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Drayer: Versatile Mariners 3rd-round pick Kaden Polcovich has work ethic, drive and tools

There were a few eyebrows raised when the Mariners selected Kaden Polcovich with the 78th overall pick in the third round of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 MLB Draft. His pre-draft rankings were all over the board with Baseball America having him as the 237th best prospect in the draft and Fangraphs a more favorable 110th on their list.

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At 5-foot-8, 180 pounds and with three schools on his résumé and no primary position, perhaps they saw more questions than answers with the 21 year old junior.

“It’s been a journey for sure,” Polcovich said from his home in Oklahoma City. “I was overcome with emotion because of the amount of work I put in to ultimately get to that position, it overcame me. I was so thankful for the opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity he has been working for since the day he first started playing baseball. The son of a former major leaguer, there was no question he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father.

“He kind of showed me the way,” he said of his dad Kevin Polcovich, who played for the Pirates in 1997 and 1998. “He gave me that road map and I followed it every single day until I got to this position. He laid the foundation, I paved the way though. He slowed everything down and walked me through what it was going to be like, what I had to do, the sacrifices I had to make if this is what I wanted to do. I took that to heart, I put so much pride and effort in that I kind of outcast myself from some of the people who didn’t have the same goals I had in mind.”

As he indicates, the path was not without a couple of bumps. Recruited by the University of Kentucky, Polcovich was dismissed from the program after his first semester having never played a game. His problem, not unlike one that many college freshman face: the alarm clock. Unfortunately that doesn’t fly in athletics.

His attempt to bounce back at Northwest Florida State University got off to a slow but ultimately eye-opening start.

“My freshman and sophomore year in junior college I was struggling,” he admitted. “My priorities weren’t in the best order they could have been. So yeah, I struggled that year but I took that to heart and basically said I am going to put in the most work until I feel good about what I am doing.”

A gym rat – and the son of two personal trainers – the weight room and hitting cage have been a second and most welcome home for Polcovich.

“I have always been kind of to myself I guess, the way I go about my business, detailed work,” he said. “I just went crazy in the gym, crazy with the swing, just new movements, just grooving paths, a lot of mobility stuff until I had the confidence of truly believing in what I was doing. My work ethic just skyrocketed. I didn’t want to be back to where I was at the start of junior college.”

Leading the team in walks and strikeouts as a sophomore with 50 each forced Polcovich to take looks at both his swing and approach. With three weeks before he was to report to the Cape Cod League, he went to work.

“I took the strikeouts personally,” he said. “I tightened up my swing plane to get more accurate and put more balls in play. I can run a little bit and put pressure on the defense if I get on base. I can’t do that if I am not.”

In the Cape Cod League, the switch-hitter showed both contact and power, hitting .305 with a 1.042 OPS while finishing second in the league in runs scored. The performance was noted but more needed to be seen. He transferred to Oklahoma State for what turned out to be a shortened 2020 season, and he delivered by hitting .344 in 18 games with a 1.072 OPS, nine extra base hits, 19 walks and 10 strikeouts.

“He’s got tools,” said Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter. “He comes with a smaller frame but if you watch the video he is strong as heck and he gets everything out of his body and the game, and he’s the type of kid that brings that to the ballpark every day. It’s easy to like a kid like that when you watch him play but there’s real tools and a real hitter there.”

Someone who has watched Polcovich play for years from the other side of the field is fellow draftee Zach DeLoach, who the Mariners took with their second-round pick. The two squared off against each other growing up in Texas/Oklahoma Shootouts and despite the rivalry, DeLoach always liked what he saw from the smaller kid on the other side of the field.

“They were our nemesis. I can remember playing against him and how scrappy he was,” DeLoach said. “He was always that guy that was able to get the job done on the field. I just remember he was kind of stocky but he had very quick-twitch muscles like he does now, but the opportunity he took to get himself better. I know he’s had a long journey just like the rest of us but I think he said it best on our Zoom call, ‘Height doesn’t measure heart.” It’s something that I think has stuck with him. It’s going to be awesome to play with him.”

The Mariners’ initial plan for Polcovich is to see if he can stick at second base. Much like Shed Long, the belief is the bat will get Polcovich on the field, leaving only the question of where. As far as Polcovich is concerned, it doesn’t really matter.

“Anywhere in the middle of the field I will be comfortable. I grew up a shortstop,” he said before laughing. “So that’s like the hardest question a person can ask me. I really don’t know. I just like to hit. As far as defensively, you just have got to make the plays and that is something I have been natural at, to be honest. Keep working at that to smooth up some posture in the infield.”

Polcovich finds it much easier to answer questions about goals. While some players are reluctant to share goals or even admit that they have goals beyond being the best player they can be, he’s got his eye on a couple of prizes.

“Ultimately I want to be an MLB All-Star and a World Series champion,” he said. “That’s something I have put my mind to and nothing is going to get in my way to stop that. My work ethic is through the roof and that’s just something I want to do. I want to make my family proud, I want to inspire people. It’s so much more than baseball, if I can live out my dream, that inspires people that they can do the same thing too.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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