Sleepers for Steals (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Steals is annually the hardest category to fill. While it is important to grab speed early in the draft, you’ll ideally want to find a player who exhibits some power as well. These five-category studs will cost you, so you’ll have to target them from the start.
Those who miss out, however, should have no fear. There are plenty of speedy “sleepers” who can help make up for the loss in the later rounds.
To qualify as a sleeper, I’m looking at players rostered in less than 40 percent of ESPN leagues with a consensus ADP around 200 or later. These players offer some great upside when it comes to swiping bags, and it won’t cost you much to draft them either. You can even grab a couple in the last round.
Without further ado, here are five great sleepers who could earn 20+ stolen bases this season.
Andrés Giménez (2B/3B/SS – CLE): Overall ADP 189
Gimenez was a nice waiver-wire pick-up last season. It seemed as though every time the Mets gave him an opportunity, he contributed, whether it was getting on base, stealing a bag, or hitting the occasional home run. Eventually, they rewarded Giménez with regular at-bats, which led to 22 runs scored and eight steals on only 132 plate appearances.
The prime player leaving in the Francisco Lindor trade, Cleveland got a lineup catalyst who could lead off and get the green light to run often. Re-signing Cesar Hernandez muddies the situation a bit, but even if he plays every day, Giménez will more than likely start over Amed Rosario (also coming over in the Lindor trade), especially against RHP.
Hernandez’s .680 OPS against lefties last season and .641 in 2019 makes him no lock to play every day either, so I fully expect Giménez to be in the starting lineup at least five times a week. Despite early speculation that Giménez could begin 2021 in the minors to manipulate his service clock, he is reportedly the favorite to start at shortstop. That belief is further bolstered by Cleveland working out Rosario in the outfield.
Giménez won’t hit for a ton of power, but he’ll easily steal 25 bases and put up decent all-around numbers playing nearly every day. He ranks 24th in Statcast’s sprint speed, just above Mike Trout and the lightning-quick Cristian Pache. And the fact that he qualifies at shortstop, second base, and third base enhances his value, particularly in leagues that require a MI and CI. If everything goes his way, he could steal 30+ bags, so select Giménez before the draft reaches the 200s.
Raimel Tapia (OF – COL): Overall ADP 228
Tapia has turned into a prototypical leadoff hitter for the Rockies, 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 eight bags on 10 attempts. He had a career .319 BA and .825 OPS in the minors, including seasons where he stole 30+ bases. He led off most games for the Rockies in 2020 and hit fellow lefties even better than righties, so a platoon isn’t likely.
There isn’t much power appeal to speak of, but you have to like Tapia’s chances at 100 runs, 20+ stolen bases, and a .300+ average if leading off in front of Trevor Story and Blackmon for a full season. Not bad for someone you can get in the last couple of rounds.
Leody Taveras (OF – TEX): Overall ADP 234
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 he can beat out Delino DeShields for the everyday center fielder job (which shouldn’t be difficult), Taveras should garner everyday at-bats atop the scrappy Texas lineup.
At only 22 years old and still filling out at 6’1″ and 170 pounds, the Rangers’ top prospect offers good speed with some decent pop. Last season, Taveras hit four home runs and stole eight bags without being caught once. His .227 batting average suffered because of a 321.% strikeout rate, but that’s typical of young rookies. He also earns 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 unknown difference-makers. With the possibility of grabbing 15 home runs along with 25 stolen bases, what do you have to lose by taking Taveras?
Myles Straw (SS/OF – HOU): Overall ADP 336
The Astros went through the entire offseason without signing a true centerfielder. If they finish spring training in the same fashion, Myles Straw will be their Opening Day starter. If he’s starting, you’re going to want him on your roster.
Even if he offers little else, there’s always room on fantasy teams for speed. Even if you don’t necessarily need him, another manager in need of steals will be desperate enough to overpay in a trade.
Straw stole six bases over 88 at-bats 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 PAs), stolen base opportunities should come in abundance. So far, he’s stolen 16 bags in 98 MLB games and even had 70 in Double-A and Triple-A combined in 2018.
He won’t help at all in the power categories, but Straw — a career .305 hitter in the minors — should hit for a decent average. While he hit righties well last season and struggled against lefties, the exact opposite was true in 2019. He’s not a prime candidate to platoon.
Even if he doesn’t play every day, Straw could end up as a Jarrod Dyson type. That’s not a game-changer by any means, but he’s not a horrible choice for a flier if you lack speed. The Astros’ roster doesn’t offer much in the way of competition, and manager Dusty Baker recently went as far as to say he would be comfortable with Straw batting leadoff. Select him near the end of the draft and watch him add to your stolen base totals.
Anthony Alford (OF – PIT): Overall ADP 668
Alford will likely go undrafted in many fantasy leagues. Currently locked in a spring position battle, the speedy outfielder could produce a solid amount of stolen bases if he wins the job outright or at least makes the roster as a platoon piece.
In just 18 games with the Blue Jays and Pirates last year, Alford stole three bags and hit two home runs. He also recorded the sixth-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. Playing for the lowly Pirates should at least grant him the opportunity. Their outfield is a wide-open competition. 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 — he already has two in spring — will more than play in extremely deep mixed or NL Only leagues.
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