By Rob Rains
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Victor Scott II knows that he is fast. But the speed with which he has begun his professional career has caught even him a little by surprise.
It was less than a year ago that Scott was waiting for the major-league draft, hoping that he would get a chance to move on from West Virginia University and pursue his dream of playing professional baseball.
The Cardinals gave him that chance, selecting him in the fifth round of the 2022 draft. Scott has made the most of it, rising to the Double A level with the Springfield Cardinals, ranking second among all minor-leaguers in stolen bases, and earning one of two spots as the organization’s representatives in the Futures Game on Saturday night in Seattle, part of the All-Star Game festivities.
Asked what his reaction would have been a year ago had he been told what would happen over the next 12 months, the 22-year-old Scott admitted he didn’t know what he would have said.
“I would have probably shed a tear, honestly,” Scott said. “I would have been lost for words.”
It has happened, however, in part because of the foundation instilled in Scott early in his life by his parents growing up in Georgia, through his experiences in high school and his years in college.
The common theme, according to his coaches over the years, was all of the hard work that Scott put in trying to be successful. He knew early on that just being able to run fast wasn’t by itself going to be enough to make him successful, or to become the player he wants to be.
“He’s always working, always studying and then always doing his best to go execute his plan,” said Karlton Schilling, his coach at McEachern High School. “He is on a mission be his best. He knows each stolen base helps his team get closer to another run and hopefully another win.”
Fifty pushups for a dropped ball
Scott remembers being about 10 to 12 years old when his father would take him to a local park near the family’s home and hit him fly balls with a small T ball bat.
“He would test my range,” Scott said. “He would hit and I would try to catch everything I could. If I dropped it he would make me do 50 pushups. I would probably be at 100 pushups at the end of the day with layout plays and everything.”
At that age Scott thought he wanted to one day become a professional basketball player. By the time he was a sophomore in high school, his thoughts had changed.
“My parents sat me down and asked me where I thought I could make the biggest impact and baseball was what I said,” Scott said. “I just ran with it from there.”
That was the same year his teammates voted him the team captain of the baseball team, an honor that usually goes to a senior.
“They just respected him,” said Schilling, then an assistant coach at McEachern, a year before he took over as the head coach. “It spoke volumes.”
Says Scott now about that honor, “What I’ve heard is that I had an innate ability to lead a group of people. I didn’t necessarily know I had that. I think it just kind of comes from how you go about your business and how you work when you get to the field and how you are in the classroom. That all kinds of rubs off on everybody else.”
It was how seriously Scott took the honor and the challenge of leading the team that impressed Schilling then, and is something he has never forgotten as he has continued in his coaching career.
“He worked with a sense of urgency each and every day, making it seem as though it was an emergency for him to be the best version of himself that he could possibly be,” Schilling said. “This is probably the thing I loved most about him and it’s the thing that makes coaching him and being around him so enjoyable.
“He works as though it’s an emergency for him to get on base, get to second base and third base and then home to score as many runs as possible to help his team win. This urgency is an example of him refusing to be denied or what he is trying to accomplish. He is the person, man, student, player I use as an example for my own son and others.”
When Scott moved on to West Virginia, he would still come back to his high school during the semester break to work out with the players on the baseball team – at 5:15 a.m.
“He is just intrinsically motivated at a high level, which is why he’s doing what he’s doing,” Schilling said.
It was the way Scott approached the game while at West Virginia that impressed his coach there, Randy Mazey, and left an impression on him.
“He’s really serious about baseball,” Mazey said. “He doesn’t joke around much. He was going to run hard and play hard all the time and do his thing and out-work everybody. We have a competition here called the Iron Mountaineer in our program, a week-long test of speed, strength and endurance and he won it every year he was here.”
Cardinals’ area scout T.C. Calhoun, whose territory includes West Virginia, had a chance to watch Scott during all three years of his college career.
“He was the type of player that you knew you would see something exciting the night you were watching him,” Calhoun said. “He was always smiling, always brought energy and had the ability to change the game with his speed and defense. He was fun to watch on both sides of the ball.”
As the Cardinals prepared for last year’s draft, Calhoun happened to be at a game early in the season when West Virginia played at Charlotte, N.C.
“He made one of the better catches I have ever seen at the college level, robbing a home run,” Calhoun said. “I believe we were kind of one foot in, one foot out on Victor, but after seeing this play and the athleticism he displayed he was a no doubt prospect for us that we all felt would be a great fit for the Cardinals’ organization.”
Setting a goal – 100 steals
Scott spent his first professional season after the draft at Palm Beach, stealing 13 bases in 31 games. It was enough success that as he thought about what he wanted to accomplish this year, Scott set one of his goals at stealing 100 bases.
“I try to set attainable goals,” Scott said. “It was not a far fetched number at all.”
