While balance is the key to roto-style leagues, sometimes we can’t resist grabbing mega-talented players that fall. Typically, the category that gets overlooked or dries up the fastest is stolen bases. It’s becoming somewhat of a unicorn stat as we continue to see the number of stolen bases decline year after year. In 2021, there were 2213 stolen bases, which is nearly 300 fewer than in 2015. With the category depleting, strategies change, and players who steal bases get pushed up draft boards. The scarcity makes roster construction very challenging if you’re someone that drafts power first.
We will be identifying stolen base targets going later in drafts for this piece. To help, the targets have been narrowed down by league size (12-team, 15-team, and draft and holds). My suggestion would not be to look at the targets as a list, but rather players who can steal a few bases. Furthermore, drafting players that only steal bases is not a savvy move. Yes, prioritize the steals because you need them and look for a solid batting average or some home run potential.
Lastly, the main factors are playing time, sprint speed, and track record. Stolen bases are complicated to predict, so finding players with a decent handle on a starting role, speed, and an aggressive style on the basepaths will lead you down the right path. Enjoy!
Harrison Bader (ADP: 222)
Bader has been one of the youthful St. Louis prospects looking to lock down a spot in the outfield. However, one thing that will bode well for him is his excellent defense. His stout play in center field should earn him as much playing time as Bader’s body will allow. The playing time expectation should be somewhere in the range of 500-600 plate appearances, which will be much higher than any other season.
Bader has never really shown a propensity to swipe bags from a pure stolen base perspective. In fact, 15 was the most stolen bases in a single season, and that was back in 2015-but that was only in 427 PAs. Remember, with some playing time concerns behind him; an extra 180-plus plate appearances could help result in quite a few more opportunities.
Lastly, Bader is quite fast, like, top-end talent fast. While sprint speed is not the end-all-be-all for deriving stolen bases, it sure does play a factor in hunting them down. Baders’ 29.5 ft/sec puts him in the top 3% of MLB players. But what should also draw interest is his ability to suppress the strikeouts. At age 27, this could be the year we finally see his potential come together.
Stolen Base Expectations: 12-15 SBs
Josh Rojas (ADP: 224)
Rojas should start Opening Day as the Diamondbacks leadoff hitter. Furthermore, he spent 329 of his 484 ABs batting first, and there aren’t many viable options on the roster to take that spot away. In 2021, Rojas took swings in 550 PAs in roughly 139 games. If Rojas continues his solid play, we could be looking at another batter pushing 600-plus plate appearances of playing time.
Unlike Bader, Rojas doesn’t showcase as pure of a speed component. Heck, his 27.6 ft/sec sprint speed is closer to the middle of the road, and the average sprint speed in the MLB is 27.0 ft/sec. However, Rojas showed us in the minors that swiping bases is in his toolbox. In 2018, across multiple levels, he stole 38 bases, and again, in 2019, Rojas swiped 24 bags. And in 2021, he was green-lighted 13 times, which led to nine.
A leadoff hitter with a desire to take a stolen base? And with several positions of eligibility(2B/SS/OF)? After pick 200? Yes, yes, and yes. Sign me up.
Stolen Base Expectations: 10-15 SBs
Jonathan Villar (ADP: 260)
Villar is a wild card play between the trio. Being an unsigned player has caused his current draft day stock to take a small dive because we cannot project playing time. And with a player like Villar’s profile, the amount of playing time will play a significant factor in his stolen base output. Until things shake out, drafting him is a wait-and-see spot that could leave you holding your breath.
If you’re drafting solely on the desire to steal bases, Villar is the play for you. Since Villar’s 2013 debut, he’s stolen 232 bases with a high of 62 in 2016. Yes, we are a long way away from then, but the intent is a major factor in finding steals. Furthermore, let’s scale it to just the previous two seasons (2020 & 2021). Villar attempted 46 stolen bases in 712 plate appearances, roughly one attempt every 15.5 plate appearances. At his career 77% SB success rate, if he can amass 500 plate appearances, that would be lead to 32 stolen bases.
Those power-early drafters need to put Villar into heavy consideration. He can make up ground quickly in a hard-to-find category, but it’s likely going to come with a bunch of risks. The question is, how risk-averse are you?
