Players to Target for Steals (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Every year when it comes to steals, there are a few owners left in the dust. As the draft comes to a close, they find themselves scrambling to balance out their roster after missing out on the top stolen base guys. In Head to Head leagues, steals aren’t as valuable, but in Roto, coming in last or near the top can be the difference between winning it all or finishing in the middle of the pack.
Annually the hardest category to fill, it’s important to not only grab speed early but ideally pair it with some power. It’s usually a good plan to grab as many 5 category studs as you can in the first few rounds, so you’re not stuck with the one-trick ponies later, who drag you down in other areas. Yet seeing as many 5 tool guys go in the early rounds, if not the first, these players are really difficult to come by. However, this year, if you happen to miss out on the blue-chip players, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough who’ll be available later. These players will not only boost your stolen base totals but won’t hurt you much in the other departments. You likely won’t be the only one in on a few of these guys, though, so look to grab them a round or two earlier than their ADP, all depending on how desperate you are.
One other fact to consider is this season, with the NL DH still up in the air, some of the National League leadoff guys will take a slight hit to their value, specifically in RBI’s. Speed guys who bat at the top of the lineup in the AL will have a slight advantage. Of course, many will argue that with no DH, the NL will return to the “NL style of play,” i.e., running more often, but that hasn’t been the case in recent years. In fact, the AL has led in steals every year dating back to 2017. Batting with more guys on base and given more green lights makes the decision easier when choosing between evenly ranked AL vs. NL guys.
I’ve broken these speedy studs into three groups. The more obvious guys you’ll have to spend on early, the mid-round guys, and the ones you can grab late, sometimes in the final round of the draft. I’ve also included deep sleepers as well for those in the deepest of leagues or single league drafts. There are plenty of obvious players like Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Trea Turner, who I won’t be listing here because you don’t need me to tell you to draft those guys. Without further ado, here are some ideal targets for steals for the 2021 season.
Average Draft Position (ADP) referenced is FantasyPros consensus ADP
Adalberto Mondesi (SS – KC): Overall ADP 28
When discussing steals, no matter how obvious, one must start with Adalberto Mondesi. No one steals more often than the young Royals shortstop. Still only 25 years old after five years in the league, the biggest drawback on drafting Mondesi is that he has yet to play more than 102 MLB games in a single season. If he could ever stay healthy, you could be looking at upwards of 70 steals. His style of play is just so aggressive that it may be impossible. Nevertheless, his upside is through the roof and annually worth the gamble. Especially coming off of what he did at the end of last season and the fact that he played in 59 out of the possible 60 games.
After an exceptionally slow start where Mondi looked completely lost at the plate, he turned it around in September, where he hit .356 and belted 6 doubles, 2 triples, 6 home runs, and stole a ridiculous 16 stolen bases. That was over 24 games! He has 67 steals over the last two seasons (161 games), won’t kill you in any other category, and the Royals lineup has improved, which should up his run total.
He is currently being drafted 27th overall, but he’s the type of player, possibly the only player where if you’re lucky enough to get him, you really don’t have to think about steals much for the rest of the draft. That is, of course, if his style of play can keep him on the field. I like him more than a few of the pitchers going ahead of him and possibly even over Bo Bichette. With Mondesi, it’s all about risk versus reward, but if you want to forget about steals until the late rounds, grab him early.
Kyle Tucker (LF/RF/DH – HOU): Overall ADP 36
Tucker, currently going at the end of the third round, at first glance, may seem like a reach for the young outfielder, but with a projection close to 100/25/100/25, who could blame you for taking him as your third player in the draft? With a .349 wOBP, .303 BABIP, and only a 20% K rate, there’s even room for improvement on his .268 BA. He hit 58 home runs and stole 50 bags during 2018 and ’19 in AAA combined, with nearly a .300 BA, so it’s obvious what he’s capable of.
Coming into his third major league season, where hitters tend to flourish, Tucker will be a dynamic player who fills up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Batting somewhere near the middle or top of the order, the Astros second-best hitter from last year can be counted on for at least 20 steals, with a ceiling closer to 30. One other note to keep in mind is that he is rarely caught, demonstrated by his 13 SB’s out of 14 attempts over the last two seasons (70 games). That type of efficiency will only help his team’s willingness to let him run.
Dylan Moore (2B/3B/SS/LF/RF – SEA): Overall ADP 134
Some people are down on Moore this year as his advanced metrics say he’s in for regression. But as the old saying goes, if there’s one skill that doesn’t slump, it’s speed. On the one hand, if he’s able to somehow reproduce his production from last year, you’ve got yourself a massive steal at 129th overall. But if he does regress, especially in the BA department, you’re still looking at a 20/20 candidate with a low average who qualifies at almost any position. There’s a chance if he stumbles out of the gate that he could lose playing time to some of the M’s younger players, but he’s still worth the risk going in the 12th round or later.
