By Rob Rains
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When one of the three bands that Victor Scott II wears on his left wrist for every game broke in September, a teammate said it was time to replace it anyway.
The old band read, “Get noticed.”
“Errol Robinson, my teammate in Springfield, told me I needed to get a new wrist band because ‘I’m already noticed,” Scott said.
The replacement came with a new motivation for the fast-rising Cardinals prospect, who “got noticed” by stealing 94 bases this season, tying for the most in the minor leagues.
Scott’s new band reads, “They doubted you.”
Scott said he chose the words carefully and a game doesn’t go by, even now in the Arizona Fall League, when he isn’t encouraged every time he glances down at the three bands on his wrist.
“People may still have questions around your game,” Scott said. “How can you continue to prove them wrong? That’s life in general. A teacher may say ‘You’re not going to be the best student, you may not get an A in this class.’ She doubted you. Go prove her wrong.
“My other bands say ‘The Show’ and ‘God’s grace and covenance.’ I got ‘They doubted you’ for a little extra incentive.”
While Scott may still believe that there are some people with doubts about his ability, he also knows that two of his biggest boosters constantly remind him not to listen to those critics and skeptics.
One of them is a Cardinal Hall of Famer and stolen base champion, Vince Coleman. The other is his close friend Chandler Simpson, a former summer ball teammate who tied Scott for this season’s stolen base title.
“He has all the tools,” Coleman said about Scott. “When I met him and talked to him, it was like I was looking in a mirror. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t intimidated. He loves the challenge.”
The friendly, spirited competition between Scott and Simpson has been going on since the summer of 2021, when the two met while playing for the Fond du Lac (Wis.) Dock Spiders in the Northwoods League.
“We just clicked,” Simpson said. “He likes to work and I like to work. We both value the same things. We are both from the same area. We both use our speed. We play the same game.”
Scott is thankful for their friendship, advice and counsel – one which didn’t surprise him, and one which did.
Coleman becomes mentor to Scott
Coleman, who stole 549 bases in six seasons for the Cardinals and 752 in his 13 years in the majors, was in Seattle to serve as a coach for the HBCU All-Star game as part of the All-Star game festivities in July.
Scott was there to play in the Futures Game. The two met in a hotel lobby.
“I get chills when I hear of a kid that has his mindset,” Coleman said. “All the knowledge that I gained, I want to pass that along to someone. I’m glad he’s in the Cardinals organization. If I can help to inspire him to be effective and be great, I feel like that’s something I can give back.”
That initial conversation left Scott with a belief that Coleman was sincere about trying to help him in whatever way he could.
“I was just talking to him and saw that ‘this is a real genuine guy,’” Scott said. “He is here to help. Using that outlet is definitely a good one.
“He’s a guy who has been in the same organization, grew up as a centerfielder and was a basestealer and a fast guy. We both play the same game.
“Having a guy like that in your corner is unbelievable.”
After that first meeting, Scott and Coleman have continued to talk on a regular basis, either on the phone or through text messages. A lot of their conversations have focused on Scott’s pre-game preparation.
“Right now he’s just absolutely outrunning the baseball,” Coleman said. “He’s doing it right now off raw speed.”
Coleman has talked with Scott about how to read a pitcher’s tendencies and use that to his advantage, figuring out when to run and knowing that when he does, he will be successful.
“He talks about how to be prepared for success,” Scott said. “He also talks about when success doesn’t happen, how do you combat that? It’s definitely helped me. Not every game is going to be three singles with four stolen bases. He talks about how to move on and how to still be effective. You can still impact the game without having to steal a base.”
One recent conversation came when Coleman was watching former Cardinal Jordan Montgomery pitch in the AL Championship Series. He saw a flaw in Montgomery’s delivery and sent a text message to Scott, who was watching the same game.
“I saw a flaw when he was in the stretch and I texted Victor to see if he saw it,” Coleman said. “He said he saw it, but he didn’t know how to put it in words. I told him I wanted him to get a notebook and make a note of it, because ‘you may face him one day.’
“I told he should make notes about all of the pitchers he faces because he is seeing a lot of pitchers in the Fall League he hasn’t seen before, with a lot more experience. I told him, ‘Don’t let that intimidate you.’ It’s like going to school. When you see more pitchers, you get a variety of things to look for.
“All pitchers have a flaw or a tendency that you can pick up on. There are so many different variables … Knowledge builds confidence and confidence lets you play fast. His thing right now is to go out and analyze pitchers and dissect them and use that to his advantage. Do your homework and the base is already stolen before you hit the field. I told him that was what gave me an advantage.”
Coleman can understand Scott’s reaction to people doubting his ability because it happened to him too.
Coleman was a 10th round pick by the Cardinals in 1982 out of Florida A & M, where he led the nation in stolen bases for two consecutive years but didn’t get much credit for that accomplishment.
“I played with a chip on my shoulder because I went to a Division II school and they (his critics) said my competition level wasn’t as good as the bigger schools,” he said. “I told them I was going to prove them wrong. That was my motivation day in and day out, that I was just as good a player as those who came from the big schools in California.
