Polanco’s ankle was sprained in mid-August, and it cost him most of his final month of play. But the Pirates still saw fit to have him participate in that first day with the SEALS last month, and as you might guess, the ankle was reinjured.
Worse than before.
It happened during a drill in which Polanco sprinted across the outfield, through an above-ground pool of ice water, then leaped into a sand pit ...
I know this because I asked Polanco himself. He described it in vivid detail.
I know this because a pitcher in his drill group independently described it the same way ...
When I initially asked the team two weeks ago about Polanco, this was the emailed reply from baseball operations — no name assigned — through a team spokesman: "Polanco was NOT injured during that workout. He actually injured his ankle during the season. He opted out of those workouts, as he has continued to battle swelling but no pain."
The problem here, from my perspective, is that the Pirates put Polanco in a position to re-injure his ankle, presumably by having him participate in this drill before he was ready to do it. That's a big problem, but it's not necessarily a broad organizational problem that has much to do with military drills. It could simply be a very poor decision by someone on the Pirates' medical staff. In fact, that's very probably what it is, since I don't think anyone on the Pirates' baseball operations staff is insane enough to make a top prospect they know to be injured participate in these drills. If anyone the Pirates are employing is truly that stupid, he or she should be fired. But I doubt that's the case. Beyond that, it's hard to know what to make of any of this.
A month ago, when Kovacevic started really pitching a fit about this Navy SEALS stuff, I thought it amounted to little more than a criticism of something different simply because it was different. So (at least some of) the players didn't like it. So it sounded silly. Big deal. It wasn't supposed to be fun. It was supposed to improve the character of young men who were supposed to work together as a team. The intention behind training like this actually seemed perfectly clear to me. Some of Kyle Stark's "Hoka hey" language sounded a little bit ridiculous, but he wasn't issuing a press release. He was trying to advance an organizational mindset of confidence and camaraderie, which isn't ridiculous at all. And frankly, it surprised me a little that more people didn't see it that way.
Now, of course, there's the question of the tactics the Pirates are using, and whether they constitute the best possible use of the Bucs' time. There's also a question of whether, if the Pirates' minor-leaguers hate this stuff, these drills are worth the goodwill the Pirates are squandering. These are valid questions. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to have an informed opinion about them, since Dejan Kovacevic is driving this story and since his contempt for the Pirates organization drips from just about everything he's written recently. It's impossible to trust him to put things like this into perspective.
Having Gregory Polanco participate in these drills while he was recovering from injury turns out to have been a bad decision, and Kovacevic is absolutely right to call the Pirates out on it. (He's also right to call the Pirates out for lying to him.) Beyond that, it's tough to say whether these drills are a good idea. Maybe they aren't. But ultimately, much of the guffawing going on really amounts to a rush to judgment by a bunch of people who have no idea what effect these drills have, and who really just want to laugh at the Pirates for doing something different, because, ha ha, they're the Pirates. In fact, the Bucs' instinct to do something different is a good one, even if their choice of what to do differently can certainly be debated.
The proof of what the Pirates are doing should, ultimately, be measured by the results. And this is where this stuff gets frustrating for me. If Neal Huntington,and Kyle Stark were to all be fired, I wouldn't shed a tear for any of them. But geez, there should be enough data there at this point to judge these guys on their records, not on stuff like this. There is, of course, the problem of how to disentangle scouting (Smith's area) from development (Stark's area). Ironically, perhaps the best data point in Stark's favor is ... Gregory Polanco. Under the watches of Stark and the Pirates, Polanco has morphed from a very toolsy, very raw youngster into a well-rounded player and a genuinely excellent prospect. And chances are that when next season rolls around, his ankle won't be a problem. If he keeps hitting, the specifics here will be forgotten.
In the end, I think at least Smith should be fired, and Huntington probably ought to go as well. There are better judges of talent out there. I'm less sure about Stark, but obviously, if Huntington loses his job, Stark would likely lose his as well. That wouldn't bother me. But the Navy SEALS training really doesn't have anything to do with my reasons why. It's probably just a distraction.