Enrique Bradfield Jr. has always been fast. That doesn't mean base stealing came naturally to him.
The Vanderbilt sophomore is widely regarded as the most exciting player in college baseball, his reputation burnished two weeks ago by his steal of home with his team down a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning against Indiana State.
That play understandably is his season highlight, but Bradfield's body of work is even more impressive. As of Tuesday night, he was 42 for 42 stealing bases this season and has swiped 47 in a row since he was caught trying to steal third against Arkansas last May 27.
“I’ve seen guys with good stolen base numbers," LSU coach Jay Johnson said, “but nobody who’s that automatic.”
Bradfield's consecutive steals streak is the longest in at least a decade, according to NCAA records. His 42 steals this season lead Power Five players and ranks fourth overall in Division I. He is the only player with more than 18 steals who hasn't been thrown out.
His 89 career steals on 95 attempts rank third among active players and are by far the most by a second-year player. The two players ahead of him are seniors.
On the 39 occasions this season that Bradfield has been on the base paths and stolen at least one base (three of those times he stole two), he has scored 22 runs, according to Associated Press research.
“He’s as disruptive a player as there is in college baseball,” Johnson said. “It’s something you know is coming when he’s on base — a stolen base — and you can’t stop it. The only way to stop it was to keep him off base.”
Johnson has coached against Bradfield as much as anyone lately. Bradfield had no steals against Johnson's Arizona team in the 2021 College World Series. Johnson's LSU team swept three games from the Commodores last weekend, with Bradfield stealing one base but not scoring.
Bradfield survived two close calls that would have ended his consecutive steals streak. The first was against Georgia when he got caught leaning on lefty Jaden Woods' pickoff move to first and survived a rundown to steal second. The second was two weeks ago when Arkansas catcher Michael Turner made a perfect throw to third and Bradfield got his foot under the tag.
Bradfield is from a baseball family in Hialeah, Florida. His father, Enrique Sr., moved to the United States from Panama when he was a senior in high school and played outfield for NAIA St. Thomas in Miami Gardens.
The younger Bradfield, at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, has a much smaller frame and always has relied on his speed. Bradfield, who counts all-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson and active leader Dee Strange-Gordon as his idols, said he was a timid baserunner until he got to Vanderbilt.
Bradfield said coach Tim Corbin and the staff worked with him to develop confidence. Success in fall scrimmages led to his starting in center field in the 2021 opener, and his first game was a preview of his future. He bunted for a single in his second at-bat and stole second.
From the start, Bradfield said, Corbin has given him the green light to steal whenever he sees fit.
“I’m not afraid of getting caught or thrown out by anybody,” Bradfield said.
The breakdown of Bradfield's steals this season illustrates his fearlessness. He has stolen third base 13 times, and then there was that steal of home May 10 against Indiana State.
Vanderbilt was down 7-6 when Bradfield reached third with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Corbin is the third-base coach, and Bradfield indicated to him he thought the time was right to take a chance. Bradfield stole another base and scored the winning run in the 11th inning.
Bradfield downplayed the suggestion that stealing home was especially gutsy in that situation.
“We make the third out, that’s just the game," he said. "It’s one game. It’s not going to end our season. When you’re out there, you can’t really think of the down sides to certain situations. You have to be aggressive and do it.”
Bradfield has carved out his identity in an era when aggressiveness on the bases has been overshadowed by home runs.
“Stolen bases aren’t really a thing people view as something that can change a game,” Bradfield said. “I disagree with that, of course. It does a lot in terms of impacting the game. So would I like to see it come back in a bigger fashion? Yeah, I would love to see more guys get on the bases and just run.”
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