Polanco suspension hits Twins hard; Escobar next up at SS
By MAUREEN MULLEN
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) About a month ago, Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco learned he had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance.
The news of his 80-game suspension, including ineligibility for postseason play, hit the Twins hard on Sunday after their exhibition game.
"We don't want it in our game. We want a clean game. It sometimes is disappointing in seeing guys still trying to use performance-enhancing drugs," second baseman Brian Dozier said on Monday as the Twins started their final full week of spring training. "But at the same time, when it comes to a guy on my team, that's my brother. He needs love right now. That's the only thing I'm really worried about."
Now the Twins must concern themselves with Polanco's place in the lineup. He had a breakout second half of his first full season as the regular shortstop in 2017, batting .316 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs over his last 55 games from Aug. 1 on while taking over the No. 3 spot in the batting order and helping the Twins reach the AL wild-card game.
Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said shortstop is one of the positions he felt the team entered the spring with depth at, including Eduardo Escobar, Ehire Adrianza and non-roster invitee Erick Aybar. The versatile Escobar, who played five different positions for the Twins last season including one inning at catcher, is likely to be the primary option. Nobody has played more shortstop for the Twins since 2014 than Escobar, who hit 21 homers with 73 RBIs in 457 at-bats, all career highs.
"What Escobar did stepping up for us last season and we're going to ask him again, which is to step up and be a big part of this," Falvey said. "He's worn that jersey and been fine with that before. I think Adrianza is somebody we really liked last year when we got him and was somebody who could continue to progress and grow. So, between those two guys internally who are on the roster, we feel like those guys are in a great spot to step up for us."
Aybar, who has begun his 12th major league season, was signed to a minor league contract last month, before the Twins knew about Polanco's pending suspension. There's also some uncertainty about the availability of third baseman Miguel Sano, though to a much lesser degree than the half-season Polanco will be absent for. Sano is being investigated by Major League Baseball for alleged harassment of a freelance photographer after an autograph signing in 2015, and he's also recovering from surgery on his shin.
Then there's Nick Gordon, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft who was at Double-A Chattanooga last season. He spent plenty of time at second base during spring training before being reassigned to minor league camp on Sunday shortly before news broke of Polanco's suspension, and Falvey said Gordon would continue to work out shortstop, his original position.
As for Polanco, he decided to drop his appeal of the punishment on Sunday out of respect for the team so he'd begin serving it as soon as possible. Polanco met with reporters briefly on Monday before he'd had an opportunity to address his teammates. He'll continue to work out at the team's facility in Fort Myers when the team breaks camp and can play in extended spring training games with the minor leaguers.
"I know how everything happened," Polanco said. "I know the details, but today's not a day to discuss those things. Today's a day for me to be here in front of all of you guys and the Twins organization and my fans and just apologize."
In a statement distributed by the players' union on Sunday, Polanco said he didn't realize he'd consumed the banned substance Stanozolol, which came from a combination of vitamin B12 and an iron supplement supplied by his athletic trainer in his native Dominican Republic.
"My hope is that through this extremely disappointing situation other players will learn from my mistake," Polanco said in the statement.
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Updated March 19, 2018