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how the return of the steal is changing the game
In 2011, the Dayton Dragons featured the top base stealer in professional baseball when Billy Hamilton notched 103 steals in a single season. Hamilton eventually became one of Major League Baseball’s biggest threats on the bases, but as the years have gone by, base stealing has generally become less important. At least until this season.

In the High-A Central League, the league the Dragons now compete in, a new rule was put in place for 2021 on an experimental basis. The rule requires pitchers to step off the rubber and plant their foot before making a pick-off move. The intent from the Commissioner’s office was obvious - they wanted to get more base stealing action in the game.
The 2021 Dragons have been stealing bases on a pace that would surpass the club record of 228 over a full season. Not surprisingly, that record was set in the 2011 season, when Hamilton led the way.
Cotton at bat earlier this season.
Dragons outfielder Quin Cotton has been a big part of the base stealing revival this season.
“I would say the rule changes have been helpful (for base stealers),” Cotton said. “With right-handed pitchers, when picking to first base, I would say they are a little bit less comfortable. Same thing with lefties. The rule change is taking the advantage away from them and giving it to us as base stealers. So we are a lot more confident and a lot more aggressive.”
Cotton says that to be a big base stealer, it comes down to having the right mental approach.
“I am going to run, no matter what,” he said. “That is the mentality you have to have. You have to tell yourself, as soon as he moves, I am going. Obviously, if he mixes in a slide-step, you want to be able to see that and shut it down instead of running into an out for no reason. With the new rules, if he moves his front foot (but then throws to first), it should be called a balk. Because of that I can have even more confidence that, on his first move, I am taking off.”
The team has emphasized base stealing, but also prioritized taking any extra base when the opportunity arises. Manager Jose Moreno has given the green light to every position player on the team.
“He wants everybody to be aggressive, not just stealing bases, but advancing on pitches in the dirt, or advancing from first-to-third (instead of just taking one base),” Cotton said. “Base running is something we put a lot of emphasis on."
“I am getting a better feel for base stealing this year. In Billings (in 2019), I had eight stolen bases but I also got thrown out eight times. You don’t want to be stealing bases at a 50 percent clip. With the rule changes, I am saying I should have 50 stolen bases this year. But I can’t steal 50 bases and get thrown out 50 times, that is just not productive. So I’m working to get my success rate a lot higher, since that is going to be more beneficial for the team. It is not about picking up stats for no reason, it is about getting myself in scoring position for my teammates to knock me in.”
Should I stay, or should I go?
Cotton says part of the development process is learning when to run, and when not to.
“I got thrown out the other day. It was not a great count to run, since I knew (the pitcher) was likely throwing a fastball, and his delivery was pretty quick to the plate,” he said. “(Dragons manager) Moreno pulled me aside and asked me what I saw. I told him I was trying to get to second base, stay out of a double play situation. So he explained to me why it was a bad time to run. He said he wants us all to be aggressive, but it’s just as important to learn when to run so we can be more successful instead of just taking off whenever I feel like it. I feel like I have started to pick up on that difference as I work on that part of my game.”
Major League Baseball’s efforts to help the stolen base become a rejuvenated part of the game is pleasing to Cotton, and to most fans who have seen the Dragons run the bases in 2021.
“I would say it absolutely is (more entertaining). In the big leagues, the stolen base is kind of a dying art. As far as the rule changes, I am glad they made an adjustment. But for me and my teammates, the mentality of stealing bases is going to carry over with or without the rule.”
Which Dragons base stealer possesses the best speed on the current roster?
“It’s got to be (Jacob) Hurtubise,” Cotton said. “He is the fastest for sure. I have played plenty of baseball with some fast guys and he is top three for me.”