Polanco eyeing membership to 30-30 club

Polanco eyeing membership to 30-30 club

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Gregory Polanco started working out in November and hitting in December. When he reported to Spring Training, he came with a number in mind: 30.

After an encouraging start to last season, Polanco wants to join the 30-30 club with 30 home runs and 30 steals. He's approached both marks, swiping 27 bases in 2015 and hitting 22 homers last year, but he wants to put it all together this season.

"That's one of my goals," Polanco, 25, said.

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Polanco has been off and running this spring, stealing three bases in his first two games. The aggressive mentality is partially a product of his World Baseball Classic assignment; he needs to be fully prepared when he joins the Dominican Republic national team next week. But he also wants to run more for the Pirates after a 17-steal campaign last year.

Granted, there's at least one good reason Polanco wasn't set up to steal bases as often last year: He spent more time trotting around them. His home run total jumped from nine to 22 in his second full season, and his ISO (isolated power) climbed from .125 to .205.

"He can drive the ball, but it starts with the mindset of not thinking about trying to hit home runs, not trying to lift the ball, not trying to do more than he's capable of doing," hitting coach Jeff Branson said. "Just be himself and everything else will get taken care of."

Polanco tweaked his swing last spring, working with Branson to stay short and compact. They've carried that focus into this Spring Training as well, trusting that power will follow as it often did early on last season.

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"We still work on low and hard, low line drives, hard line drives," Polanco said. "When I try to elevate the ball, I miss a lot of pitches. … When I try to hit fly balls, I miss a lot of pitches because my hands dropped, and my swing got long."

He was on his way to a full breakout campaign, slashing .299/.377/.515 through the end of June, then he struggled (.216/.261/.409) over the last three months.

The first three months of the season, Polanco's average exit velocity was 91.8 mph, according to Statcast™, and his average launch angle was 11 degrees. His exit velocity dipped slightly to 89.5 mph the rest of the way, while his launch angle increased to 15 degrees.

Polanco thrived early last year in part because his lower half was strong and synced up with his upper body. His left knee wasn't right down the stretch, however, so his legs weren't fully underneath him. His hands and bat dropped accordingly. All of a sudden, "low and hard" became too low and not hard enough, and he was getting too far under or rolling over pitches he barreled up earlier in the year.

Polanco focused on endurance this offseason, saying he worked "harder than ever" to get in shape so he could play every day -- and perhaps put up a couple 30s by the end of the year.

"I think I got tired last year," Polanco said. "That's why I'm working hard to not get tired and be ready the whole season and the playoffs, too."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.