BRADENTON, Fla. – When Gregory Polanco was coming up through the Pirates’ minor league system, he had the look of a future impact player. To say he had the look of a five tool player was putting it mildly. He had a huge frame with the chance to eventually hit for impact power, along with a high average, speed, a lot of range in the outfield on defense, and one of the strongest arms in the system.
But that hasn’t been the way things have played out for Polanco. He has shown some encouraging signs in his three and a half years in the majors. He’s shown some of that power that he was expected to have, along with the speed, the arm, and some of the defense. But there has been one thing that has held him back: the injury bug.
Polanco was hit hard with injuries during the 2017 season. He went on the disabled list three times with a left hamstring injury, with the hamstring problem being a recurring issue for him during his career. He also had other minor injuries like a left shoulder injury. Those injuries didn’t put him on the disabled list, but did impact him throughout the year.
So Polanco returned to his old trainer and went through some intense offseason workouts, while all along the way posting photos and videos to social media like the one below to show his progress.
The biggest question surrounding Polanco involves his health, especially after last season. Polanco, who arrived in Bradenton for Spring Training today, knew this, and that led to the focus to get in better shape this offseason.
“I got to the offseason, and I was like I need to get my body ready,” Polanco said. “I need to get my core and my lower body stronger, and in shape. That was my plan.”
He started working out in October, and that carried through last week. He repeatedly said this morning that his body feels great, and that he feels 100% going into the season, with the goal of trying to play every day. The areas that he focused on were all of the problem areas from last year.
“We were focused on my hamstring, my core, and my shoulders,” Polanco said. “I lost some weight too. Maybe eight pounds. But losing body fat percentage and keep lean. I feel great today. I feel quicker. I feel like I can be me now.”
It’s great to hear that Polanco is getting healthy, and he does look in great shape. This would normally be an early Spring Training “Best Shape of His Life” story. But there is some validity to the fact that Polanco could seriously improve with better health, as seen in his numbers and trends over his short career.
Polanco entered the majors in 2014, and after a hot start in his first ten games, he immediately cooled. He showed some better numbers at times in 2015, but was still having a rough adjustment to the majors. Then his numbers took a big jump in 2016, and it looked like he was having a breakout year. He faded in the second half, in part due to injuries, but you can see the clear difference in his results above.
The 2017 season was also derailed by those injuries. It seemed that every time Polanco would get going, he would immediately get shut down with a new problem. He’d return and slump, only to heat back up, then get injured, and start the process all over again.
“I thought the first half of 2016 he was strong,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s done some nice things. He’s put together some packages of time and bundled some at-bats that were really good. He did it in a couple of short spurts last year. We were making a kick later in the season, he was one of the reasons we were. The injuries limited his athleticism. Limited, I believe, the dynamics of his swing. There’s more in the tank. There’s a really good player in there that we believe we can help get out there in a consistent basis. And so does he.”
Polanco’s career looked to be trending up in a significant way prior to the 2017 season. He saw significant increases in his power, hard contact, line drive rate, and a reduction in his ground balls. All of those are good signs that point to a lot of power production and future breakout potential.
The question is whether he can stay healthy in 2018. He was good when healthy last year, but he was injured so often that it’s difficult to see that in the overall stats. In summary, he may have already broken out, and we just missed it because his injuries have made it so that the stats don’t reflect his current production levels. His fitness coming into the 2018 season is encouraging, and that could help keep him on the field enough to finally see that breakout in the numbers.