Players to Target for Stolen Bases (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Everyone seems to have the need for speed in today’s fantasy baseball world, but where can you find it? Steals are becoming harder and harder to come by. League-wide stolen bases have dropped by 17.5% between 2014 and 2019. In fact, the number of players with 20 steals has gone from 26 in 2014 down to 15 in 2019. Let’s take a look at where speed is going in drafts. Based on Steamer Projections, only 20 players are projected to steal 20 or more bases this year. Of those 20 players, 11 are being drafted inside the top 50 overall. That means you need to act early if you want to compete in the steals game. Part of the reason so maybe stolen base stalwarts are taken so early is due to their multi-categorical contributions. I’m going to skip those top-tier stolen base options inside of pick 50 because, let’s be honest, they are pretty obvious.
I’m going to break this article down into three sections. Players to target for speed between picks 50 and 100, between picks 101 and 200, and after pick 200. Any player with speed taken inside of pick 100 will need to provide value in several other categories in order to fulfill their proposed average draft position (ADP). As the draft moves along, speed becomes extremely scarce and the price for those players goes up. I’m here to help you find those players who aren’t just one dimensional. I’ll be referencing the National Fantasy Baseball Championships ADP since January 1st for all players.
Stolen base options between picks 50-100
Bo Bichette (SS- TOR): NFBC ADP 72
You can no longer wait on young players with very little major league experience anymore. In only 211 plate appearances (PA) at age-21, Bichette hit .311 with 11 home runs and four steals. As a fixture of the Blue Jays future, he should hit in the top third of the lineup this season. That’s fantastic as he’ll maximize the number of plate appearances. While his sprint speed is in the 83rd percentile, I will be focusing on home-to-first times via Baseball Savant (aka 90-foot-splits) after reading an interesting article by Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs. The 90-foot splits (aka home-to-first time) correlate better with stolen bases. This seems to make sense when you think about it. A player stealing a base will only run between 75 and 80 feet and may not reach his maximum sprint speed.
Fortunately, Bichette’s 90-foot split time is in the top 23% of all players. Let’s look at some names around him with similar home-to-first times: Mookie Betts, Lorenzo Cain, and Austin Meadows. That’s pretty good company. Steamer projects Bichette for 24 steals and he’s reached at least 20 steals in each of the last three seasons. Additionally, Bichette showed impressive power at such a young age so I’d expect 20-25 home runs as well making him a solid value at his current ADP.
Luis Robert (OF – CHW): NFBC ADP 87
Robert hasn’t played a single game above Triple-A and played just 47 games above Double-A in his young career. Nevertheless, his ADP is rising. He crushed 32 home runs and stole 36 bases across three levels in 2019 and the White Sox rewarded the talented outfielder with a $50 million extension. Similar to Bichette, Robert provides both power and speed and probably has a higher ceiling than Bichette. One concern I have is determining where Robert will hit in the stacked White Sox lineup. As of now, he’s likely batting eight or ninth limiting his opportunities. That being said, as long as his ADP doesn’t jump another 10-15 spots, he’s worth the pick given his 30 stolen base upside.
Stolen Base Options between picks 100-200
Oscar Mercado (OF – CLE): NFBC ADP 116
Mercado is extremely fast. His home-to-first time is 3.81 seconds which is in the top six percent of the league. He stole 29 bases across two levels last year and maxed out at 50 back in 2015. He profiles similar to that of Victor Robles but is going 50 picks later with. He’s locked in as the two-hole hitter for the Indians so counting stats should not be an issue hitting between Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Steamer projects him for 23 steals but I’ll be taking the over on that total. He was efficient on the bases last year and I think he’ll receive more green lights in his sophomore campaign. He should finish somewhere between 25-30 stolen bases this season. He makes a perfect third outfielder, just check out my recent mock draft.
Elvis Andrus (SS – TEX): NFBC ADP 135
The 31-year-old feels like he’s been around forever. He’s entering his 12th year and is coming off a season where he stole 31 bases. Given the scarcity of steals, I can’t understand why he’s going around pick 135 in drafts? A recent report discussed how Andrus had lost 10 pounds in order to help improve his performance and prolong his career. Despite his well below-average offensive performance (76 wRC+) he still managed to provide value for fantasy owners. The 31 steals were his most since 2013. His success rate was solid at 79.5% but his home-first time was lagging at 4.06 seconds which ranked near the 50th percentile. Shedding the weight could mean a quicker first step and even more stolen bases for Andrus in 2020. Because of his poor performance in 2019, his lock to play every day could be in jeopardy but after the top shortstops are taken, he’s worth the gamble.
