SARASOTA, Fla.—Manager Brandon Hyde has made aggressive baserunning a priority, and the Orioles have a trio of proven base-stealers.
Jonathan Villar, who was acquired last July, stole 62 bases in 2016 and last year combined for 35 with Milwaukee and the Orioles.
Two players acquired this week, Eric Young Jr. and Alcides Escobar, also have solid stolen base resumes. Young, who reported today, stole 46 in 2013 and 30 in 2014. Escobar swiped 35 in 2012 and 31 in 2014. The 32-year-old Escobar could report on Monday. Young and Escobar signed minor league contracts.
“E.Y. has got a lot of experience and has always been a good baserunner,” Hyde said. “That’s a big add. Escobar has been in big situations, been at the top of the lineup in World Series’ moments running the bases.”
Last year, with Villar (21), Jace Peterson (13) and Craig Gentry (12) on the team, the Orioles stole 81 bases.
“Running and creating havoc on the bases is always going to create more opportunities, not only for the baserunner, but also for the hitters behind,” Young said.
“You’re going to get better pitches to hit because now that pitcher’s attention is divided, and then, obviously, if you get better pitches to hit, you put up more runs.”
The stolen base is not a favorite of the analytic crowd. With the Orioles moving more in the sabermetric direction, it’s interesting that they’ve acquired players who have a history of steals.
“I know more teams have kind of veered away from it, but I think if you’re a smart baserunner and a smart team about stealing your bases, then you create more opportunities for the hitters,” Young said.
Hyde doesn’t emphasize the stolen base, but it is a weapon.
“It’s more being aggressive on the bases, whether it’s stealing bases or going first to third,” Hyde said. “Being able to score [from second] on a single, pushing the envelope with our baserunning, making it a real priority here in camp.
“…Part of our identity is going to be an aggressive baserunning team. I don’t know if it’s going to be an aggressive basestealing team per se. We want to take advantage of opportunities on the bases.”
Young is trying to make the team as an extra outfielder, and he can play second base. Last year, he hit only .202 for the Angels and walked just eight times and had a .248 on-base percentage. He tries to make the most of his times on base.
“If I’m at first base and I want to leave a hole open, actually I’m not going to force the stolen base,” Young said. “If I can get to second base and the pitcher is giving it to me, and now we have a run in scoring position and a single scores one run, then you’ve got to go and take advantage of it. In addition to being smart about it and not running in random situations now knowing the situation, who’s hitting, who’s pitching, if the shift is on. All those things kind of play into the part.”
Young has played 10 seasons with Colorado, Atlanta, the Mets, Yankees and Angels.
“I love helping the younger players,” Young said. I’m fortunate enough to say I’ve been playing as long as I have and to come here and still get an opportunity to play, as well as being able to share my knowledge with the younger players. It’s two for one.”
The Orioles have their share of younger players, but with the addition of Young and Escobar, they’re a bit older.
“Just because guys aren’t veterans does not mean they don’t have talent,” Young said. “I think all it is is just getting experience out there and getting comfortable on the field and believing in yourself and I think anything is possible.
“I’ve been on teams that had great teams on paper and didn’t really do anything on the field and vice-versa. I think if everybody goes out there and gives everything they’ve got and reach their full potential, you’ve still got to show up between the lines, even those teams with the big names on them.”