Off to the races: Fraley, Reds ready to run

April 1st, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds and stealing bases haven’t been synonymous with one another since manager David Bell took over at the helm in 2018. But according to the skipper, that’s set to change heading into the new season.

“Hopefully, my style as a manager is to maximize the team that we have, not to try to control the style in my own personal way,” Bell said. “It’s based on our roster, what our strengths are. If our team is faster and we have guys that have a knack to steal bases -- which I do believe we’ll have more of -- then for sure [we’ll attempt more steals].”

Last season, the Reds recorded an MLB-low 36 stolen bases. They primarily relied on their offense to slug runs home, but after an offseason that saw Nick Castellanos sign with Philadelphia as a free agent and Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez dealt to Seattle, speed has emerged as a newfound commodity.

Both Bell and first-base coach Delino DeShields cited the team’s personnel in years past to explain the reluctance to take off. Gone are speedsters such as Billy Hamilton and José Peraza, the most recent members of the Reds to steal at least 20 bases in a season (Hamilton had 34 and Peraza had 23 in 2018).

Prospective Reds basestealers need not look far to glean sage advice. DeShields racked up 463 stolen bases across a 13-year career, which ranks him 50th on the all-time steals list. That’s valuable advice to have standing in the first-base coaches’ box.

“I have DeShields off to the side of me and he is phenomenal, as far as his mindset and being aware of the pitcher you’re facing, the time [to the plate] and what you’re looking for,” outfielder said. “And I picked up a few things mechanically with my first couple of steps, and just how my setup is coming off of first base and my lead with him that has been tremendous. So having guys like that -- and a manager like [Bell], that has given me the ability to [steal bases] -- that’s awesome.”

Fraley was hit by a pitch in the second inning of Thursday’s 8-2 loss to the White Sox at Goodyear Ballpark and promptly took off, swiping his fourth bag of the Cactus League, which ties him for the most of any player this spring.

Potentially more problematic than the low stolen-base total is that the Reds were successful on just 60% of their stolen-base attempts in 2021, also the lowest mark in the Majors.

“It’s not what the total number of stolen bases is, as much as I do believe that we have to be much better with our percentage,” Bell said. “With guys that are good at it and faster, we will have an opportunity to do that and increase the total number.

“If anything, I feel responsible for forcing in the past because we do want that, we just didn’t have the personnel always to do that.”

Through 13 Cactus League games, the Reds have compiled 12 steals, having been caught just twice.

DeShields cited a quartet in particular that he believed could stand out with the benefit of a full season: Fraley, Tommy Pham, Nick Senzel and Jonathan India.

Fraley, acquired as part of the return package in the aforementioned Winker and Suárez deal, collected 22 stolen bases across two Minor League levels in 2019 and enjoyed a 39-steal campaign in ‘17-18 during a stint in the Australian Baseball League.

“I think I’m a guy that has worked with some very, very great people, as far as coaching-wise, that have stolen quite a few bags in their lifetime -- just learning from them and putting it together,” Fraley said. “Obviously, it helps being on a team that wants you to run, gives you the ability to run. You can’t steal the bases if you don’t take off with the green light, so that’s been awesome to have.”

Pham, fresh off inking a one-year deal with a cited desire to “get my numbers,” recorded 14 stolen bases last year with San Diego, which would have been tops for the Reds. He swiped as many as 25 bags twice in his career, once with the Cardinals in 2017 and the other with the Rays in ‘19.

Cincinnati's two fastest players last season in terms of sprint speed were Senzel (29.1 ft/sec) and India (28.5); Senzel’s mark placed him in the top sixth percentile of the Majors. Injuries largely kept the speedy Senzel off the basepaths, while India led the club during his National League Rookie of the Year campaign with 12 steals.

“I’m excited for this group in particular,” DeShields said. “We have a chance to play a different style of baseball compared to the previous two or three seasons.”