FORT MYERS, FLA. – Jorge Polanco gobbled up a ground ball hit by Orioles infielder Johnny Giavotella on Thursday. Throwing to first on the run, Polanco missed his target for an error, and Giavotella was safe.
“I didn’t think I had enough time to [plant and throw],’’ Polanco said. “He’s a fast runner, so I tried to make a quick throw.”
It was Polanco’s third error in four games this spring, all on throws.
“We’ve had a couple where I thought he could have planted and thrown when he’s throwing on the run,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “And there are other times when I wished he would have thrown on the run and he planted. It is about getting a feel to where it becomes more automatic where he doesn’t have to think about it.”
While Polanco’s errors are troubling — and he looks more suited for second base — the Twins remain committed to giving him a long, hard look at shortstop. His offensive potential — he was 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBI on Thursday — is a big reason.
Second base is manned by Brian Dozier, an All-Star in 2015 and slugger of 42 home runs last season. The Twins fielded offers for Dozier during the offseason but decided to keep him. That kept Polanco at short with Eduardo Escobar in a backup/utility role.
The Twins have vacillated on whether Polanco, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, should be a shortstop or second baseman. As he matured and filled out, the Twins became more willing to look at him at short. When he made his major league debut on June 26, 2014, he was a shortstop.
But two years later, their opinions changed, and he was back at second base for Class AAA Rochester. He had four stints with the Twins during the season, and played short the rest of the year after being called up.
When Molitor was asked earlier in camp why Polanco hadn’t been prepared to play short while at Rochester, he said the situation wasn’t handled well.
“Part of it, too, was that a lot of people in our evaluation, some people weren’t convinced that he was ever going to play a game in the big leagues at shortstop,” Molitor said. “Part of the reason was to try to make him the best second baseman possible.”
Polanco’s minus-8.8 defensive runs above average was 33rd of 34 shortstops who had played at least as many innings at the position as he did. His arm is average, at best, and it appears that he rushes some plays because he wants to get rid of the ball quickly.
“The defense hasn’t been great yet,” Molitor said. “We all see it and we’re going to let him find ways to keep practicing that, try to be creative somehow.”
The Twins could use some continuity at the position. Since Cristian Guzman departed following the 2004 season, only one Twins player has made consecutive Opening Day starts at short — Pedro Florimon in 2013-14.
Florimon was a glove-first player who couldn’t hit a bull in the backside with a snow shovel. Polanco’s offensive potential — a .284 average with four home runs and 31 RBI in 78 career games — is why this experiment continues. The Twins just hope he can be adequate at short.
They remain committed to that cause, perhaps out of necessity. Dozier, his double play partner, believes Polanco can handle short and just needs time.
“Trust me, I have been reading everything everybody has been writing,” Dozier said. “More fit for second, blah, blah, blah. I think he’s a tremendous athlete. To tell a 22-year-old — he looks like he’s 16 — to man the position at shortstop, the toughest position on the field, that is extremely tough. His knowledge of the game is really good and where it needs to be.
“And I think you will see him respond.”