Polanco was primarily a pitcher as an amateur in the Dominican Republic. Pirates director of Latin American scouting Rene Gayo thought Polanco profiled better as an outfielder. Gayo loves to tell the story about how Polanco looked like “a sick giraffe” when he first scouted him. He has some very long legs. Now, Polanco looks more like a healthy gazelle.
In the spring of 2013, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Polanco as the 4th-best prospect in the Pirates' organization. Then they moved him up to #1 in the winter before 2014 spring training.
- In the winter before 2014 spring training, Fernando Tatis and Julio Lugo, veterans of 23 Major League seasons, were Polanco’s teammates for eight weeks with the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League.
That duo advised Polanco on some of the finer points of how to conduct himself now, and when he inevitably finds himself in the outfield at PNC Field at some point in 2014.
“Those guys stressed how to behave like a professional player, how to even dress up to get to the ballpark, how to get to the ballpark on time, how to go about my business,” Polanco said through an interpreter. “And then on the field, how to make a plan, how to approach every at-bat like it counts, how to work the counts, how to always give 100 percent and if I’m not feeling 100 percent sometimes, not trying to do too much and take a day off. It’s not going to (hurt) me, especially if I’m sick or not feeling 100 percent. All those things together have made a big difference.”
June 2014: One of the strangest occurrences in Minor League baseball left fans and commentators bewildered when what appeared to be a home run was in fact caught in the outfield during a game between Syracuse Chiefs and the Indianapolis Indians.
The timing was so coincidental it appeared the Chiefs' Emmanuel Buriss had hit a fly ball over the head of Indians center fielder Gregory Polanco, before the ball bounced on top of the wall and out for a "home run."
Fans were gobsmacked, however, when Polanco spun around and threw the ball back towards the pitcher.
Only did a slow-motion replay reveal that the "homerun" ball was not the game ball, but rather one being used by children in the batting cage behind the field. The children's ball was tossed up at the precise time the game ball would have if it had bounced on the wall. Syracuse announcer Kevin Brown said the bizarre scenario was one of the most fascinating of his calling career. "It's one of the highlights of my career," Brown said on his radio call.
Gregory played his first Major League game on June 10, 2014. He was asked how it was. "It felt very good. Now I have that one [his first Major League game], and can just play the game," he said.
Before he had a hit to his name, Polanco had a standing ovation. The early in-house portion of a crowd that would swell to 31,567 with walk-up patrons arose to welcome Polanco as soon as he left the on-deck circle in the bottom of the first.
"That made me a little nervous," he said of the reception, grinning broadly. It was an eventful evening for the Bucs. How eventful it will become in hindsight has yet to be determined and Clint Hurdle, for one, wished for people to be mindful of that.
"I'm not going to get in front of it, I just want to see him play," said the Pirates manager, his way of discouraging jumping to any quick impressions. "He's going to be fine with every game, with every at-bat, with every inning in the field. You got to see that swing. To barrel that one ball up into left field, left-on-left. To get that swing off—that was nice to see." (Singer & Pianovich - mlb.com - 6/10/14)
When Gregory asked for advice about signing a long-term contract with the Pirates in April 2016, Starling Marte had some for his friend and fellow Dominican Republic native. First: Call your mom and check with her.
"After you speak to your mom, if this amount feels good to you, go ahead and take it," Marte added. "You're playing for a good organization."
It was good enough for Polanco, who signed a five-year extension with two club options. When Polanco was weighing the Pirates' latest offer, he sought advice from Marte, his offseason workout partner, fellow corner outfielder and close friend.
"He always said it's good for you because it's easier for your life. You go out and you play more confident," Polanco said. "You have the opportunity to play for a long time in the big leagues, and that's very good for me."
"First of all, I'm extremely happy for my friend, especially because where we come from, money's not much," Marte said through special assistant to the general manager and interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "A lot of people depend on us -- our land, our city, our people, our family. I'm happy that now he's going to be able to help a lot of loved ones back home and a lot of people that are in need of help."
Some players feel freed up after signing similar deals, able to focus on baseball and not business. Others feel they must live up to the contract, proving why they got it. "I've seen it all across the board," manager Clint Hurdle said.
"It brought extreme freedom," Marte said. "Sometimes as a ballplayer you have rough days and your mind starts wandering off and thinking some negative things that don't help, fears of being released or let go. After signing that contract, that helped me so much knowing that this is home, and even if I have a bad day, this is still home and I'm going to do my best."
The Pirates' hope is that Polanco will feel the same way. (Berry - MLB.com - 4/5/16)
Roberto Clemente said, “If you have a chance to accomplish something that will make things better for people coming behind you, and you don’t do that, you’re wasting your time on this Earth.”
Fellow Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco spent time in his native Dominican Republic during the offseason ensuring that his time on the planet is well-spent.Polanco is an enthusiastic supporter of the Striking Out Poverty campaign through Food for the Hungry. The organization works to assist some of the world’s most vulnerable communities by providing resources as basic as clean water, medical aid, food, education and vocational training and most importantly, hope.
The Striking Out Poverty campaign is a baseball-themed effort focused on nine impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic in need of basic resources.Polanco knows firsthand the extent of the poverty in the Dominican Republic. His family once lived in one of the communities targeted by the campaign. (March 15, 2017 - Joy Frank-Collins - Pirates Breakdown)
March 2009: Polanco signed with the Pirates for a modest $175,000. Rene Gayo and Ellis Pena were the scouts who signed Gregory.
March 2014: Polanco rejected a multiyear contract offer from the Pirates during spring training. He turned down a seven-year deal that also included three team options, which would have allowed the Pirates to buy out his first three years of free agency.
The pact would have been worth between $50 million and $60 million had Pittsburgh exercised all three option years. That's Andrew McCutchen territory right there.
August 25, 2014: The Pirates sent a struggling Polanco was sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis. He was in a 1-for-30 slump.
- April 5, 2016: Pittsburgh announced it signed Polanco to a five-year agreement. The deal begins in 2017 for a guaranteed five years and $35 million, and includes two options. If the Pirates pick up both, the contract will be worth $58 million over seven years.