Stolen bases are an important aspect of fantasy baseball, and unlike other counting stats, you can get elite production from players very late in the draft.
Whether you prefer to take stolen bases early, load up on 20/20 hitters or wait for the late round bargains, you need to know which players to target. Adam Eaton has the reputation as a player you take for speed, yet he has never stolen 20 bases in a season. Elvis Andrus is a boring infielder but has stolen at least 20 bases in every one of his eight seasons in the majors.
Punting saves is a fools game. Why give yourself a zero in a category when it is so easy to ensure that you finish at least halfway up the standings?
Hunter Pence and Carlos Gomez have given fantasy baseball owners similar production over the last few seasons. Last year both players hit 13 home runs, but Gomez stole 17 bases and Pence just one. Their ADP is separated by just 12 spots.
In the 2016 season, four of the top six base stealers (Jonathan Villar, Rajai Davis, Eduardo Nunez and Hernan Perez) were undrafted in most leagues. It is likely that the stolen base leaders will feature in this article. Let us take a quick look at the players who will help you in the stolen base category this season.
After two barren years, Mike Trout the base-stealer was back in 2016 with 30 stolen bases and has indicated a desire to reach 40 this season.
Mookie Betts was closer to 30/30 than 20/20, so another 25+ stolen base season from the Red Sox’ superstar looks likely.
The Astros’ second baseman, Jose Altuve has averaged 38 stolen bases since reaching the majors, and even though his totals have dropped in each of the last two years, he should still be good for around 30.
Paul Goldschmidt became the only first baseman in history to steal 32 bases and hit 24 home runs in the same season, so chalk the Diamondbacks’ star up for another 25+ stolen bases this year.
Bryce Harper eclipsed the total he had reached in the previous three seasons combined, by stealing 21 bases last year. It is not easy to know whether 2016 was the anomaly or the new norm.
Washington’s newest superstar Trea Turner stole 33 bases in 73 games. If he kept that pace for a whole season, he would have over 70 stolen bases. Even if he only reaches the 42 that he is projected to swipe, he is likely to be the best base-stealer in the first round.
Jonathan Villar is the elite base-stealer in this range. He nabbed a career-high 62 stolen bases in 2016 in 80 attempts, but there is significant regression risk attached. He is projected for 50 stolen bases this year. I’ll take the under.
The Pirates’ center fielder Starling Marte was a top-3 base stealer last season, with a career-high 47. The 28-year-old joins Jose Altuve as the only two players with at least 30 stolen bases in each of the last four seasons.
Who knows what version of Charlie Blackmon will play in 2017? He had 30 fewer stolen base attempts last year than in 2015 and is significantly less appealing now as an under-20 stolen base player, than when he was a 40+ stolen base threat.
There was hope that Astros’ center fielder George Springer, who stole 41 stolen bases in the minors, would be a perennial 20/20 candidate. The former first-round pick failed to reach double-digits last year, and embarrassingly, he was caught more times than he was successful.
A.J. Pollock lost most of 2016 to injury, but he had been a 20 home run, 39 stolen base stud in 2015. There is risk attached to drafting the Diamondbacks’ outfielder for speed, but the reward could be high.
The Brewers ran wild in 2016, leading the league in stolen base attempts, but Ryan Braun only swiped 16 bags and has failed to steal 20 bases in three out of the last four years.
Rockies’ outfielder Carlos Gonzalez was a 20/20 stud for four straight years but has only stolen seven bags over the last three years combined.
Ian Desmond has reached 20 stolen bases in four of the last five years but his new employers, the Rockies, are not built for speed, finishing tied 11th in the National League last year.
Marlins’ speedster Dee Gordon struggled with the bat after coming back from suspension, but his legs still worked. He swiped 30 bags in 79 games, which would have been a career-high 66 in a full season. Gordon risks becoming a one-trick pony unless he can get his batting average and on-base percentage back to 2015 levels.
2013 MVP Andrew McCutchen will probably outperform his draft position but the former roto-superstar has failed to reach 20 stolen bases for three straight seasons, and that trend looks set to continue.
