WASHINGTON — That Bo Bichette arrived to the Futures Game as the double-A Eastern League’s leader in hits with 96 is of little surprise — it’s his abilities with the bat that have earned him wide regard as one of the game’s top prospects.
Less expected is that the 20-year-old shortstop for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats also leads the loop with 26 stolen bases, needing only 86 games to surpass his total of 25 from his first two pro seasons combined, developing another weapon he hopes to soon employ in the big-leagues.
“I have above-average speed and not really a lot of people know it,” the Toronto Blue Jays prospect said before collecting a single in two at-bats for the U.S. Team in a 10-6 win over the World Team in the Futures Game. “Last year, my manager (at low-A Lansing, Cesar Martin) was a little bit more conservative with Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) behind me. He’d always say, ‘Hey, relax with Vladdy up.’ Now my manager, (John) Schneider who was my manager (at advanced-A Dunedin) last year and this year, he’s more aggressive. If you can get it, go. Vladdy also is always like, ‘Hey man, if you can get in scoring position, go ahead and do it.’ So that’s something I’ve done more.
“I’ve always stolen bases well. Trying and failing at times has taught me a lot.”
Bichette has stolen the 26 bases in 33 attempts for a 79 per cent success rate, above the 75 per cent threshold for success generally considered the level needed to make risking an out worthwhile.
Rather than relying primarily on picking up tendencies or on-field reads, he employs a more analytical approach to when he takes off.
“Honestly, being successful stealing bases is not only about getting good jumps and having instincts, it’s actually about math, knowing how fast pitchers are to home, knowing how fast the catcher is to second,” said Bichette. “If you can put those two together, a lot of times you can know you’re going to be safe.”
Bichette has given himself plenty of opportunities to steal bases this season, just not at the same .379 on-base percentage he posted last year between Lansing and Dunedin, when he also batted .323 with a .463 slugging percentage.
Through 390 plate appearances over 86 games, he’s slashing .272/.331/.433 for the Fisher Cats, riding out a slow start to the season when he started trying to pull the ball and expand the strike zone, and a more recent slump.
He handled the second dry spell much better than the first.
“I’d never struggled before so when I did struggle the first time, I didn’t really know how to cope with it. I was freaking out, I didn’t know what to do, how to get out of it,” said Bichette. “When I went through another kind of a struggle, the difference in it was I didn’t panic. I figured out what I need to do better a lot quicker and I think that’s just about playing more baseball and getting more experience.”
The learning curve, Bichette insists, was forced on him by his own decisions at the plate as opposed to better pitchers after jumping a level. The lesson driven home to him is that there are times he needs to rein in his aggressiveness and be smart about what he swings at.
“I’m not a big swing mechanics guy. I think mechanics are important — I don’t think they’re everything,” he said. “I think when you start to go wrong, it’s probably about what you’re swinging at instead of how you’re swinging. That’s what I learned this year. I went two weeks struggling and I didn’t know what to do. I tried everything with my swing and what I realized is that I don’t care how good your swing is, if you’re swinging at stuff three feet off of the inside part of the plate, you’re probably not going to hit it very good. That’s what I was doing, so I think it’s about getting a good pitch to hit rather than how you’re swinging.”
Bichette has also made gains defensively, working to improve his throwing accuracy, his range and his concentration in the field, but isn’t fully satisfied with what he’s done in a league where he’s about four years younger than the average position player.
“I haven’t played as well as I’d like, but I’m also putting up numbers,” he said. “That’s important to me, that I can not feel well all the time and still help the team and still be productive.”