A baseball player celebrates while standing on second base
Outfielder Mike Antico, the No. 22 prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization, could benefit as the running game makes a comeback to major-league baseball. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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One of the consequences of baseball’s new rules, with slightly larger bases and only two pickoff attempts allowed per at-bat, is an uptick in stolen bases at the Major League level. 

On opening day alone, there were 16 more stolen bases than on opening day in 2022. Through early May, big-league teams were averaging a combined .20 more steals per game than last season and, while that might not seem like much, it would be the largest year-over-year increase in steals per game since 1975-76.

Perhaps no player in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization could benefit more from a revival in the running game than outfielder Mike Antico. The Springfield Cardinals outfielder stole 67 bases in 74 attempts last season, splitting time between Springfield and High-A Peoria.

“It seems like the numbers are going up and that more guys are taking chances because of the larger bags and the rules,” Antico said during last week’s homestand. “That would be great for me because that is a huge part of my game. It seems like it’s carrying a little more value these days, which is awesome.”

Not just a base stealer

Antico has 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts, going 3-for-3 on last week’s homestand against Wichita. But Antico, who entered the season as the Cardinals’ No. 22 prospect as ranked by MLB.com, is raising his stock in other ways as well.

“He is putting together good at-bats,” Cardinals manager Jose Leger said. “He is chasing less and putting the ball in play more. He has speed and also has power. When he uses the whole field and puts the ball in play, good things happen.”

Antico hit a three-run home run on Sunday as the Cardinals beat Wichita 10-5, giving him seven home runs and 30 RBIs through 45 games. Last season, in 60 games at Springfield, Antico hit eight home runs with 31 RBIs.

With a half-season of Double-A maturity under his belt, the eight-round draft choice from 2021, out of the University of Texas, appears to be taking a big step forward.

“Not trying to do too much,” Antico said of the key to his success, particularly during May as he’s hit .297 with five home runs after scuffling in April to .221 with two home runs.

“Just trying to get on base and play my game is the biggest thing,” Antico said. “Trying to help the team win. Just doing whatever I can, whatever the situation calls on me to do. Sometimes just a base hit and not trying to do anything more than that is what it takes.”

A baseball player gets ready to hit the ball
After a slow start to the 2023 season, Springfield Cardinals’ outfielder Mike Antico has enjoyed a strong May by hitting .296 with five home runs. (Photo: P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Making adjustments in-season

No matter how many home runs Antico hits, he knows that his speed will be his most valuable asset in climbing the organizational ladder. His walk-up song when he comes to bat at Hammons Field is “Born to Run” by fellow New Jersey native Bruce Springsteen.

“Coming into this year having a year under your belt of playing at this level already, you know what to expect as a player,” Leger said. “It’s not like you’re in unfamiliar ground where you’re getting to know the league and the other teams and their tendencies. He already has his routine down.

“He came into this year prepared. Even though he was off to a slow start, it was a matter of time before he turned things around.”

Antico said April was tough, an example of how one must overcome adversity. 

“You know, you always have to make adjustments,” he said. “It goes week-to-week, month-to-month. Being able to make those adjustments is gratifying for me. There was a little bit of a struggle there and to be able to adjust and improve was great for me.”

Feeling more assured of himself

Antico, 24, said he was pleased to open the season back in Double-A. With a crowded outfield in both St. Louis and Triple-A Memphis, he sees 2023 as a chance to keep proving himself in Springfield and expand on what he accomplished last season.

While he fell just short of a goal of 70 stolen bases in 2022, Antico said he’s not setting a specific number for himself this season. And while the new rules have, at least in theory, made it easier to steal, he doesn’t necessarily look at it that way.

“I’ve not totally bought in on all the pickoff stuff,” Antico said. “Two pickoffs, it doesn’t change my approach to it. I just try to play straight-up baseball and however the pitchers want to adjust to it, they can. I haven’t changed much based on the rules and stuff.”

At the same time, he feels more assured of himself in the Texas League this season after coming to Springfield midway through 2022.

“Last year was great,” Antico said. “It was a grind in Peoria and to be able to come here was awesome. We had a great group and it was a lot of fun. Coming back here this year I was excited. I like this team a lot. 

“I’m just trying to play the best I can and help this team win and just see where it takes me.”

Cardinals back home next week

Springfield opened a six-game road series Tuesday night with a 7-1 loss at Amarillo. The third-place Cardinals (21-25) return to Hammons Field for a 12-game homestand next Tuesday, June 6, facing Northwest Arkansas.

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton