Prospect League

Consistent approach: Polak using time with Gems to regain his rhythm

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 23, 2019 12:10 am Updated: Jun. 23, 2019 12:14 am

QUINCY -- Going hitless in three at-bats in his summer debut didn't concern Joey Polak.

Frankly, it didn't surprise him.

"Usually when I take time off, I'm pretty bad," the right-handed hitting slugger said.

This time, he'd gone three weeks without an official at-bat, but he initially planned for that gap to be longer. Following a spring season at Missouri State University he called "interesting and humbling," Polak came home to rest, recharge and retool his game.

The Quincy Notre Dame graduate figured he'd pick up some at-bats with the Quincy Gems before the season was through, but first he needed a break.

"I kind of put a lot of pressure on myself this spring, being at a new school, playing a new position, probably overthinking draft stuff," said Polak, the 2016 Herald-Whig Player of the Year who went to Missouri State after being named the ABCA/Rawlings NJCAA Division I Player of the Year in 2018 at Jefferson College. "I never really do that with the draft stuff, but it's always kind of lingering.

"So I just wanted to kick back a little bit and realize baseball is still a game and I need to have fun with it."

While he was doing that, Quincy Gems owner Jimmie Louthan reached out. He wondered if Polak, who played for the Gems in 2017, would be interested in being a designated hitter for home games and working in some road trips as his schedule permitted.

Polak knew the at-bats would be worthwhile.

"I'm kind of fixing my swing, getting it back to where it was before," Polak said. "I want to test the waters and see if it works out."

So he rejoined the Gems for the June 13 game against the Hannibal Hoots and promptly went 0 for 3.

"They weren't bad at-bats," Polak said. "I was seeing the ball pretty well."

That became evident the next night when he went 5 for 5 with two home runs and seven RBIs. It started a four-game hitting streak that had Polak hitting .471 going into the weekend.

"I'm trying to simplify my game a little bit to make it easier on myself," Polak said.

That comes after a spring in which nothing ever felt easy.

Missouri State finished 20-36 and was eliminated after winning just one game in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Polak struggled himself, hitting .218 with six doubles, eight home runs and 27 RBIs.

"The big thing in my exit meeting was I have to get more consistent as a hitter," said Polak, who hit .459 with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs at JeffCo. "There were a lot of new experiences for me. Consistently better pitching. Guys who understand how to get hitters out, not guys who are just going to throw pitches. Just smarter baseball players.

"I have to get more consistent in the sense I might get one pitch in an at-bat instead of the two I got at JeffCo or the three or four I'd get in high school. I have to capitalize on that one pitch. Or if I don't get a pitch, I just have to be disciplined enough to take a walk or whatever I get. It's about keeping the aggression but being consistent enough to get on base more often."

At the same time, he has to improve defensively. Moved to third base by the Bears coaching staff, Polak had an .883 fielding percentage with 11 errors.

"On one of my visits, they told me, ‘Hey, we need you to play third,'" Polak said. "I was in zero shape to play third. I was heavy. I was completely locked in at first base. I went there July 1 last summer with the plan that we're going to lose some weight, we're going to get more mobile, we're going to be ready."

Missouri State assistant coach Matt Lawson was instrumental in that, putting Polak and others through 7 a.m. workouts and diligently practicing on infield defense.

"Coach Lawson loves defense," Polak said.

The approach defensively is no different. It's about being consistent.

Part of that is the evolution of Polak physically.

"I want to make sure I get my body right," Polak said. "I've lost about 25 pounds in about a year. I'm trying to build my muscle and get stronger in every regard."

The hope is that helps with consistency.

"Being consistent is priority No. 1," Polak said. "I want to make sure I'm having good quality at-bats, helping out the team, driving in runs, getting on base and being consistent throughout everything I do. Not even just in the game, but during the pregame as well. I want to make sure I'm consistently being the same player every day."