Dickerson & Polanco Working Together as Mentor-Protégé
In the Indianapolis Indians’ May 13 home game against the Pawtucket Red Sox, Chris Dickerson batted in the leadoff position. At the time, the former major league outfielder was on a tear, hitting safely in eleven consecutive games to raise his average from .281 to .317.
Batting two spots behind him was Gregory Polanco, one of minor league baseball’s premier prospects who appears in-line to eventually join a loaded Pittsburgh Pirates outfield.
After a rain delay postponed first pitch against the PawSox by 48 minutes, Dickerson and Polanco went to work. Leading off against former top prospect Rubby De La Rosa, Dickerson singled in his first trip to the plate. One batter later, Polanco scored Dickerson with an RBI double down the right field line to give the Indians an early 1-0 lead.
Once the Tribe batted around its lineup in the first, Dickerson returned to the plate and opened the second with a single to right field. Again, one batter later, Polanco would follow with an RBI knock, tripling and scoring Dickerson for the second straight frame.
As the Indians continued to have their way with De La Rosa, Dickerson recorded his third plate appearance in as many innings, drawing a two-out walk in the third before being left stranded by a groundout that ended the inning.
Dickerson then watched from the dugout as Polanco, for the first time that game, produced a base hit without scoring a run. As Polanco returned to the dugout, Dickerson approached the 22-year-old.
“Dude, that would have been the third one in a row,” Dickerson said of Polanco’s penchant for bringing him home. In return, Polanco responded, “I know. Right when I hit it, I thought that.”
Over the course of the season, Dickerson and Polanco have formed a mentor-protége relationship, with the major league veteran serving as a guide while the prospect makes a transition into a relatively unfamiliar position in right field. Polanco, a natural center fielder, has played 44 games in right field this year for the Indians, presumably to fit in a loaded Pirates outfield with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte.
Fortunately, Dickerson knows what it’s like to be in Polanco’s position. Playing for the Cincinnati Reds organization from 2008-10, a roster headlined by outfield stalwarts Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, Dickerson had to make the transition to left field in order to see playing time.
“This is just one position that [Polanco’s] got to learn,” Dickerson said. “He’s still got to learn left field because eventually you’re going to have to play all three (outfield positions) just like I did.”
Though his league-leading .374 average may hide it, Polanco’s time in right field has had its missteps. After a solid start to the season defensively, Polanco has since committed four errors in his last 11 games, a stretch that included at least one error in three consecutive games during a series against Pawtucket.
Polanco knows his next step is now adjusting from any miscues and mishaps from the new position. A process, he says, in which Dickerson has continued to be extremely helpful as Polanco adapts to the new position.
“He’s been helping me a lot,” Polanco said. “The position, the angles – how to break to the ball. He’s been helping me a lot and I appreciate it.”
Dickerson elaborated on Polanco’s progress, suggesting, “He’s learning. It’s about getting him to understand his surroundings: Looking at the wind, knowing exactly what’s going to happen, knowing where the ball is going to take, when the ball is going to take away from me, when the ball is getting pushed away from me, when its getting pushed back to me.”
As Polanco learns from Dickerson in the field, the two have gone tit-for-tat with each other at the plate.
Entering play on May 20, Polanco and Dickerson were batting .389 and .342, good for the top two averages in the International League. In April, Polanco notched a 10-game hitting streak; In May, Dickerson extended his own streak to 16 games. Polanco has also accounted for nearly half of Dickerson’s runs scored, batting him in 11 times and, in-turn, Dickerson has crossed home for 11 of Polanco’s 39 RBI.
While their numbers are certainly important, the relationship runs deeper than just statistics in a box score. When Dickerson missed a stretch of games in April with an injury, his absence from the lineup moved Polanco to seek Dickerson out in hopes of talking him onto the lineup card.
“When I got injured,” Dickerson said, “[Polanco] kept coming up to me and saying, ‘I miss you in the lineup; Every time you get on base, I drive you in.'”
Even if said somewhat in jest, the underlying message remains: You push me, I’ll push you.
“It’s kind of like a benefactor thing,” Dickerson continued. “I’m going to get on for you. I’m going to make it as easy as possible for you. Just drive me in.”
Polanco, who Dickerson describes as “really, really quiet,” has been grateful for the advice. And the oft-humble prospect wasn’t soft-spoken about that at all.
“He’s always teaching me something,” Polanco said.