Molitor’s mission: Get trudging Twins up to speed on basepaths

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 22, 2014 - 11:48 PM
hide

New York Yankees shortstop Luis Cruz, left, tags out Minnesota Twins' Pedro Florimon on an attempted steal of second base during the sixth inning of a baseball game Saturday, July 13, 2013, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Photo: Bill Kostroun, ASSOCIATED PRESS

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

FORT MYERS, FLA -- If there were such a thing as coach hazing, Paul Molitor might be an obvious victim this season. What a great prank: Hire the Hall of Famer as a coach, put him in charge of baserunning — and provide him with virtually no speedy players.

Except Molitor doesn’t think he’s being punked.

“You don’t necessarily have to be fast to be a good baserunner,” the former ballplayer once known as The Ignitor said. “Even for the slowest guy, there’s going to be chances to move up, to pick up extra bases. You just have to be aware out there.”

Molitor made that awareness a specialty during his 21-year major league career, racking up 504 stolen bases and countless first-to-thirds, numbers due to his baseball intellect as much as his speed. The St. Paul native was 37 and hobbled in 1994, after all, yet stole 20 bases without being caught, one of only five players in modern history to achieve that benchmark.

Trouble is, even at 57, Molitor might be one of the best baserunners in a Twins uniform today, because speed on the basepaths, one of manager Ron Gardenhire’s most cherished offensive weapons, largely has been stripped away from his current team. Two years ago, Minnesota led the American League in stolen bases, a title earned by the swift feet of Ben Revere, Alexi Casilla, Denard Span and Darin Mastroianni. But with three of those players sent away to other teams and Mastroianni out because of an injury, the Twins plummeted to 13th in the American League last season with just 52 steals, their fewest since 1984.

Even worse: Their 61.1 percent success rate on steal attempts was worse than every major league team except Arizona.

“We love to put pressure on the defense out there,” Gardenhire grumbled, “but you’ve got to have the horses for it.”

Yes, that’s a problem, because the stable is relatively empty at the moment. With much of their speed traded away, no Twin had more than Pedro Florimon’s 15 stolen bases last season, fewest by a Minnesota leader in 30 years. Brian Dozier contributed 14 steals but was thrown out on half of his attempts. No other player reached double figures, though Aaron Hicks had nine when he was sent to Rochester in early August.

Those three players, along with newcomer Alex Presley, form the core of Molitor’s baserunning bunch, a group that convenes daily during batting practice to work on getting better leads and recognizing when to run. This spring has demonstrated the size of the new coach’s challenge: Through the first three weeks of spring games, only Hicks, Dozier, Presley and Jason Bartlett, among candidates for the major league roster, had successfully stolen a base (and just one apiece).

“We don’t have a ton of guys who can take off consistently and be successful. We don’t have anybody who’s going to steal 50 bases, but we’ve got some guys who can steal 20 or 30,” Molitor said. “Hicksie will probably do a lot more of that as his offensive game becomes more consistent. But first we have to be mechanically sound, we have to develop some recognition of what the pitcher and defense are doing, and we have get over a few hurdles that hold us back.”

Take a chance

The biggest of those hurdles Molitor has encountered? Fear.

For a player trying to make a positive impression and make the team, being thrown out on the bases, he might believe, is the sort of data point that sticks in a manager’s mind when it’s time to cut the roster. The fewer mistakes, the better, right?

“A guy might think, ‘What if I go and [the pitcher] throws a high fastball?’ Well, you know, what if he does?” Molitor said. “I understand guys are trying to win jobs and earn playing time. But guys who are afraid to go on a ball in the dirt, or go first to third on a hit to right, or take advantage of a slow windup — we need to convince some of them that there are situations that call for taking a chance. And if you get thrown out because they make a perfect play, we’ll tell you you did the right thing.”

It’s a tough message to get through sometimes, Gardenhire said. He’s given several players a green light this spring, only to watch them wait for the perfect spot that never comes.

“It’s easy to put a steal sign on and make them go. But that doesn’t really tell me if they can steal a base. That just tells me we told them to run, and in their mind, they had to run,” Gardenhire explained. “I want them to get on base and to pick out a pitch, see a pitch and make a move. Learn to study a pitcher, understand that pitcher and maybe get a jump on his own. That’s what I want to see.”

Presley, for one, says he has tried to put Molitor’s advice into practice. He may be 1-for-4 in base-stealing this spring — though he would have been safe at least twice had he not overslid the bag — but “the process that I’m putting into play, I’m pretty happy with,” he said. “I’ve made some adjustments, and it’s been very positive.”

The Twins believe Presley’s results eventually will be positive, too — he swiped 22 at Class AAA Indianapolis just two years ago, after all. But he hasn’t shown it yet with Minnesota. In fact, the 28-year-old outfielder has been thrown out seven of the past eight times he has run at the big-league level, plus that 1-for-4 this spring.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

NY Mets - LP: J. Familia 6 FINAL
Miami - WP: A. Ramos 9
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 7 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Boston - LP: B. Badenhop 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: G. Balfour 4
Minnesota - WP: P. Hughes 6 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4
Pittsburgh - LP: G. Cole 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: S. Maness 5
Milwaukee - LP: J. Nelson 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Turner 4
Detroit - WP: D. Price 12 FINAL
Cleveland - LP: C. Kluber 1
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Hammel 6
San Francisco - WP: J. Affeldt 4 FINAL
Colorado - LP: C. Friedrich 2
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Ross 3
San Francisco 7 Bottom 6th Inning
Colorado 3
Washington - G. Gonzalez 7:10 PM
Los Angeles - R. Hernandez
Texas - C. Lewis 7:10 PM
Kansas City - Y. Ventura
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
Buffalo 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Minnesota 9/7/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Cleveland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Oakland 9/7/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Cincinnati 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Washington 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tennessee 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
New England 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Tampa Bay
San Francisco 9/7/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Indianapolis 9/7/14 7:30 PM
Denver
Utah State 7 FINAL
Tennessee 38
SMU 0 FINAL
(10) Baylor 45
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(7) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(2) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(15) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 30 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
Toronto 12 FINAL
Hamilton 13
Edmonton 13 FINAL
Calgary 28
Indiana 84 FINAL
Chicago 86

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close