Very early in Spring Training, Kolten Wong shared he was looking forward to speaking with Ozzie Smith. Among the topics, the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman wanted to get some advice from the Hall of Famer on stealing bases. It wasn’t soon after that Wong enjoyed a slow walk back from the practice fields to the clubhouse with not just Ozzie, but also Willie McGee.
So is it a coincidence that Wong finished the Grapefruit League with a career best seven stolen bases?
“It’s definitely a conscious effort of me trying to be more aggressive on the bases,” said Wong. “Trying to push my luck–see how far I can really push it before I get uncomfortable. That’s the biggest thing is before, I kind of got to that point of regardless of how far off I was, it was always in the back of my mind it was ‘I gotta get back, I gotta get back’.
“The one thing I talked to Willie and Ozzie about, they were like you’ve got to have it ‘you gotta go’ in your mind. Everything has to be ‘I gotta go, I gotta go, I gotta go. Oh, he’s picking? I’m going back.’ When I started thinking that and started just forgetting about even getting picked off, it just opened up doors for me. Took away the thinking, more reaction at the time and I think you’re seeing the by-product of what those guys talked to me and the work I’ve put in.”
The seven stolen bases by Wong was tied for the fourth most in the MLB exhibition season. What kind of total that translates to in the regular season remains to be seen, but the aggressive approach is reflective of a re-dedicated approach on the basepaths by the Cardinals as a whole this year.
“You saw that too,” smiled Tommy Pham when the example of Matt Carpenter scoring from first was brought up. “It’s wonderful because just overall it helps the ballclub. I’m excited for our team.”
Last season, according to Baseball-Reference, the Cardinals ranked 16th (4.70) in the metric of bases taken. Conversely, they ranked 6th (64) in outs made on the bases. Improving those numbers should help another statistic–runs scored, where St. Louis (4.7) ranked 13th.
“What we need to understand as players is how hard it is for us to make those plays,” pointed out Wong. “How perfect do you have to be to get a guy going first to third? Pretty damn perfect. That’s the thing that I think a lot of guys didn’t realize at the time and now they’re starting to realize it–if I just go all out from the beginning these guys have to be perfect to get me out. If they’re perfect then so be it, tip your cap. I think a lot guys are buying into that and you’re seeing guys be more aggressive.”
photo credit: Steve Mitchell, Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports; Brian Stull/STLBaseballWeekly.com