FORT MYERS, Fla. — When Jorge Polanco arrived for Twins spring-training camp last February, the 27-year-old shortstop said his surgically-repaired right ankle felt good. Running at 100% still was a little uncomfortable, but otherwise, minimal complaints.
Fast forward one year and Polanco has arrived at camp with a right ankle that has been surgically-repaired yet again. Again, he says it feels good, and this time, Polanco, who is spending his camp adjusting to his new position, second base, has been full-go right from the start of camp.
“I think he’s moving around really well. Looks great. You can see it in his face,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s been a while since he’s been completely healthy coming into camp. I think there’s an excitement level there for him and all of us to just watch him play and not have to worry about anything health-wise.”
Polanco had surgery in October to remove a mild bone spur and small bone chip on the outside of his right ankle. The year before that, he had an arthroscopic debridement to address an ankle impingement.
It was early on during last season that Polanco realized the problematic ankle was going to require surgery for the second straight offseason.
“After the first surgery, I did my rehab stuff and we got into the season and I felt, right away, during the season, that I wasn’t feeling good on my ankle in games. I knew it, and when I went to see the doctor again a couple of months before the season was over, he said they’d require a second surgery,” Polanco said.
Polanco considered getting the surgery during the season but decided to push through the pain after the Twins’ medical staff conferred and concluded continuing to play would not worsen the injury. That willingness to play through pain, Baldelli said, was a testament to Polanco’s toughness. Polanco appeared in 55 of the team’s 60 regular-season games in 2020. A season before that, he played in a team-high 153 games, despite dealing with a painful issue both seasons.
Polanco was especially affected when hitting from the left side of the plate last year. While his right-handed swing felt alright, his left-handed swing triggered pain.
The numbers bear that out: Polanco hit .345 with a .351 on-base percentage and .455 slugging percentage as righty, while hitting .227 with a .287 on-base percentage and .318 slugging percentage as a lefty. Until then, throughout his career, he had been a more productive hitter from the left side of the plate.
“It didn’t feel good, hitting left-handed,” he said. “I think that was one of my problems last year, that I couldn’t get good at-bats hitting left-handed. But this year, it’s feeling pretty good.”
Polanco said the ankle was painful and bothersome some days. Other days, he had no pain, so he continued along with his rehab plan to see if it would get better.
Now, he’s hoping that his new position, second base, will help alleviate some of the stress on the ankle as he anticipates having to move less. The Twins notified Polanco that he would be shifting to the right side of the infield when they signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons in late January.
Polanco played plenty of second base in the minors and has been receptive to the move, though he has barely played the position since coming up to the majors for good in 2016.
He already has been working on the adjustment for a month. Third base coach Tony Diaz, who works with the team’s infielders, said a big focus of theirs is getting Polanco used to defending the shift against lefties, where he will be in shallow right field.
Often with the shift on as a shortstop, Polanco already would be to the right of the second-base bag, so turning the double play from that side isn’t foreign to him.
“You’ve got a shortstop playing second,” Diaz said. “When you have a legitimate shortstop playing second, that mentality alone, I think that’s going to be impactful.”
Diaz said he thought Polanco, the American League starter for the 2019 all-star game at short, had a chance to be a top-five second baseman in the league.
Polanco’s own prediction?
“I think I can be pretty dang good at second base,” he said.