Young Jr. inherits dad’s base-stealing art

Eric Young was one of baseball’s best base stealers during 15 years in the major leagues, leading the National League with 53 steals in 1996 and topping 50 two more times.

Eric Young Jr., a second baseman for Colorado Springs, appears poised to follow in his father’s fast footsteps.

Thriving in his first Triple-A season, the 24-year-old Young leads the Pacific Coast League with 50 steals (in 60 attempts), well ahead of Sacramento’s Eric Patterson, who has 34.

Young led all minor league players with 87 steals in 2006 and had 46 last year despite missing a month with a broken bone in his hand.

With 46 games to go this season, Young needs one more steal to match the Sky Sox’s single-season record of 51, set in 1992.

“He’s free to run and roam as he pleases,” Colorado Springs manager Stu Cole said. “He’s a guy who knows how to steal bases. He picks his spots and he does a good job of igniting this ballclub when he gets out on the base paths.

“Even though they know he’s going, he still steals a bag. He’s exciting to watch out there.”

A switch hitter who bats leadoff for the first-place Sky Sox (54-44), Young was 1-for-3 in a 5-0 loss to the 51s (47-52) on Thursday at Cashman Field. He is hitting .300 with 16 doubles, six triples, five homers and 32 RBIs and leads the league with 82 runs scored.

“My biggest objective is scoring runs,” Young Jr. said. “Stealing bases helps get me in scoring position to help my team win.

“I’m going to take advantage when the opportunity (to steal) presents itself, but I’m not going to force the issue and run us into any outs.”

A 30th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2003, Young has steadily improved his success rate on the bases as he has risen through the minors.

“In the lower levels, I’d just run, run, run, and I’d find out what works for me and what doesn’t work for me,” he said. “Going up the levels, I’m taking what I learned from those successes and failures and (taking) advantage of it.

“It’s just a matter of studying pitchers more and understanding what they’re trying to do and what the catcher is trying to do, and that makes it easier for (me) to steal bases.”

Young said he speaks often to his father — an analyst on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” who he calls his “best friend” — but they don’t discuss the art of the steal, even though Dad had 465 in his career.

“Stealing bases is a feel thing,” Young Jr. said. “You have to feel for it and let your instincts take over.”

Based on the way Young has played this season — which includes a three-run homer in the All-Star Futures Game and playing for the PCL in the Triple-A All-Star Game — his instincts are telling him he’s ready to play in the majors.

“I feel like I’m capable of playing in the big leagues. It’s just a matter of getting an opportunity,” he said. “Someone will take notice and I’ll get my chance real soon.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ or 702-383-0354.

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