First full year under belt, Polanco preps for '16

Kang 'more likely' back in April; Cutch, Cervelli want to retire as Pirates

First full year under belt, Polanco preps for '16

PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco packed on pounds of muscle last winter, hoping it would prepare him for his first full season in the Majors. As it turned out, the best way for the Pirates' right fielder to learn about the rigors of a 162-game season was to play through one.

"Now that I've played my first [full] season last year, I know that the season is long. I know I have to take care of my body," Polanco said at PirateFest. "Don't try to do too much in the offseason. Just get ready for Spring Training, because the season is long, and we want to play in the playoffs, too. Now I know I have to prepare better. Now I know what to do for a full season."

Polanco faded toward the end of the year, batting just .225 after Sept. 10, but that was due in part to a bothersome left knee that he had wrapped or on ice every day. Polanco said he feels back to normal after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection, but it did hamper him down the stretch.

"It's hard to play like that, because you're thinking about that, thinking I have to be careful," he said.

After an abbreviated debut in 2014, Polanco gained valuable experience in '15. He also experienced his first extended stretch of success at the plate, batting .300 with an .808 OPS from July 9-Sept. 9. Before that, he batted just .232 with a .638 OPS. Next year, Polanco hopes to sustain that two-month hot streak over a full season.

"A lot of growth, and I think there's still more growth coming," manager Clint Hurdle said of the 24-year-old. "I think he's going to be a very good player, and I do think he's going to be a player that can change the game in a number of different ways."

Around the horn
Jung Ho Kang will be the Pirates' third baseman next year, but they're not sure when. The club initially suggested that Kang, recovering from serious left knee injuries, could return between March and May. While there's still a long way to go, Kang appears to be recovering well.

Kang exits with fractured leg

"April is more likely than May, barring a setback," general manager Neal Huntington said.

Andrew McCutchen, expected to become a free agent after the 2018 season, repeated on Saturday that he'd like to end his career with the Pirates.

"This is still the place I do want to be. I love it here," McCutchen said. "If that's something that they can do, that's something they can do. I really can't answer from their end. We'll see what happens in the future."

• Catcher Francisco Cervelli also said he would "love to retire with this team," but he hasn't heard anything from the Pirates about a long-term extension. Cervelli, a free agent after next season, said such talks would occur between the club and his agent, but didn't indicate if there were any ongoing discussions.

• Right-hander Nick Kingham, who had Tommy John surgery in May, has been throwing for about three months. The Bucs' No. 11 prospect, according to MLB.com, plans to take the next two weeks off and expects to start pitching off a bullpen mound at some point during Spring Training.

"Nothing out of the ordinary so far," the 24-year-old said of his recovery. "To this point, more good days than bad days, which is good. I'm heading in the right direction."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.