The Risers

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

Here we are, leading off a categorical deep dive with a player who, on average, was the third player off the board in 2016 drafts. I’m sure you don’t want to hear it if you invested that first round pick in Harper but for the rest of us, it is important to remember that the reigning NL MVP’s 2016 fantasy value was buoyed by his stolen base total. His 21 bags were good for top-20 at his position and represent a new career high. There are plenty of reasons to wonder whether Harper will continue to run; there was speculation that he played through nagging injuries last season, and the team might prefer he sacrifice some baserunning value in the name of preventative health. Harper himself might decide the same if he wants to put some injury questions to bed while rehabbing his earning potential for what will be a gargantuan payday in 2019 either way. Despite the relatively high raw number of steals, Harper was below average by stolen base runs by virtue of being thrown out in 10 of 31 attempts. All that said, Harper is squarely in his physical prime and Dusty Baker’s hiring did result in the Nats flip-flopping extremes on the larceny leaderboard. If you think Harper established a new baseline in the range of 15 steals, even a mild rebound at the plate makes Harper a safe, well-rounded cornerstone with obvious upside to be fantasy’s highest earner.

Eduardo Nunez, SS/3B, San Francisco Giants

Nunez stole 22 bases as a 24-year-old rookie in 2011, then swiped only 38 more over the next four seasons combined as a part-time player for the Yankees and Twins. In a full-time role in 2016, he trailed only Jonathan Villar and Jean Segura in fantasy value at the six spot. George Bissell discussed the benefit of the high-volume thief in his overview of the category, and you needn’t look any further than the fact that a triumvirate of speed-first shortstops out-earned all the names at the fore of the position’s current golden age; Correa and Seager, Bogaerts and Lindor, even Manny Machado all fell short of Eduardo Nunez. Roto is a strange game sometimes. I’d take all of them and several more before I pop Nunez in 2017, primarily because I don’t believe he can repeat what he did with the bat. The stolen bases should be there though. Nunez likely won’t get the chance to lead off like he did in Minnesota, but he’ll play most days at the hot corner. If he continues to cut it loose on pitches in the zone at the rate he did in 2016, Nunez’s above-average bat-to-ball ability should allow for enough opportunity to finish north of 20 steals again.

Hernan Perez, 3B/OF, Milwaukee Brewers

You’re probably aware that Jonathan Villar’s 62 swipes led baseball, and Wilson Karaman educated you on Keon Broxton a couple days ago. If they weren’t evidence enough that the Brewers ran wild in 2016, I give you Perez’s 34 steals – sixth most in baseball – as further proof. Though Perez was an effective base stealer throughout his minor league career, he stole just five bases in nearly 300 plate appearances in 2015 and began 2016 in Colorado Springs. Perez didn’t get his shot until Scooter Gennett was disabled in in late April, and he availed himself of continued opportunities by hitting much more than anyone could have reasonably projected while playing every non-battery position. That positional flexibility will be key to Perez’s ability to come anywhere near 20-plus steals again, as I think he’ll be something more like a traditional utility man for a re-tooling Brewers squad with a healthy Domingo Santana and Orlando Arcia up for good. More than playing time, I’m concerned about the number of times Perez will find himself on first base in 2017 given his refusal to take a walk and some batting average correction coming as a result of below-average contact ability and a batted ball distribution that skews a tad towards fly balls.

The Interesting Cases

Jose Peraza, SS, Cincinnati Reds

There aren’t a whole bunch of former top-100 prospects who hold their own with the bat as 22-year-old rookie, play up the middle, and pace for 40-plus steals over a full season that go unnoticed, but it feels like that’s where we are with Peraza. Not sure the reason. Because he played in Cincinnati? Because two teams recently traded him in a sixth month span? Whatever the case, he’s setting up to be a fantastic value proposition late in 2017 drafts for those who need to address stolen bases and can afford to take a zero in the power department. The arguments against him are murky path to consistent playing time and the poor base-stealing efficiency he showed in both Triple-A and the majors last season. On the former, Peraza can play all over the place, there’s no reason for the Reds to enter 2017 with Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart on the roster, and they’re reportedly open to moving Billy Hamilton. More problematic is the fact that Peraza was thrown out 17 times in 48 tries in 2016. That’s a good way to get the red light, but I’ll bet on improvement based on a minor league track record that includes efficient success at the higher levels and his place on the development curve.

J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins

You didn’t think I was gonna let you out of here without mentioning my guy Realmuto did you? I suspected he would be an adequate 2016 backstop because of his good-not-great all-around game and the fact that he was an cinch to finish atop the position in stolen bases. Indeed, he stole 12 to the lead all catchers. Six of those came out of the leadoff slot, a position on the card he occasionally occupied during Dee Gordon’s suspension. Realmuto is more athletic than you’d guess and should be the easy favorite to repeat as the position’s steals leader, even after accounting for some coming batting average regression and a slide back down the batting order. With the muted impact of homers in today’s game, Realmuto remains one of my targets after the first few names come off the board. I’ll happily bank that speed instead of settling for any number of middle class batting average liabilities with power.

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