MINNEAPOLIS — When the Minnesota Twins traded Ben Revere and Denard Span this offseason, they lost not only two starting outfielders but also two of the faster players on the team.
Revere led the Twins with 40 stolen bases last season, while Span swiped 17 bags. Also gone is infielder Alexi Casilla, who was tied for second on the Twins with 21 steals in 2012.
With those three no longer on the roster, the Twins are trying to find replacements for the speed on the base paths. So far, stealing bases has not been a big part of Minnesota’s game.
Through Sunday, only one player has more than one stolen base. That would be rookie Aaron Hicks, who has three steals. As a team, the Twins have stolen just eight bases in 21 games — tied for fourth-fewest in the majors — and have also been caught stealing five times. That stolen base percentage of 62.0 percent ranks fourth-worst in all of baseball and ahead of only the Angels in the American League.
Last season, Minnesota was far more likely to steal a base than the rate it has been this season. Last year, led by Revere’s 44 steals, the Twins finished with 135 stolen bases, fourth-most in the majors and the most of any American League team.
“I’ve always liked to run. I love speed. I like that part of the game,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “I think fans get excited when you’re running the bases. I tell our guys that. If they give you something, take advantage of it. If they give us a chance to run, we’ll run.”
Through the first month of the 2013 season, though, the chances to steal have been few and far between. Outside of Hicks’ three stolen bases, five different players have one steal each. That includes outfielder Josh Willingham, who is certainly not known for his speed. Willingham had just three stolen bases last year but swiped second base in Saturday’s win over Texas.
“Now Willingham’s trying. It’s starting to make me nervous,” Gardenhire joked Sunday. “That kind of scared me. I actually put my hands in my pockets in the dugout so I don’t give any kind of green light without knowing it.”
As far as the green light goes, second baseman Brian Dozier said his manager has given him the go-ahead to steal whenever he sees fit. Dozier had nine steals in 84 games at the major league level last year but never stole more than 24 bases in a season in the minors.
Now that Dozier is batting leadoff ahead of Joe Mauer, the opportunities to steal have changed.
“I think it’s more of the certain situations when you’re supposed to steal bases, not just run just to run wild and free,” said Dozier, who has just one steal through Sunday. “It changes my aspect of it, being leadoff and having Joe behind me. Joe really has a knack of seeing takeoff, people moving, shooting holes. A lot of people can’t do that, so he likes to do that. At the same time he’s one of the best hitters in the league so there’s certain situations you can and cannot steal.”
Hicks’ rookie season got off to a slow start as he reached base just four times in his first 37 plate appearances. Since then, though, the 23-year-old Hicks has drawn more walks and is starting to see the hits fall as well.
As a result, he’s getting on base more, therefore setting up more opportunities to steal bases. Last season with Double-A New Britain, he had a career-high 32 steals.
“It was a big part of my game when I was in high school,” Hicks said of stealing bases. “Then I kind of got away from it, but last year I made sure it was a big part of my game, being able to get in scoring position. Even if I’m having a bad game, being able to get on base and get into scoring position could change the game.”
With a 5-0 win Sunday, the Twins are 11-10 on the year and have built a winning record without creating much havoc on the base paths. Their eight steals are fewer than league leader Jacoby Ellsbury, who has already stolen 11 bases for the Red Sox.
Yet while the speed has been lacking early on, Minnesota believes it has enough players who are certainly capable of swiping the occasional base when needed.
“If you look at every position, I’ll tell you that we run plenty good,” said general manager Terry Ryan. “As you’re looking at the corners you’re looking for power guys. Our team speed is OK. We don’t have many cloggers. A guy that can score on a single from second, we do not have many that can’t do that.”