Stolen Base Expectations: 10-20 SBs
David Fletcher (ADP: 323)
Fletcher’s profile is pretty evident at this point in his career. He has an above league-average batting average with flashes of speed and a nothing burger in the power category. Take a glance at his spray chart below and it’s obvious that his modus operandi is to push spray singles to the opposite fields and pull very few pitches for power. And he’s only had three barrels in over 1800 plate appearances. So, batting average, runs, and stolen bases are about what you can expect.
The question is, how many stolen bases can Fletcher get? Well, he set a new career-high with 15 in 2021. All those stolen bases came on a robust 665 PAs, the 20th most among all batters. Basically, 15 is likely the absolute ceiling for Fletcher, and he had to accumulate a ton of playing time to get there. Can he do it again? Most certainly, except there is a smaller range of outcomes.
Stolen Base Expectations: 12-15 SB
Miguel Rojas (ADP: 326)
There is something that the Miami Marlins desperately need to improve on for 2022-getting on base. The unit combined for a .298 OBP, which was second to last, only behind Texas. And that’s where Rojas steps in. His .334 OBP over the previous three seasons should cement him atop that Marlins offense. Additionally, he touts a K% south of 14% for the seventh consecutive season.
Here is where things get tricky since Rojas is sub-par in the speed factor. His 26.6 ft/sec sprint speed is below league average and puts him in the 41st percentile among qualified players. However, Rojas has been far more aggressive on the basepaths recently. In his last 1208 PAs, he’s stolen 25 bases and was only caught nine times, which works out to a 75.7% success rate. Rojas might not have the WOW factor, but he’s going to swipe double-digits steals and be a perfect MI/bench bat.
Stolen Base Expectations: 10-15 SBs
Bradley Zimmer (ADP: 431)
The Guardians have an interesting MLB roster. On the one hand, Zimmer could start every day, and on the other, he could struggle to find an everyday role. So it isn’t easy to lock down just how many plate appearances he could compile. Zimmer is a strong-side platoon in the most likely scenario because he wallops right-hand pitching. However, his career 62 wRC+ against southpaws and 59 wRC+ in 2020 means significant gains would need to be made to be an everyday player.
But don’t get too perturbed by the potential lack of full-time plate appearances. Zimmer was still widely successful in a limited role during the 2020 season (15 SB in only 299 PAs). Additionally, Cleveland has been one of those teams that like to wreak havoc on the basepaths. The Guardians swiped 109 bases in 2021, good enough for the third-most in the MLB.
Due to the erratic nature of Zimmer’s playing time and hyper-aggressive style on the basepaths, his expectation will be more comprehensive than more.
Stolen Base Expectations: 8-16 SBs
Kevin Kiermaier (ADP: 535)
Kiermaier has been a popular name in the trade rumor circles. A member of the Tampa Bay organization, Kiermaier is a much better real-life baseball player than fantasy. Although, the one category that really sticks out from a fantasy perspective is his stolen base upside. We’ve seen a 20-plus stolen base season, and the Rays CF has a blistering 29.2 ft/sec sprint speed. There are a bunch of unknowns at this point, but the skies are the limit as he gets more opportunities.
Stolen Base Expectations: 10-15 SBs
Victor Reyes (ADP: 591)
This offseason, Reyes has been tearing up the winter league in Venezuela (32 games, 16 XBH with .302 BA). This recent performance could pique Detroit’s interest and give him some run on the MLB roster. Much like Keirmaier, playing time will be extremely difficult to project. However, he’s got electric sprint speed and is very aggressive on the basepaths. Reyes could provide a massive return at next to zero draft cost for a bench outfielder.
Stolen Base Expectations: 5-10 SBs
Elvis Andrus (ADP: 593)
After pick 500, you rarely find a player that should be locked into as much playing time as Andrus. Oakland appears to be in tear-down mode and looking to move some core pieces. It’s hard to imagine Oakland moving Andrus because while his contract is $14MM in 2022, Texas is paying about half. Additionally, if he gets traded, the 2023 club option of $15MM will turn into a player option (per his contract). Given the rapid decline in skills, the market surely won’t be interested.
Although, if you can stomach lackluster power, Andrus swiped 12 of 14 bags in 2021 and 31 in 2019. Sure, he has flaws and holes, but at this draft cost, you’ll make it up in the correct category.
Stolen Base Expectations: 10-12 SBs
*ADPs are from NFBC from Dec 15- Jan 15
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)