Scott got off to a fast start, playing at Peoria, where he stole 50 bases in 66 games before his promotion to Springfield. He has added two steals in his first nine games at Double A, but he is showing that he not only is fast enough to steal bases, but smart about when to not try to steal too. Almost as impressive as his number of steals is the fact he has only been caught stealing seven times.
One example of what Scott is learning came in Springfield’s game on Wednesday night against Amarillo. Trailing by a run in the eighth inning when he got his second hit of the game, it appeared that would be a good time for Scott to steal, but he stayed on first.
“You have to try and pick and choose when to run, especially with guys who are quicker to the plate,” Scott said. “That guy was like a 1.0 or 1.1, and with a catcher who can catch or throw, pretty much you are going to be out most of the time.”
Springfield manager Jose Leger already appreciates how Scott is learning and studying the game – as he showed in Wednesday night’s decision to try not to steal second.
“He’s learning,” Leger said. “He stole 50 bases at Peoria but it’s the level. He’s working on it. The more he studies pitchers and his mechanics the better he is going to get.”
One person who is excited to see Scott’s pursuit of 100 steals is the last person to reach that level in the major leagues – 43 years ago. Vince Coleman stole 109 bases for the Cardinals in 1987.
“I’m happy for him, I’m happy to know that there’s someone out there doing it,” Coleman said. “It’s been a lost art for a long time.”
Coleman, and others, believe that there should still be a place in the game for a player who can use his speed to impact a game, not only on offense but on defense.
The new rules, with bigger bases and limits on how many times a pitcher can throw to first, should only lead to more steals.
“I think fans today would love to see more of that,” Coleman said. “It gets me excited to know that there is a kid down in the minor leagues with 50 stolen bases at the halfway point (of the season). That was always one of my goals.”
Calhoun thought of Coleman and other Cardinals of the past when he watched Scott in college.
“Victor is an old school baseball player,” Calhoun said. “He probably would have been a perfect fit on a Cardinals team in the 1980s. We all felt with the changes in the game now at the big-league level that this type of profile would once again have a place – an old school table setter, can bunt, run and steal bases, make the flashy play in the outfield.
“He’s already showing that and with his personality we think he has the ability to make a place for this old school style of play in today’s game.”
Count Mazey among the people who are glad a player such as Scott is getting a chance.
“I’d love to see him be that kind of player,” Mazey said. “All these scouts when they come and watch our team play they all have stopwatches in their hand and want to know how fast a guy is in the 60-yard dash. But it seems like at the big league level it’s not that big a part of the game anymore. I think there’s a place. Speed is actually the only tool you can use on both offense and defense, and it sure is nice to have.”
Scott thinks there is a place for him in today’s game too.
“How are guys going to get a lot of RBIs on home runs if there isn’t a speed guy on base?” he said. “There’s definitely a place for a guy like me.”
Coleman will be in Seattle this weekend, serving as one of the coaches for the HBCU All-Star game that is part of the festivities. He is going to seek out Scott and try to offer him whatever assistance and advice he can.
Scott is looking foreword to that conversation as well, as he is with all of the coaches who will be at the Futures Game. It fits with his goal of trying to find any edge he can to develop and improve his skills.
“I want to pick their brains and understand what it takes to get to the next level,” Scott said.
Going with Scott to the Futures Game as the other Cardinals’ representative is pitcher Tink Hence, who like Scott, was just promoted from Peoria to Springfield. The two also played together last summer in Palm Beach and have become close friends.
“He makes plays that you usually don’t see people make,” Hence said of Scott. “Having a centerfielder like that gives you more confidence on the mound to fill up the zone and just do your job. Trusting your defense makes it way easier.
“I feel like he’s a really hungry player.”
Another friend who is fueling Scott’s hunger is Chandler Simpson, a shortstop with Tampa Bay’s Class A team in Charleston, S.C. Simpson is currently the minor-league leader in stolen bases with 59. Scott and Simpson were teammates on a team two summers ago in Fond du Lac, Wis., in the Northwoods League and became close friends.
“We’re just trying to steal as many bases as we can and see who wins at the end of the year,” Scott said.
One thing Hence has learned about Scott is that his competitive spirit also exists away from the baseball field. The two regularly play Ping Pong and in Peoria began to fish together at a pond near their apartment complex.
“We were trying to see who could catch the biggest bass,” Scott said.
More competitions are likely in the coming days – after Scott and Hence get back from Seattle.
“Vic caught more than me,” Hence said. “I’m thinking about going down to the Bass Pro Shop and getting a better pole. I think that was the reason I wasn’t getting that many fish.”
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Peoria photos by Audrey Wall courtesy of Peoria Chiefs
Springfield photos courtesy of Springfield Cardinals