The arts of transition and adjustment are familiar to Jorge Polanco.
Polanco's childhood days in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic were occupied with backyard catch sessions with his father, a baseball player himself. By the age of 13, Polanco realized that a professional baseball career in the United States would be his goal. Jorge was ready and willing for the newness of an unfamiliar country and the ever-changing demands of the professional scene.
Three years later, the now Miracle shortstop swapped his rustic practice jerseys for the emblems of the Minnesota Twins organization.
In 2009, Polanco was pursued on the international free agent market by the Twins, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers. The young athlete, with his family and agent supporting and advising him, penned a deal with the Twins on July 6 and prepared to start a pivotal stage of his life.
His first test in the United States since signing, Polanco joined the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2010 after a stint in the Dominican Summer League. Polanco spoke no English and had limited knowledge of the American culture, but assistance in hopping that barrier was, and still is, abundant.
"I've had an English teacher since I came here," Polanco explained through translator and teammate Tim Shibuya. "As far as baseball goes, all the coaches here have just helped me learn the finer aspects of the game."
The first rungs on Polanco's professional ladder were three years with short-season teams. He began with the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2011 and rounded out 2012 with the Elizabethton Twins. In 2013, Jorge ascended to full-season baseball with the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League. The jump from playing 50 games per season to 115 with the Kernels brought several learning experiences to Polanco's table. This year with Fort Myers he applies one in particular.
"Slowing the game down," Polanco said. "You can't move too fast."
Quickly learning to better his concentration and keep focused for a longer season facilitated Polanco's breakout performance in 2013. A .308 batting average, 78 RBI and 32 doubles led to the honors of Midwest League Mid-Season All-Star and MiLB Organizational All-Star. He began the 2014 season parked at No. 8 and No. 10 on MLB.com and Baseball America's prospect watch lists respectively.
So far, Polanco's dominance at the plate has not diminished. In 47 games, Polanco boasts the highest batting average on the Miracle active roster at .293 alongside a triple, nine doubles and 23 RBI.
Miracle Manager Doug Mientkiewicz cites Polanco's calm demeanor as the driving factor for his hitting success. He is much further in his development than many ball players at his age.
"Polanco's approach at the plate is about as solid as you will find at this early stage of his career," Mientkiewicz stated. "He hits the ball where it is pitched and has a knack for getting the barrel to the ball more times than not. This is why he will continue to be successful as he climbs the ladder."
The rhythm of the game is testing Polanco as he makes the shift from second base to shortstop this year. Polanco first received individual work sessions during Spring Training with Twins Infield Coordinator Sam Perlozzo. Ever since his shift to the more taxing infield role, Jorge's throwing strength and defensive prowess have been on constant trial. Polanco noted that despite the physical proximity between the two positions, the new post comes with demands that are not always present at second base.
"The way you move depending on pitches changes between second base and shortstop," Polanco affirmed through Shibuya. "You also have a longer throw to make and have to work faster to get the ball to first."
Mientkiewicz agreed that while the adjustment from second base to short stop is rarely simple, Polanco is handling his new responsibilities gracefully.
"In the beginning, I think the game was a little fast for him, but that's normal," he said.
Although Polanco has committed 16 errors this year the Miracle skipper believes that he has come a long way.
"The shortstop needs to be the captain of the infield," Mientkiewicz explained. "He has to be the calming factor. He needs to know where everyone is supposed to be on any given play. I think Polanco is starting to settle in at shortstop very nicely."
Recently, Polanco has shared the middle infield with second baseman and fellow Dominican-native Aderling Mejia. Having a countryman as his double play partner makes for easier communication and, according to Polanco, allows for an enjoyable experience during the game.
"I like it," Polanco said, then added in Spanish, "It's fun being with someone else from the Dominican Republic."
With each emblem comes fresh experiences and new expectations, but Polanco's determination to learn and improve has not changed with the jerseys he has worn.