Over 384 AB’s in the majors, Moore has produced 17 HR’s, 23 SB’s, 57 R’s and 45 RBI while batting .224 (.255 last season). And it’s not like he got extremely lucky either. His BABIP was .314, close to league average, and his K% was down to 27% (from 33% his rookie year), which isn’t great, but not that far off from league average either these days. He also gets hit by pitches often, helping his OBP, presenting even more stolen base opportunities. He has averaged nearly 1 stolen base attempt per every 10 AB’s over his 2-year career, and even though he gets caught a lot (only 5 last season), you have to like his willingness to run. He stole a bunch in the minor leagues as well, including over 40 successful swipes one season. And if there’s one thing we’ve seen out of Seattle, it is their eagerness to run. And why not? The Mariners, although they’re improving, still aren’t expected to contend. Under the same team management and philosophy, look for Seattle and company (especially Moore) to continue to run at will and possibly lead the AL once again in total stolen bases.
Andres Gimenez (2B/3B/SS – CLE): Overall ADP 192
Gimenez was a nice waiver wire pick up last season in fantasy leagues. It seemed like every time the Mets gave him an opportunity, he contributed. Eventually, Gimenez was rewarded with everyday at-bats and did not disappoint. The prime player leaving in the Francisco Lindor trade, the Indians got themselves a catalyst for the lineup who could leadoff and have the green light often. The recent resigning of Cesar Hernandez muddies the situation a bit, but even if Hernandez plays everyday, Gimenez will more than likely start over Amed Rosario (also coming over in the Lindor trade), especially against RHP. However, Hernandez .680 OPS against lefties last season and .641 in 2019 makes him no lock to play everyday either. I fully expect Gimenez to be in the starting lineup at least 5 to 6 times a week.
Where he bats in the order is another question. If Gimenez isn’t hitting near the top of the lineup, it will hurt his value and overall numbers slightly because Cleveland’s surrounding cast in the bottom half isn’t exactly oozing with talent. Some projections have him penciled in at 7th, but I tend to disagree. I think management will place the speedy shortstop in the two-hole for his ability to do so many things, leaving Jose Ramirez to bat third. This allows Josh Naylor to bat 7th and for the newly signed Eddie Rosario to bat 5th, protecting Franmil Reyes (4th). Placing more speed at the top with Hernandez, Gimenez, and Ramirez, batting 1, 2, 3, will reasonably be their best bet to maximize offensive production. But even if he does hit near the bottom of the order, while his other numbers may take a hit, his steal attempts could increase because the team will have less to lose if he gets caught.
Gimenez won’t hit for a ton of power, but he’ll easily steal 25 bases and put up decent numbers playing nearly every day. He ranks 24th in sprint speed according to Statcast, just above Mike Trout and the lightning-quick Cristian Pache. And the fact that he qualifies at SS, 2B, and 3B furthers his value, particularly in leagues that require a MI and CI. If everything goes his way, he could steal 30+ bags, select Gimenez before the draft reaches the 200’s.
Leody Taveras (CF – TEX): Overall ADP 238
If you miss out on Tapia, you should be able to score Taveras in the next round. He offers a bit more upside but lacks much of the track record. If Texas doesn’t add a center fielder between now and opening day, Taveras should garner everyday at-bats atop the scrappy Texas lineup. At only 22 years old and still filling out at 6’1″ 170 lbs, the Rangers top prospect offers good speed with some decent pop. Last season over his 119 AB’s, Taveras hit 4 home runs and stole 8 bases without being caught. His average suffered because of all the strikeouts, typical of young rookies, but he does earn his fair share of free passes, demonstrated by his 10.4 BB%, so he should continue to get on base. At the end of the draft, you’re looking for those unknown difference-makers, and with the possibility of grabbing 15 home runs along with 25 stolen bases, what do you have to lose?
Raimel Tapia (LF/CF/DH – COL): Overall ADP 257
Tapia has turned into the prototypical leadoff hitter for the Rocks, something they’ve vastly missed since Charlie Blackmon has become more of a middle of the order slugger. Last season Tapia hit .321 with a .369 OBP while swiping 8 bags on 10 attempts. In the minors, he had a career .319 BA and .825 OPS., including seasons where he stole 30+ bases. He led off in the majority of games for the Rockies in 2020 and hit lefties even better than righties (he’s a left-handed hitter), so a platoon isn’t likely. There isn’t much power appeal to speak of, but over a full season, leading off in front of Trevor Story and Blackmon, you have to like Tapia’s chances at 100 runs, 20+ stolen bases, and a .300+ average. Not bad for someone you can get in the last couple of rounds.
These last few guys are for the deepest of leagues only. They’re really just players to keep an eye on if you miss out on steals in the draft. Also, they’re not bad options for AL or NL only leagues.
