Bradenton Marauders | Top prospect Polanco thriving under pressure to perform

Top prospect handles weight of organization's expectations

jlembo@bradenton.comMay 30, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Gregory Polanco's father never played professional baseball.

But he played enough of it to pass what he knew down to his son, beginning when the boy was 5.

"He taught me how to throw," Polanco said, "how to catch."

A lot has changed since then. Gregory Polanco is now a bona fide blue-chipper making his way up the Pittsburgh Pirates' organizational ladder. He is a 6-foot-4, 170-pound center fielder with legitimate five-tool potential, considered among the top 65 prospects in all of baseball by MLB.com and Baseball America.

As for his father, he switched to softball a few years ago. Now, he just sits back and follows his son.

And when Gregory Polanco takes the field for the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders, he doesn't worry about any of the hype and expectations that have surrounded him following last summer's star-making

turn in West Virginia.

"When I got to the ballpark and they say, 'Play ball,'" he said following Wednesday's 10-3 loss to the Fort Myers Miracle in front of 4,698 fans at McKechnie Field, "I just forget everything and play like I know how to play."

Few have played better than Polanco, listed as the Pirates' fourth-best prospect by MLB.com and the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 after hitting .325 with 85 RBIs for the low Single-A Power.

He has flashed speed (he is 21-for-25 in steal attempts, including a perfect 2-for-2 Wednesday), hit for average (.307) and some power (six home runs) while driving in 27 runs in 47 games.

Polanco entered Wednesday ranked in the top 10 in the Florida State League in hits (54), doubles (14) and steals.

"I feel good. I just want to keep doing it and be more consistent every day," Polanco said. "I don't want to say, 'I feel so happy,' because you never know what's going to happen. But I feel good and I want to keep working hard."

Polanco displayed a combination of speed and moxie Wednesday during the bottom of the eighth. After reaching on a single and swiping second, Polanco appeared to jam his right shoulder diving back in to avoid a pickoff attempt.

Marauders manager Frank Kremblas and a member of the training staff tended to Polanco, who continually shook and stretched his right arm, before allowing him to stay in the game.

On the very next pitch, Polanco darted off second and easily stole his second base of the inning.

"I was like, 'I'm going.' I was fine," said Polanco, who had the shoulder wrapped following the game. "I knew the pitcher was a little slow to the plate, so I was fine going."

Now, of course, comes the big question: How long will Polanco stay in Bradenton?

The Pirates have been patient with the 21-year-old, who broke in with the organization's Dominican Summer League team at the age of 17. Only once in his brief professional career has Polanco been promoted mid-season, and that came in 2011, when he played 48 games with the Gulf Coast League Pirates and three with the team's New York-Penn League affiliate in State College.

Polanco knows none of that is up to him. And he just plans on going out every night and playing the same game his father taught him all those years ago in the Dominican Republic.

"They know I do my job, and they do their job," Polanco said. "I'm just going to keep working. They're going to move me some time, so I'm just waiting for it, and I'm working and playing. If they do it, that's fine. If they don't, I'll keep playing."

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