Having had the privilege of competing in the CBS Expert Leagues the past couple of years, I started my auction prep-work around this time each year, since those leagues typically auction in February. Along with my research on relievers, as I referenced in my Fantasy Freestyle article from last week, I also spend quite a bit of time trying to identify speed options that might be undervalued come draft day.
As I headed into the AL-Only 5×5 CBS Expert League auction this past year, I went in with a strategy to get either Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout at my sheet prices, buy Masahiro Tanaka at my sheet price, fill out my MI with fantasy-producing starters, and then figure out the rest as I went along. Well, I got Cabrera and Tanaka early as well as some solid middle infielders, and then focused my energy on getting a couple of speed guys, so I would not have to chase stolen bases later in the auction and overpay. The way the dynamics of the auction room played out, I was able to sit back and grab Rajai Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and Craig Gentry for a combined $5. No, that is not a misprint… that was a $5 investment that resulted in 92 stolen bases and $53 in earnings, or a $48 ROI, and I ran away (no pun intended) with the steals category in the league. For some reason, I have found over the years that there is not a lot love for these “one-trick ponies” despite the value they provide. As such, I always target and snatch these fantasy gems.
As Mike Gianella wrote in his Retrospective Player Valuation piece on AL hitters from November 11th, category scarcity has increased the value of stolen bases in the AL. Even part-time players now can make a big impact on your team in terms of the SB category. For example, Dyson earned $17 in AL-Only 5×5 formats in just 260 at-bats and Gentry earned $10 in 232 ABs. Between time spent in Atlanta and Minnesota last season, Jordan Schafer swiped 30 bags in 210 ABs and cracked double-digit earnings. While not a highly touted prospect, James Jones was able to scratch out 27 steals for the Mariners in 312 ABs, bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and Seattle. So even though these players can be unappreciated, they can win you fantasy championships.
Yes, Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts of the Red Sox and the Twins’ Danny Santana are already being talked about in fantasy circles as hot AL-Only stolen-base targets for 2015, but heed my advice: Do not overpay! There are other viable options for stolen bases that will come at a fraction of the cost and still satisfy your fantasy team’s need for speed.
Aside from the players I have mentioned already in this piece (who should still get the love due to them), here are a few more potential AL-Only speed plays you might want to target in the end game of your respective drafts, or keep on your radars for mid-season FAAB buys.
Micah Johnson, White Sox
A ninth-round pick in 2012 out of Indiana University, Johnson has moved up quickly in the White Sox organization. He opened eyes when he stole 84 bases in 2013, and while he did not steal nearly as many last year, he jumped two levels and still stole 22 bases between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He has the bat, so if he can improve his defense, he could be seeing plenty of time at second base on the South Side this season and steal some bases.
Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays
Like Johnson, Pompey has risen quickly through the ranks and went from High-A ball last year all the way to the majors for a late season audition with Toronto. The Canadian native stole 38 bases in 2013 and 43 more last year over three levels of the minors. Even after the acquisition of Michael Saunders, Pompey has a great chance to make the Blue Jays out of spring training and be an important part of their outfield in 2015.
Jake Marisnick, Astros
Full disclosure: I am a Marisnick believer. To me, he has the tools to be a fantasy stud with the skills he possesses. Solely from a speed perspective, he stole 119 bases in 466 games in the minors, including 35 steals last year split between Triple-A and his time with the Marlins and Astros. His defense is going to keep him in the lineup and he has 20-25-steal potential if he can stay healthy.
Billy Burns, A’s
Acquired last offseason by the A’s for Jerry Blevins, speed and defense are his calling cards. Burns does not possess the skills to be an everyday player in the big leagues, but he can certainly provide value because of his speed. Burns stole 179 bases—while only being caught 23 times—in 385 career minor-league games. He stole three bases in just six PA’s with A’s in two stints with the team in July and September as primarily a pinch-runner. With the A’s OF situation, Burns could see enough playing time to have stolen base value.
Jonathan Villar, Astros
Villar was the Opening Day shortstop for the Astros in 2014 following a solid showing after his call-up in 2013, but struggled mightily and was sent back down to the minors to the chagrin of his fantasy owners. Villar should not be forgotten…. he will still turn just 24 years old next May, and the Astros need a reliable placeholder at SS until Carlos Correa is ready. In addition to Villar’s 35 steals in 145 games with Houston over parts of the past two years, here are his stolen-base numbers in the minors the past five seasons:
- 2010: 45 steals
- 2011: 34 steals
- 2012: 39 steals
- 2013: 31 steals
- 2014: 24 steals
He was called back up in September, and sported much better numbers than what he did before his demotion, putting up a .263/.333/.421 slash line. Even if the speedy Villar splits time with Marwin Gonzalez at shortstop, he will provide the steals to help any fantasy team.
Anthony Gose, Tigers
After posting 271 stolen bases in the minors, and 34 more over parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays, the former top prospect was dealt to the Tigers this offseason. Gose could earn a platoon spot in the Tigers outfield next year, and if so, he will steal enough bases to provide value in AL-Only leagues.
Sam Fuld, A’s
Fuld was able rack up 20 steals in a season for the second time in his career in 2014, as he split time between Minnesota and Oakland. Fuld has proven to be a nice utility player, able to play all three OF positions, and he should see enough playing time to be a 15-20-SB player.
Tony Campana, White Sox
The White Sox signed the speedy Campana to a minor-league contract last month with an invitation to spring training. If Campana can stick as a fifth outfielder and be a pinch-hitter/pinch-runner off the bench, he could see enough time to prove worthy of a fantasy roster spot. Don’t forget, he stole 24 and 30 bases in 2011 and 2012, respectively, in only 317 ABs.
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