“When I got in the minor leagues they said it would be great if you could steal 50 bases and I said no, I was going to steal 100. They looked at me like I was crazy. That was my mentality and he (Scott) has the same mentality. That’s what he wants to do.”
Scott did have stealing 100 bases as a personal goal this year, his first full pro season after being selected by the Cardinals in the fifth round of the 2022 draft from West Virgina. He fell six steals short.
That goal is already there again for next season.
“There’s always a way to find motivation,” Scott said. “I had a great season but getting to 100 bases was kind of like a milestone for me. It didn’t happen so I came out here to the Fall League and want to produce the same type of numbers.”
Coleman has watched video of Scott but has yet to see him play in person, not wanting to overstep his boundaries as an unofficial mentor since he is not employed by the Cardinals.
He would like to make their arrangement more official and has reached out to the Cardinals about being more involved, perhaps in spring training next year, where he could work with Scott and other young prospects in the organization.
“All I want to do is be a coach and share knowledge, not just with Victor but throughout the organization,” Coleman said. “It (speed) is a weapon that you can use to make a difference and be a game changer.
“I had mentors like George Kissell, Don Blasingame and Lou Brock. They gave me all the confidence that made me the basetealer I was. Some people said I made it look easy but there was a lot of thought and process that went into it and made it look like that, but the hard work was done well before the game started.”
Scott knows that he is just beginning to benefit from his talks with Coleman and is excited to have their relationship prosper in the years to come.
“Hearing that from him helps me know that I am closer (to the majors) than I think I am,” Scott said. “I can do it. His wise words and definitely helping me.”
Competition with Simpson also a positive
Scott has a different kind of relationship with Simpson, who also is from the Atlanta area. The two have mutual friends from playing travel ball when they were younger, but never played with or against each other until two summers ago.
“We knew of each other, but didn’t cross paths until we went to Fond du Lac,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t planned.”
Like with Coleman, however, Scott bonded quickly with Simpson. Now they talk or text almost every day.
Much of their conversations throughout this season were about who happened to have the most stolen bases at the time. Simpson, playing in the Rays organization after he was drafted in the second round in 2022 out of Georgia Tech, said it worked to the benefit of both players.
“One wants to be greater than the other,” Simpson said. “Consistent competition, it makes me better. I don’t want him to win anything over me and he doesn’t want me to win anything over him. It’s just a constant battle and we both get better in the process.
“We are trying to help each other and get better. We’ve got the same goal, to get to the big leagues. I try to learn off him and he tries to learn off me.”
During their summer in Fond du Lac, and for part of 2022 when they were teammates in the Cape Cod league prior to the draft, Simpson and Scott would bat at the top of the order.
“I would lead off with a bunt, and he would bunt, and we would double steal within three pitches,” Simpson said. “Before you knew it we had a 2-0 lead, like five minutes into the game. We did that a lot.”
Caleb Durbin, a product of Washington University now in the Yankees organization, was on the team in Fond du Lac.
“You could tell they fed off each other’s energy,” said Durbin, who is playing for Mesa in the Fall League. “They play the game with a certain type of attitude which is how they’re able to be such elite baserunners. I learned a lot just by being around them.”
For a few days after this season ended, Scott thought he had won the stolen base title by himself, finishing with 95 steals. A scoring change, however, took away one of his stolen bases and left him and Simpson tied.
“He called me and said, ‘I’ve got some good news for you, bad news for me. They took one stolen base away, so we tied,’” Simpson said. “He was damn near pissed that we had tied.
“It was crazy. To be continued, next year, the year after that and hopefully for years to come. We’ve had a lot of great moments with a lot more to come.”
Simpson knows that trying to win his friendly competition with Scott can only help improve the quality of his game. He knows Scott feels the same way.
“He’s trying to prove something every time he steps on the field,” Simpson said. “People did doubt him, how he would pan out in the league. He’s exceeded expectations. I’m proud of him. That’s my brother. I want him to keep going.”
Said Scott, “We push each other in every aspect of life, to be better humans, better bowlers, better baseball players. If you have somebody you can compete against in friendly competition, and it doesn’t go past that, then it’s just healthy.”
Fall League offers new challenge
Scott has the edge on Simpson this fall because of his assignment to the Scottsdale Scorpions. Simpson was not one of the Rays prospects selected for the Fall League.
Through 14 games, Scott has 10 stolen bases, one behind league leader Jakob Marsee of Peoria, a prospect from the Padres organization.
With close to three weeks left in their season, Scott still is hopeful that he can make a run at the league record of 24 stolen bases set by Rick Holifield in 1994. Since then, the only player to reach 20 steals in the Fall League season was Eric Young Jr. in 2008.
“I’m just going to continue to push myself,” Scott said. “We’re past the dog days. We’ve had a lot of at-bats and my body is fatigued, but nobody wants to hear excuses. If I can get the record that would be pretty special.”
Scott knows that his performance this year has raised his profile within the organization, especially with a question about who will be the center fielder on the major-league team in 2024. He has tried not to think much about that.
“I’m just taking it one step, one day at a time,” Scott said. “I try not to look too much ahead. I’m just going to keep working hard and God willing, things might shake out.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Main photo courtesy of MLB Photos via Getty Images
Other photos courtesy of Springfield Cardinals and Chandler Simpson