Byron Buxton (OF – MIN): NFBC ADP 165
Make no mistake, selecting Buxton at any point in the draft is a risk given his injury history and inconsistent play. However, when he’s on the field, few players have swiped bags with a higher success rate. He’s managed 60 career steals on just 68 attempts, good for an 88% success rate. His 90-foot split of 3.74 seconds is tied for second-best in MLB with Treat Turner. Only Adalberto Mondesi is faster from home-to-first. Buxton cut his strikeout rate by seven percentage points from his career 29.8% which means more potential opportunities on the base paths. While I don’t expect him to maintain all of his contact gains, it’s clearly a step in the right direction. He’s always a health risk but if he could stay on the field he could reward owners with the first 30-steal season of his career.
Stolen base options after pick 200
I won’t be covering Mallex Smith or Dee Gordon here because I don’t feel they provide much value given their shortcomings. They are extremely one-dimensional, may struggle to find everyday at-bats, and risk hitting below .250.
Jon Berti (SS/3B/OF – MIA): NFBC 259
As of now, Jon Berti is a man without a set position. The good news for potential owners is that he’s eligible everywhere and the Marlins are nearly the void of talent on the major league roster. Berti broke out in the second half of 2019 at age-29 carrying some fantasy teams to victory thanks in part to stealing 16 bases over the final two months. The dude is fast. Among players with at least 25 home-to-first times, Berti ranked eighth at 3.78 seconds. As of now, Roster Resource lists Lewis Brinson to start in centerfield and Isan Diaz is expected to be the strongside platoon at second base. I think those two positions are where Berti receives the most playing time. The ATC Projections have Berti pegged for 21 steals in 99 games. If his path to playing time improves, he could be a dark horse to reach 30 steals in 2020.
Cesar Hernandez (2B – CLE): NFBC ADP 272
The move to Cleveland will likely limit his opportunities to hit in the top third of the lineup thanks to a pretty stacked top half of the Indians batting order. Outside of 2019, Hernandez was an on-base machine posting a .350+ OBP each of the previous three seasons with walk rates north of 10% in all three years. Last year, he became more aggressive at the plate and ran at a lower frequency. Part of the issue was team philosophy with Gabe Kapler and the Phillies. Aggressiveness on the base paths will not be an issue in Cleveland and Hernandez is still speedy with a home-to-first time inside the top-10%. I could very easily see him swipe 15-18 bases in 2020 with upside from there.
Nick Madrigal (2B – CHW): NFBC ADP 285
Madrigal is not expected to start the season with the White Sox. However, the South Siders are putting all their chips in to win now and will be running out Leury Garcia at second base to start the season. Garcia is projected for 0.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) which makes second base a weak spot for the young White Sox. Madrigal has been slapped with 70-grade speed (out of a possible 80) and struck out a total of 16 times in 2019 compared to 44 walks! All he does is put bat to ball. He’ll hit for a good average and get on base providing ample opportunities to steal once he’s called up to the big show. I expect he’ll be called up sometime in May and could provide 20 steals in the final four-plus months of the 2020 season.
Niko Goodrum (2B/SS/OF – DET): NFBC ADP 292
Goodrum is another Swiss Army Knife who can play just about anywhere. He’s a nice last round option to complete your roster. He’s surprisingly fast posting home-to-first times inside the top 15% of the league. As a switch-hitter, he’s slated to start at shortstop and hit second for Detroit. The Tigers roster is shallow, so it’s not like he’s going to provide massive counting stats. That being said, batting second in any lineup should net him over 600 PA. He’s stolen 12 bases each of the last two seasons but failed to reach 500 PA in either year. Goodrum is a solid bet to reach a new career-high in stolen bases which will play given his mid-teens power. He’s not a sexy pick but you don’t have to squint too hard to envision a 20-20 season if everything falls his way.
Josh Rojas (OF – ARI): NFBC ADP 500
Here’s your deep league dark horse for stolen bases. If you don’t know Rojas, get to know him because he could be a factor down the stretch in 2020. He’s a former Astros prospect who played mostly as a middle infielder. He was traded to the Diamondbacks where there’s a better opportunity to play and should get looks in the outfield. He’s not a one-trick pony either smashing 25 homers and stealing 37 bases across three levels (Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB). He needs to be owned in all NL-Only formats but deep mixed leagues with deep benches should give him a look. The acquisition of Starling Marte muddies the waters a bit but if he receives everyday at-bats, he could hit 15+ homers and steal 20-25 bases.