N.C. State's Turner discusses the art of the stolen base

Speed helps N.C. State's Trea Turner steal bases. But it's not all that's behind his success.

North Carolina State sophomore shortstop Trea Turner is fast.

But there are a lot of fast baseball players who can’t steal bases the way Turner does. Any time he’s on the base paths, it almost feels inevitable that he’ll steal at least one. He causes opposing pitchers to worry about him constantly, and with good reason.

As a freshman, Turner stole 57 bases on 61 attempts (93.4 percent). His 57 steals were more than 158 teams had combined. This year, he’s 23-of-28 (82.1 percent) and he’d likely have more - or even a higher percentage - if not for an ankle injury that caused him to miss nearly three weeks. N.C. State is 34-5 with Turner in the lineup and 5-6 without him.

At first, he waited for his coaches to tell him when to try to steal.

“Last year, I didn’t know I got to go whenever I wanted so I kept relying on them for about 20 or so steals. Then (head coach Elliott) Avent started yelling at me and asking me why I’m not going. Now, it’s basically I can go whenever I want,” Turner said.

“There’s a few times they’ll tell me no, but those are only in big situations where we can’t make an out. For the most part, I can do whatever I want. This year, I’ve slipped up a little bit. I try not to get picked off and I try to make it 100 percent.”

The times he was caught stealing seem to bother him almost as much as he enjoys successfully stealing a base.

And he really enjoys stealing bases.

He didn’t realize it was a talent until he was a senior in high school, when he stole “20-something” bases in less than 30 games. But high school is high school, and Turner was significantly faster than his competition. He still didn’t realize he could be good at it until he started doing it on the collegiate level with surprising ease.

“This past year, freshman year, I would say 20 or so (stolen) bases in I started to believe that I was that good at it,” Turner said. “I guess I always have been, but I didn’t believe it until last year.”

He’s not good at stealing bases just because he's fast. In high school, he stole bases that way, just on his sheer speed. But in college, he had to work at it.

“You have to know a lot about baseball. You have to know the counts. You have to know when pitchers are going to throw what. You have to know what pitchers got to do, how their pickoff (moves) are,” Turner said.

“You’ve also got to relax. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself or you can’t get too antsy because you can either give yourself away or leave early like I’ve done a little bit this year and get picked off. I would say there’s a little bit of science going into it, not just being fast.”

North Carolina pitcher Kent Emanuel has as good a move as any pitcher the Wolfpack have faced this year, and it was fascinating to watch Emanuel and Turner play cat-and-mouse with each other two weeks ago in Raleigh in the opening game of the series between the teams. North Carolina won the game 7-1, but Turner went 2-for-2 on steal attempts against the talented lefty.

Turner studies the moves of opposing pitchers, as much as that is possible. North Carolina is on TV enough that he could study Emanuel, but in midweek games, he often has to learn the tendencies of pitchers as he goes.

“I try to find out what he moves to go to the plate and what he moves to come over. Sometimes, they pick up their legs first; sometimes shoulders, elbows. There’s a lot of things you can look at in order to get the jump,” Turner said.

“Some things they’ll do to pick over and some things they’ll do to pitch.  It’s different with everybody, but the sooner you find that out the easier it is. ... The faster I can get it, the faster I can steal a base. Even if I’m not on base, I’ve got to pay attention and make sure I can see if he picks off or what he does so if I’m on base the next inning or two innings, I already know.”

Stealing bases can be fun. But Turner has a high steal percentage because he’s smart, and careful. If he were reckless, he’d get picked off a lot more. But his goal when he gets on base isn’t necessarily to steal. It’s to run the bases intelligently, move up when he can and - perhaps most importantly - help his team get runs.

And if he can get from first to third with some smart base running, he’s more than willing to do that.

“I take a lot of pride in getting on base, being able to steal two bases and then a sac fly scoring me,” Turner said. “It’s just maybe one hit when I’m on base and it could be a run. So I take a lot of pride in that and that’s why I try to work on it and be as best as I can at it, just because I know that it helps out my team a lot.”