(photo by Stephen Hopson/Icon Sportswire)
Theft. Thievery. Crookery. Burglary. Pilferage. Straight up taking.
Only here, in this wonderful game, is stealing revered rather than admonished.
We all know about the standouts – the players drafted in the higher rounds for their steals prowess – Trea Turner, Dee Gordon, Starling Marte, Jean Segura. They are well-known bandits with flames on their feet and greed in their hearts. Fleet-footed-felonists.
But there lies a seedy underbelly of under-appreciated rustlers. Some of them have been stealing for years yet go mostly unnoticed (Rajai!). And some are new to the craft – speedy swindlers who are yet to emerge on the scene (Braxton Lee!).
What follows is a lawful notice about those in the shadows: stolen base sources owned in fewer than 30% of leagues.
There is a decent chance you’ve never heard of Braxton Lee. He is owned in fewer than 1% of fantasy leagues and plays for the Triple-A affiliate known as the Miami Marlins. MLB Pipeline ranked him the 17th prospect in their system – twelve spots behind his name rival Braxton Garrett. He isn’t a name you hear in dynasty discussions, and most of the hits Google News churns up are local to Miami. And yet… when I watch Braxton Lee play I see the following traits:
- An unconventional, short-to-the-ball swing.
Wicked bat speed.
A complete devotion to contact rather than power.
He reminds me a bit of Jacoby Ellsbury, and he is everything we hope Jeren Kendall will become, but with less power (Kendall is currently hitting .167 with zero stolen bases and 16 strikeouts in 8 games). Despite his lack of notoriety, Lee’s raw tools compare favorably to Ellsbury. Via MLB Pipeline:
Hit tool – 50 | Power – 30 | Speed – 70 | Field – 60 | Arm – 55
In total, that’s an above-average Major League Player. For comparison, highly touted speedster Jorge Mateo graded out as:
Hit tool – 50 | Power – 45 | Speed – 80 | Field – 60 | Arm – 55
As a sum total, Lee has 265 scouting points, only 25 fewer than Mateo’s 290. When you consider that Mateo is a coveted dynasty asset and Lee is an unknown and unhyped quantity, that’s a minimal difference. Another difference is that Mateo is working his way through the minors, and Braxton Lee is here now. Warning: Lee has 17 MLB at-bats this year. In 12-team mixed leagues, he is someone to keep an eye on, rather than someone to promptly add.
While Lee’s 70-grade speed is deserved, he hasn’t been an efficient base stealer. In his Minor League career, Lee has a SB:CS ratio of 68:45. That’s not pretty (he keeps setting off the home security alarm!) But I like Lee not just for the speed, but for his hit tool and on-base skills. While his stolen base rates have suffered, his OBP has not. In 2017 Lee had a stellar .395 OBP in 127 games, which included 43 multi-hit games. Unfortunately, that .395 number was higher than his pedestrian .364 Slugging Percentage, but I see considerable untapped potential with the bat. He doesn’t try to do too much, and he slaps lasers all over the field. He’s an acquired taste, but there’s a homeless man’s Ichiro in there somewhere. This swing is the epitome of Lee:
Outlook: Lee’s playing time outlook is unclear, but with players like Caleb Smith and Jarlin Garcia getting opportunities, and uber-prospect Lewis Brinson swinging a pool noodle (3 for his last 36), it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance. He isn’t a power threat, but he possesses 30+ steal speed, strong on-base skills, and a considerably better hit tool than the one-dimensional Jarrod Dyson, Terrence Gore rabbits. In deeper leagues (16+ teams), the time to add him is now.
Owned in only 12% of leagues, Mallex Smith oozes fantasy potential, but Tampa’s management treats him like Chinaware – rarely used, and only in select circumstances. It’s befuddling and aggravating, and if you’re anything like me, you have added, dropped, then re-added Mallex many times during his short and odd career.
Between you and me: I think he’s better than Billy Hamilton. Way better.
First off, Mallex Smith can fly. He is one of those rare players so gifted with speed and athleticism, his presence on the field truly impacts the game. His aggressive leadoffs raise the blood pressure of opposing pitchers, and he drives the ball to all fields – turning doubles into triples in style. Mallex Smith is the Rapunzel of baseball – a special individual whose overprotective stepmother won’t let him out of the house. So he toils away, while hopeful suitors like me eagerly anticipate the day he is released or escapes.
Smith’s athleticism and wiry strength lend itself to a bit more power than you’d expect at first glance, but he’s best off incorporating a slap-heavy approach like burgeoning Florida legend Braxton Lee. Because when Mallex whacks one in the gap, he flies.
Despite the feeling that he’s been shuffled from team-to-team for a decade, Mallex Smith is only 24. If you’re looking for statistical evidence of Smith’s upside, look no further than his Minor League numbers (1737 at-bats): 251 stolen bases in 320 attempts (78% success rate), 25 triples, and a stellar .376 OBP. He’ll never be an across-the-board monster like Mookie Betts, but he has the tools to be a superior version of Delino Deshields, or in a best-case scenario: a modern Kenny Lofton.
Smith has three or more at-bats in five of the last eight games, a sign that has playing time is trending up. If you are hurting for swipes, or play in a moderately deep 5-outfielder league, I’d give Mallex Smith a look. If he taps into his potential, he will be one of the premiere waiver grabs of the year. And if everything goes right, one day, he might even be as transcendent as Braxton Lee.