The Nationals invested heavily in speedy outfielder Adam Eaton and his career .362 OBP, but how many times has he stolen 20 bases in a season? The answer is zero.
Billy Hamilton is the best base-stealer in the business. He has 115 stolen bases over the last two years and even swiped 165 in one season in the minors in 2012. The Reds’ center fielder made improvements in the second half of 2016, pushing his on-base percentage up by 86 points to .369 OBP. His 36 bags in 45 second half games equates to 123 in a full season. Imagine the value of a player who can steal 100 bases in a season.
Be careful not to overrate players in this area of the draft based on their previous successes on the base paths. Lorenzo Cain dropped from 28 stolen bases to 14, Gregory Polanco from 27 to 17 and DJ LeMahieu 23 to 11.
Offseason acquisition for the Mariners, Jean Segura is Mr. Consistency. He has stolen 20+ bases for four straight seasons and joins the illustrious duo of Mike Trout and Jose Altuve as the only .300 hitters last season with at least 20 home runs and 30 stolen bases.
Odubel Herrera improved from 14 stolen bases in 2015 to 25 last season. The center fielder is improving in all aspects of his game. He posted a .361 OBP and led the Phillies in runs, hits and stolen bases.
Indians’ Jose Ramirez regularly swiped 30 bags before reaching the big leagues. The 24-year-old stole 22 bases in 2016, and another 20+ season looks likely. The switch-hitter could lead off against left-handed pitching, and his excellent patience at the plate will ensure he gets on-base at a high rate.
The 40 stolen bases last season from Eduardo Nunez was unexpected, considering he had only swiped 38 in the four previous years combined. He may have been fantasy gold, but in the real world, he was a below-average hitter for the Giants with 98 OPS+. Expect regression and be careful not to pay too much for last year’s stats.
The ADP of Jose Peraza is climbing rapidly since Brandon Phillips’ departure opened the door to everyday at-bats at second base. The 22-year-old averaged over 36 bags in the minors and swiped 21 in just 271 at-bats in the majors last season.
Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus has 241 career stolen bases in the big leagues with at least 20 in all eight of his seasons in the majors. That’s consistency.
The days of 70 stolen bases are a distant memory for Jacoby Ellsbury, but he is one of only six players to have stolen at least 20 bases in each of the last four seasons.
Last season, the Brewers led the league with 237 steal attempts, and it is likely they will continue to run freely in 2017. Keon Broxton stole 41 bases across all levels last season and could be a useful source of speed if he keeps the center field job in Milwaukee. Joining Broxton for the speedy Brewers will be Eric Thames, fresh from his remarkable 40/40 exploits in Korea. He is one of the most difficult players to project this year but a 20 stolen base season would not be surprising.
The White Sox’ shortstop Tim Anderson produced good stats in 2016 with nine home runs, ten stolen bases and .283 AVG. The advantage of playing for a rebuilding team is that he will be allowed time to improve his 13 walks to 117 strikeouts, while still getting the green light to run.
Kevin Kiermaier probably the best outfielder in the game, quietly stole 21 bags in two-thirds of a season. He got on base at .331 OBP, a significant improvement on his career .303 OBP. He could be set for a big 2017.
The Mariners acquired Jarrod Dyson to add speed at the top of the lineup. Since 2012, only five players have stolen more bases than the veteran outfielder.
Rajai Davis bounced back with an AL-leading 43 stolen bases last year and is the most successful base-stealer in high leverage situations. Don’t dismiss another great season for the veteran. He is likely to leadoff for the Athletics, and currently, the only other center fielder on the 40-man roster is Jake Smolinski (.644 OPS).
The Brewers’ magic transformed Hernan Perez into a surprising 34 stolen base speedster in just 404 at-bats. Over the course of his Triple-A career (740 at-bats), the utility player had only swiped 27. He does not have a starting job, but the ability to play every position on the park will get him plenty of opportunities.
