupy center and left field, respectively. That’s not a new position for Polanco, who has played right field before.
“During batting practice I go right, sometimes I go left. Two years ago I played right field,” Polanco said. “Almost all of my life I’ve been playing right field. It’s not uncomfortable playing in the corner for me, because I’ve been playing a lot in the corner.”
Right field in PNC Park doesn’t have a lot of space, which limits Polanco’s range. That range should be an asset for right-center, where the outfield extends deeper to the left of the Clemente Wall. It should also help the Pirates with their planned outfield shifts, since Polanco could cover more than just the right field area, allowing Andrew McCutchen to fade closer to the notch, where there is much more ground to cover.
Polanco has also been making strides the last few years in adding muscle to his frame, which has resulted in some added power in the field. There is still room for him to add more muscle, which could result in more power.
“That’s my plan right now,” Polanco said, while adding that he had been working out in Santo Domingo during the off-season. Here is a photo he posted to his Instagram account.
Polanco said that his focus was to add a few more pounds and more muscle. The fear with an outfielder bulking up is that it could take away from his range. Polanco can still cover a lot of ground, and won’t be expected to cover a ton of ground anyway, even if he’s asked to cover more than just right field at PNC. Any added power would be a bonus, especially for a team like the Pirates that currently lacks power at the corner spots.