Mariners want Betancourt to run

Mariners want Betancourt to run

SCOTTSDALE Ariz. -- Former Mariners utility player Rich Amaral recently spent a week in Spring Training working extensively with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on the art of stealing bases.

It brought back memories of another young Latin shortstop with Mariners roots.

"Yuni reminds me a lot of Omar Vizquel," Amaral said. "Omar wasn't a basestealing threat when he started out, but look what he turned out to be."

Vizquel never led the American League in stolen bases and is not known for his speed, but through hard work and extensive study, he made himself a basestealing threat. Now with the Giants, the 40-year-old enters the 2008 season with 380 career steals in 532 attempts, swiping 43 bases in 1997 and 42 in '99 for the Indians.

Vizquel used his head almost as much as his legs to advance an extra base.

Manager John McLaren wants to add another element to the Mariners' offense this season and running more is a big part of the plan. He's on record saying Ichiro Suzuki could steal 80 bases and believes Betancourt has what it takes to put some additional pressure on the defense with his legs.

While it's far too early to say Betancourt can become as much of a basestealing threat as Vizquel, the smooth-fielding, almost-always-grinning Cuba product wants to make good on a prediction McLaren made prior to Spring Training.

"I think Betancourt has the capability of being a 20-plus stolen base guy," McLaren said.

When reminded of that statement Saturday morning, Betancourt smiled broadly.

"That is something I want to achieve this year," he said through interpreter Eddie Rodriguez, the Mariners' first-base coach. "Stealing bases is not something I have tried in my career, but I am getting a feel for it this spring."

Betancourt stole five bases in nine attempts last season, down from 11 steals and 19 attempts in 2006, his first full big league season. His professional high is the 12 thefts he had for Double-A San Antonio in '05.

Betancourt had visions of stealing his first base of the spring on his first attempt when he reached base on a two-out single in the second inning Saturday. But he broke from the base too quickly and was nailed in a rundown between first and second base.

He has been waiting for a chance to steal a base, but the opportunity hadn't presented itself.

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Thanks to information gathered from his talks with Amaral, Betancourt has been studying the pitchers, learning pickoff moves.

"He's just learning, and to learn at the big level really isn't fair," Amaral said. "But I think a few years down the road, he will be really good."

It took Vizquel a few years to become a basestealing threat. He was caught stealing (34) almost as many times as he was successful (39). And he had four Minor League seasons to work that part of his game.

When Vizquel reached the Major Leagues for the first time, in 1989, he already had 82 stolen bases in 125 attempts. Betancourt was 19-for-31 during his one-plus Minor League seasons.

Betancourt said this is the first time in his career that he has spent much time at all on stealing bases. It wasn't part of his game growing up in Cuba.

"[Amaral] is teaching me the techniques he used to steal a base," Betancourt said. "We talked about reading the pitcher, getting a jump and, when I'm on second base, watching how the pitcher is holding the ball, which might tell you what kind of pitch he's going to throw."

Amaral, who stole 112 bases in 151 attempts during his 10-year MLB career, said he has filled Betancourt's head with information, "and it probably gets confusing. There is so much going through his mind right now that it will take some time for him to sort everything out.

"I don't know when that will happen. It might be this year, or it might be next year. But I think he will wind up being a good basestealer."

As for reaching the 20-stolen base mark this season, Betancourt said: "That would be a good goal to achieve. I'm young and fresh in legs."

Jim Street is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.