This area of the draft is where diamonds can be found. Last season, Jonathan Villar, Rajai Davis, Hernan Perez and Eduardo Nunez went undrafted in most leagues, yet were four of the top-six base stealers.
Although not offering much power, the defensively excellent Manuel Margot has stolen 115 bases in the minors over the previous three years and topped the Dominican League this winter with 14 stolen bases. His Padres’ outfield compatriot Travis Jankowski stole 71 bases in High-A back in 2012 and swiped 30 in the majors last season. With an ADP of 331, he is the epitome of a late round, under-the-radar speed guy.
Continuing the Padres love, Cory Spangenberg has impressive on-base skills and stole over 100 bases in 383 games in the minors. He missed most of 2016 with a quad injury but is expected to be available for Opening Day. He will offer value as a bench bat/pinch runner but don’t dismiss his chances of seizing the second base job from Ryan Schimpf.
In the five years from 2011, Ben Revere had a .296 batting average and was one of the most feared runners on base paths with only Dee Gordon and Rajai Davis swiping more bags. He will start 2017 as the Angels’ fourth outfielder, hoping to eradicate the memory of his horrendous 2016. The left-hander was injured on Opening Day and then lost his place in the starting lineup to Trea Turner. Expect Revere to recapture the form he showed for five straight years.
The Rays paid a high price to acquire the services of Mallex Smith, yet the 24-year-old will likely start the season in Triple-A. The left-hander stole 64, 92 and 57 bases in the minors from 2013 to 2015, and he nabbed 16 bags in 215 plate appearances when called up to the majors last year. Whether he wins the job out of Spring Training or gets a midseason call up, Mallex Smith will be a demon on the base paths.
Once regarded as the Blue Jays’ leadoff man of the future, Dalton Pompey’s career has stalled. The speedy 24-year-old has stolen 154 bases in the minors with a career .367 OBP. That would look good at the top of any lineup, but he is currently expected to start in Triple-A. If the Steve Pearce/Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton Jr. experiment in left field does not work, look for the Blue Jays to call on Pompey.
Alen Hanson is out-of-options and will serve as the Pirates’ pinch-runner/pinch-hitter, waiting for an opening in the starting lineup. The 24-year-old may never fulfill the potential he showed as a highly-ranked prospect, but the speedster has stolen at least 38 bags in two straight years.
The Phillies had the second-worst on-base percentage in the majors last season. Roman Quinn gets on base, and when he gets on base, he wants to steal. The former second-rounder had a .361 OBP at Double-A in 2016 and then .373 OBP in his debut stint in the big leagues, with five stolen bases in just 15 games. He will start in the minors, but he is a big part of the Phillies’ outfield plans.
Michael Taylor has power and speed, and two 50+ SB seasons in the minors. Although until his plate discipline improves, the 25-year-old will not be able to hold down an everyday job in Washington with 73 OPS+. In 2016, he swiped 14 bags in just 237 plate appearances, so a 30 stolen base season is likely if he gets extended playing time.
Despite being five years younger than the average player in Double-A, Ozzie Albies excelled in 82 games with over 100 hits, 21 stolen bases and .858 OPS. He will reach the big leagues this season and the 20-year-old second baseman looks like a superstar-in-waiting.
Phil Ervin was a former first-round pick but fell off the prospect map. The 24-year-old has stolen at least 30 bags in three straight years and last season posted .362 OBP in Double-A with 65 walks to 88 strikeouts. He will start in the minors, but his skill set would look good in the lineup ahead of Joey Votto.
The Brewers, Padres, Diamondbacks and Reds all love to run. Target the players from these teams. The Indians led the AL in stolen base attempts but have lost Rajai Davis to the Athletics.
Avoid the Orioles. They only stole 19 bases last season and were caught on 13 occasions. The team with the worst success rate were the Cardinals, who were caught 26 times in 61 attempts.
Instead of using an early round pick on a 40-50 steal guy, use your later picks to draft two or three 15-20 steal players. You’ll draft a better player early and have more value late.