CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A rosin bag propped up a Bluetooth-controlled LED light on the half-field mound Wednesday morning at Spectrum Field.
The light is part of a new baserunning drill that Phillies first-base coach Mickey Morandini hopes will get his basestealers to take better jumps and steal more bases.
"I'm trying to work on their first step," he said. "I'm trying to eliminate them timing their jumps. A lot of times, you'll see them [move toward second] and the pitcher doesn't go yet. Now they have to come back and reset, and by that time either they get a bad jump or they can't go. I'm trying to eliminate that."
Cesar Hernandez, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr and Jesmuel Valentin were Morandini's guinea pigs.
Hernandez crouched and faced the mound just a few feet from first base, like he would if he had just reached first in a game.
Then he waited for the light to flash red or green.
Green. He took off for second.
Red. He returned to first.
Because the baserunners cannot time the light -- the light is being controlled remotely -- they can only react to it.
"It doesn't simulate a pitcher's leg kick, but it definitely works on reaction time," Altherr said.
"You saw some guys trying to guess, trying to dance," Morandini said. "That's what I'm trying to eliminate. For that reason I think it's going to help us."
Morandini also had two devices set up a few feet apart from where the runners took their lead. The Phillies can measure how quickly it takes each runner to leave that space, so in the future, they can measure their progress with first steps.
"If you can get a good first step, I don't care who you are, your chances of stealing a base increases," Morandini said.
Hernandez could benefit from a better first step. He stole only 17 of 30 bases last season, despite being one of the fastest players in baseball. His three fastest times going from home to first from the left side of the plate last season, according to Statcast™, were 3.53, 3.65 and 3.66 seconds.
Compare that to Miami's Dee Gordon (3.53, 3.59 and 3.6) and Cincinnati's Billy Hamilton (3.49, 3.52 and 3.56).
Hernandez is 4-for-4 stealing bases this spring.
"The big issue last year is that he wasn't getting good jumps," Morandini said. "Every two or three days we've been working on his jumps. It's only Spring Training, but his jumps on the bases he's stolen this spring have been good. I'm encouraged."