When Major League Baseball decided to expand the size of its bases from 15 inches to 18 inches, it expected that more stolen bases would occur. The plan was to make a more exciting environment for fans, further generating support as part of its latest efforts to speed up the game and do away with the three-true-outcome baseball that has plagued the league in recent years.
Thus far, it has paid massive dividends, much to the chagrin of MLB catchers like the Cleveland Guardians’ Mike Zunino, who has allowed 17 stolen bases through 20 games this year while catching just three runners.
But in Lynchburg, the Guardians’ Single-A affiliate, the young crop of talent has gotten off to one of the hottest starts in baseball history on the basepaths. Though the Hillcats hold just a 10-11 record, they have a +10 run differential, helped mainly by their league-leading 64 steals. In fact, the mark tops all minor-league teams in professional baseball. They’ve already had games with 12 stolen bases and nine stolen bases through 21 games played this season.
It’s been an incredible feat for a team that has just two hitters in the top 30 rankings of Cleveland’s prospects. What makes the mark even crazier is that neither of Cleveland’s top prospects - Justin Boyd (No. 29) or Angel Genao (No. 26) - have played for Lynchburg this season. The team is paced by center fielder Guy Lipscomb with 14 stolen bases, followed by shortstop Jose Devers and second baseman Nate Furman, who have 11 stolen bases each.
Lipscomb was a fifth-round pick by the Guardians in last year’s draft after a stellar season at Belmont University, where he stole 42 bases. Devers was an international free agent signing by Cleveland in 2019 out of the Dominican Republic. He’s just 19 years old and is slashing .270/.370/.381 through 17 games in his first season in Single-A. Prior to this season, he spent two years in the Arizona Complex League and totaled a combined 12 stolen bases through 63 games in 2021 and 2022.
Furman was the Guardians’ fourth-round pick last year out of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where he stole 21 bases and slashed .371/.502/.474. Juan Benjamin, a 20-year-old 2019 international free agent signing, has eight stolen bases, and Lexer Saduy, who was also signed in that international free-agent class from Venezuela, has five stolen bases. In all, nine Hillcats have recorded a stolen base, with six players recording at least four stolen bags.
The Guardians themselves have already stolen 35 bases, which is the second-most in the majors behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Columbus Clippers have the sixth-most (33) stolen bases in the International League, the Akron RubberDucks have just 18 steals, and the Lake County Captains have 13 steals, the second-fewest in the league.