Myles Straw (SS/CF – HOU): Overall ADP 382
If the Astros do indeed open the season with Straw as their starting center fielder, then he’s going to be worthy of a roster spot. With speed to burn, even if he offers little else, there’s always room on fantasy rosters for these types of players. Even if you don’t need him, there’s always another owner desperate enough to overpay in a trade for him.
Straw stole 6 bases over 88 ABs last season but only got on base 24% of the time. If he can get back to his career norms (mostly in the minor leagues, but he did have a .345 OBP in 2019 over 128 PA’s), then stolen base opportunities should come in abundance. So far, he’s stolen 16 bags in under 200 MLB AB’s and even had 70 in 2018 in AA and AAA combined. He won’t help at all in the power categories but should hit for a decent average (hit well over .300 in the minors). While he hit righties very well last season and struggled against lefties, the exact opposite was true in 2019, so he is not a prime candidate to platoon.
Even if he doesn’t play every day, Straw could end up a Jarrod Dyson type in his prime. Not a game-changer by any means, but if you lack steals, he’s not a horrible choice to take a flier on. The Astros roster doesn’t offer much in the way of competition at the current moment, so stash him in case he gets semi-regular at-bats.
Andrew Stevenson (LF – WAS): Overall ADP 467
Stevenson has been one of my off-season sleepers all winter long, even with the signing of Kyle Schwarber. Of course, if the NL ends up with a DH, that would help a ton with available playing time, but I’m not convinced he won’t somehow get into the lineup semi-regularly anyway. For one, if Victor Robles performs the way he did last season (.529 OPS vs. RHP), there’s no way the Nationals, who are intent on competing this year, can keep him in the lineup and not give Stevenson’s bat a shot, at least vs. righties.
The former second-rounder out of LSU has done nothing but mash when given the opportunity over the last two seasons. Combining 2019 and ’20, Stevenson’s line sits at an astounding .366/.464/.620. It is admittedly a small sample size, coming on just 84 plate appearances, but he hit for a .316 BA, with a .362 OBP over 400 PAs in the minors for 2018. He was also extremely clutch last year. In his 41 AB’s, Stephenson drove in 12 and even had 10 extra-base hits to go along with two steals. If he manages to play somewhat regularly, he could swipe 15 bags while contributing nicely across the board.
Do I dare say the Nationals have a Jeff McNeil on their hands with more speed? No, I won’t go that far, but he is definitely someone to keep in the back of your mind when filling out your roster in the deepest of formats.
Anderson Tejeda (SS – TEX): Overall ADP 530
Let me start by saying no one should be drafting Tejeda in standard leagues. He’s as deep of a sleeper as they come, and K’s way too much, but in my mind, he deserves mentioning. Last season, Tejeda opened eyes with 4 stolen bases and 3 home runs in only 75 ABs in a small sample size last season. He’s only 22 and had never played above High-A ball before last year, but the 6’0″, 200 lb shortstop showed why he’s the future at middle infield for the Rangers. He’ll be an immediate 20/20 candidate as soon as he’s given the starting job, and it may be sooner than later. The team is reportedly losing patience with Rougned Odor, and rightfully so after putting up atrocious numbers year after year, and long time regular Elvis Andrus, has already been demoted to a utility role. Texas is high on catcher turned shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa at the moment, but he won’t do anything overwhelming at the plate. It’s only a matter of time before Texas hands over the keys to the young Dominican prospect if he’s not handed the job outright at the end of spring training. Tejeda’s a strong candidate to help you make up some ground in the steals department whenever he’s given a chance.
Anthony Alford (LF/CF – PIT): Overall ADP 694
Alford is another guy no one should be drafting in mixed leagues, but he is definitely someone to pay attention to because he could rack up a decent amount of steals. In last year’s extremely small sample size, Alford stole 3 bags and hit 2 home runs combining the few games he played for Toronto and Pittsburgh. He also recorded the 6th highest average sprint speed in the game, according to Statcast, right behind Trea Turner and Byron Buxton.
The former football star also shows great range with the glove and has all the makings of a quality center fielder, but will it all translate to fantasy baseball success? Playing for Pittsburgh should at least grant him the opportunity. Their outfield is a wide-open competition, and with no chance at competing for the Wild Card, the Pirates will likely take chances and let their speedy baserunners run wild – similar to what they’ve done in the past.
Alford’s biggest problem, other than staying on the field, is his consistency with the bat. With a batting average likely to hover around .230 at best, he’s not someone you want in standard leagues. However, his 20 stolen base potential, while throwing in the occasional home run, will more than play in extremely deep or NL Only leagues. If the Pirates don’t add another center fielder, look for Alford to get most of the starts, as long as he can keep up a respectable output.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros.