You know the drill by now. We’re in the middle of our Fantasy Categorical Breakdown series and I’m here to polish off the stolen base category. J.P. Breen covered the league-wide drop in steals on Monday and George
stole a couple of my guys gave you standard mixed league over- and under-achievers yesterday. Today we’ll cover deeper league performers. Off we go.
The Quick Hit Jumpers
Phillips stole seven bases in 2013 and 2014 combined, so suffice it to say 23 swipes in his age-34 season was a surprise. That was Phillips’ highest raw total since 2009 and his 88.5 percent success rate was his best since 2006. Nearly half of Phillips’ 2015 at-bats came from the leadoff spot and assuming he isn’t dealt from the rebuilding Reds, he should find himself back in the top third of the order. Phillips finished as a top five second baseman in 2015, so he might be an odd choice to lead off a deep-league column, but he was drafted outside the top 20 and I assume most owners will fade his 2015 performance heavily come 2016 draft season. Expecting a repeat performance is unwise but a steal total in the mid-teens is achievable.
Kiermaier recorded the 12th-highest center-field FRAA in history in 2015 and that made him one of the most fun players in baseball to watch. But we’re here to talk about steals and Kiermaier had 18 of those, more than tripling his 2014 total. The steals accounted for most of his overall fantasy value and had him barely outside the top 50 fantasy outfielders despite the fact that the rest of his offensive game took a step backwards. If he can get his OBP back up above .300 and reclaim a spot near the top of the order, Kiermaier’s recent history and minor league track record indicate he should be good for 12-15 going forward.
Marisnick’s 24 steals were the 17th-highest output in baseball, and he achieved that despite racking up far fewer plate appearances than everyone ahead of him, save Jarrod Dyson. Preston Tucker’s unexpected adequacy and the arrival of Carlos Gomez at the trade deadline made for a crowded outfield. That, combined with Marisnick’s cooling off after a torrid April resulted in a part-time role through most of the summer. All of that quality depth figures to remain on Houston’s 25-man, but Marisnick’s glove is excellent and should get him penciled in often enough to make an impact for deep-league owners in need of speed.
The Interesting Cases
Villar was traded to the Brewers fresh off his best offensive season to date, albeit in only 128 plate appearances. He’ll probably find the field most days because of his ability to play all over the dirt, and he’ll be an interesting gamble for fantasy owners who can stomach the batting average risk for the potential speed payoff. Villar owns 42 career stolen bases in what equates to a little more than one full season’s worth of plate appearances and has also been prolific in the minor leagues, never stealing fewer than 34 over a full season. The triple-slash line is probably going to be ugly but if Villar can hit just enough to get in the lineup with regularity, he’ll return deep-league value with his wheels alone.
After a strong first half in Triple-A, Marte was called up on the last day of July and quickly became the Mariners’ everyday shortstop and table-setter. Marte played the entire season at age 21, which makes the fact that he carried his Triple-A success over to the majors even more impressive. His stolen base output slipped from 20 in 65 Triple-A games to eight in 57 major league games, but given his track record, there’s not much to worry about here. Marte stole 29 across two levels in 2014 and 20 in 2013. With Brad Miller shipped off to Tampa and Chris Taylor unable to get any traction in Seattle, the job is Marte’s to lose. Given his age and success at every stop, Marte should be a solid three-category contributor going forward, with his biggest impact likely to come in steals.
Saladino got his first taste of the majors in 2015, when the White Sox mercifully relieved Gordon Beckham of his starting spot. Saladino played a solid third base in Beckham’s stead and he managed eight steals in 254 plate appearances even though his bat underwhelmed. Prior to the promotion, Saladino stole 25 bases in just 52 Triple-A games, adding to a minor league resume that included 38-steal and 28-steal campaigns. He also has extensive experience at shortstop and with the White Sox recently declining Alexei Ramirez’s option, both spots on the left side are there for the taking. Saladino lacks the ideal pop for the corner but has the glove for either and his versatility—he’s played some second, too—means he should play most days. You don’t have to squint to see 20 steals here.
2015 was a successful rookie season for Realmuto, who was pressed into full time duty when Jarrod Saltalamacchia was unexpectedly designated for assignment in early May. What sets Realmuto apart from his positional peers is his ability to steal a few bases. And I’m not talking about a fluky Nick Hundley thing, I mean honest to goodness athleticism from a former shortstop and quarterback. Realmuto’s eight steals led all catchers and while I don’t expect he’ll get to 20 like Russell Martin did in his young years, he does have more athleticism that is customary among backstops. Realmuto averaged 13 steals per year his four years in the minors, including 18 steals in Double-A as recently as 2014. Realmuto got on base at a .369 clip that season and if he’s able to move his walk rate up from the paltry 4.1 percent he recorded in his major=league debut, he’ll tally double-digit steals.
Center Fielder, Atlanta Braves
I’ll be honest, I had no idea Michael Bourn stayed healthy enough to play in 141 games and steal 17 bases until I started research for this piece. Atlanta’s center-field job looks like it’s his at the moment but the Braves may continue purging major leaguers from their organization, which would leave two options in center. The first is Eury Perez, who has some experience in center but is probably better suited for a corner- or fourth-outfielder spot. In Gwinnett. But if he makes it to Atlanta, there is some speed upside. Perez stole 28 bases in only 64 Triple-A games in 2015 and 20 in 57 games the year prior. I don’t believe Perez is an everyday major leaguer, even on this team.
That leaves Mallex Smith, an electric 22-year-old with top-of-the-scale speed. Smith swiped 57 bases in 2015, with his season almost evenly split between Double-A and Triple-A. More importantly, his stick took enough of a step forward against advanced competition that he’ll be pushing for a big league trial by mid-summer, if not before. Smith has enough patience that a top of the order assignment isn’t out of the question and with a full complement of at-bats, he could be among the league leaders in steals.
Second Baseman, Philadelphia Phillies
Cesar Hernandez became a regular and top-of-the-order hitter when the Phillies’ geriatric incumbent was sidelined with an ankle injury. Despite success stealing bases in the minors, Hernandez stole only one base in 256 big league plate appearances prior to 2015. It might have been surprising, then, that Hernandez managed 19 steals before his season was cut short by a dislocated thumb. Acquired in the Utley deal, Darnell Sweeney took most of the keystone reps following Hernandez’s injury and he too offers plenty of speed. Sweeney stole 32 bases in Triple-A prior to the trade and has a 48-steal season on his resume. These guys would both make better utility-men than full time starters but someone has to take the bulk of the job. Whichever one emerges will be a cheap source of speed.
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