Ah, steals. The most elusive stat in Fantasy Baseball. Every year a myriad of desperate fantasy managers reach for the top base-stealers in the game, resulting in a number of vast overpays. Unfortunately, this strategy rarely works because the rest of their roster greatly suffers. They do lead their league in steals, but are left with mediocre numbers or worse in many of the other categories. After all is said and done, by late August, they have already turned their attention to football, as their team coasts to another eighth-place finish.
To avoid such a hideous fate, when it comes to acquiring stolen bases, I tend to veer away from the common belief that you should target them early. There are plenty of guys available late in the draft, who will not only get you steals but will also contribute in other categories. And the best part is, you won’t have to overpay for them. Easier said than done of course, but if you can pass on the early stolen base guys (unless one falls in your lap) and fill your squad with 20/20 types later, then you’ll be well on your way to victory.
There’s just no reason to spend a second-round pick on Starling Marte when you can get guys like Myles Straw over 120 picks later (allowing you to get a top-tier starting pitcher instead). It can backfire though, and you may miss out, but chances are the rest of your squad will be stacked and you can still come in a palpable fifth or sixth place in the steals category.
For this list of targeted base-swipers, I won’t be including players like Whit Merrifield or Trevor Story for reasons explained earlier (plus, you already know those guys). Rather my focus will be more on the mid to late-round picks, who can still make a significant contribution, but without using up your precious first 10 selections.
Average Draft Position (ADP) references using FantasyPros consensus ADP.
Tommy Edman (2B/3B/SS/OF – STL): 93 ADP
Edman by far has the highest ADP and ECR on this list (other than Witt Jr.) but by landing just inside the top 100, he can safely be your first player to considerably provide you with steals. Batting leadoff for the powerful Cardinals lineup, if he’s able to remain there for the majority of the season, 30 bags and 100 runs are easily within reach. Edman only missed two games last year and actually led the National League in at-bats, so his durability is without question. He also rarely strikes out, hits truckloads of doubles, and qualifies at multiple positions.
His only drawback is he doesn’t walk much (or hit for power), so in order to continue hitting atop the lineup, Edman’s going to need to increase his .308 OBP. He did produce a fine .350 OBP in his rookie season, but that was largely due to an inflated BABIP and not because he was earning free passes. That said, the Cardinals should score a hefty amount of runs this year and they don’t have another great leadoff option. Draft Edman near 100th overall and with a little luck, expect a 100/30/.290 season.
Bobby Witt Jr. (SS – KC): ADP 102
Bobby Witt Jr. is an absolute stud, but you’re going to have to pay for him. He’s also obviously never set foot on the Major League stage, so a few struggles are to be expected.
Is he worth drafting in the 10th round? His upside says yes, but my guess is he hits closer to .265 than .285 and doesn’t reach 85 in either run-scoring category. Still, a 20/20 season is well within reason with plenty of room for more. So if you’re a KC fan or just love drafting prospects, then go ahead and target him. Just make sure not to reach for him before round 10.
Myles Straw (OF – CLE): ADP 135
Myles Straw is somewhat an obvious choice for this list, but seeing as he’s likely to lead off on a nightly basis for Cleveland, he is absolutely someone you should target. The Guardians will give him every opportunity to run and if he can hit like he did last year, 600 plate appearances are not out of the question. You may have to overpay a bit to get him (which by now you know I never like), but as long as he stays healthy, reaching in the middle rounds isn’t as bad when 30 steals are a near lock.
Akil Baddoo (OF – DET): ADP 159
The Twins made a big mistake when they didn’t add Baddoo to their 40-man roster, as the Tigers wasted no time selecting him as the third overall pick in the Rule-5 draft. Making good on their selection, the electric Baddoo launched two home runs in his first two MLB games and drove in a wild 11 RBI in just over a week.
As the season progressed and opposing pitchers started to figure out the dynamic rookie, Baddoo simply adjusted his approach to counteract the change. After the first month of the season, Baddoo went from a .242 OBP to a .370 OBP by the end of June. He then went back to swinging for the fences and while his batting average sunk, his power numbers increased. His stolen base production also went through highs and lows concluding with four swipes on four attempts in September.
Batting at the top of the lineup for the up-and-coming Tigers and with a full year of experience under his belt, look for Baddoo to put together solid contributions across the board. 20+ stolen bases should be easily attainable in his sophomore campaign, making him a worthy mid/mid-late round selection.
Robbie Grossman (OF – DET): ADP 169
Grossman is another outfielder who takes his free passes, will get you 20+ home runs, 20 steals, and 90+ runs scored in the revamped Tigers’ lineup. He’s not the fastest player on the field but he knows how to pick his spots and is an on-base machine. Grossman was a bit of a surprise last season putting together a 23/20 season, but after a few productive years in a row, it won’t shock anyone to see Grossman serve as a quality fourth or fifth outfielder on fantasy rosters once again. He’s a great pick in the mid-teen rounds.
Harrison Bader (OF – STL): ADP 229
Bader had an impressive season last year even though he was limited to just 103 games. Showing signs of improvement in almost all aspects of his game and entering this Spring fully healthy, there’s no reason to believe the 27-year-old can’t take another step forward.
Bader hit 16 home runs to go along with 21 doubles on just 367 at-bats, and more importantly, stole 9 bases on 13 attempts. He raised his average to a respectable .267 and he did so without an inflated BABIP. His strikeout rate reduced to a career-low 21.2 percent and he ranked in the 97th percentile in sprint speed. Watching him play you could tell the confidence was back as he played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after so many had written him off.
If Bader reaches 500 at-bats this season, a 20/15 season is well within reach, making Bader a fine fifth outfielder to target late in drafts.
Oneil Cruz (SS – PIT): ADP 235
I love this guy Oneil Cruz. Because he’s so tall, many scouts project a high strikeout total, but I think he is going to absolutely mash. After hitting 12 home runs in Double-A to go along with 18 steals and a .292 batting average, the Pirates promoted Cruz to Triple-A where he hit five home runs in six games while walking six times and stealing a base. Cruz even launched a homer in the Big Leagues for good measure over his two-game cup of coffee, where he went three for nine with three RBIs.
Cruz dealt with a forearm strain last year limiting his playing time, but entering this season fully healthy, the young Dominican could make the roster out of Spring Training or at the very least by early May. The Pirates’ shortstop production over the last few years has been dreadful so it shouldn’t take long for the organization to hand over the reins to Cruz, kicking off new beginnings in Pittsburg.
The 6’7″ behemoth should be drafted in all leagues and has enormous upside. Target him in the late rounds and thank me later.
Lane Thomas (OF – WAS): ADP 253
Thomas is an absolute steal going after the 250th overall pick. Not only does he run well (93rd percentile in sprint speed) but he possesses decent power and has a knack for getting on base. Despite what a few naysayers believe, Thomas is firmly entrenched in center field and atop the batting order for the Nats. And don’t talk to me about Victor Robles, he’s going to need a serious overhaul to move back up the depth chart.
After being traded to Washington, Thomas showed a major uptick in basically all categories, including stolen bases where he went four of six in only 45 games. That may not sound like a lot, but if he starts 140 games and keeps his on-base percentage near .350, he could reach 15 bags and score a ton of runs batting in front of all-world superstar, Juan Soto.
His Minor League numbers are roughly in line with the type of production he delivered in D.C., so I don’t believe last year was an aberration. His BABIP was also really low, so I’m expecting a bit of a boost in batting average as well. I’m targeting Thomas in the late rounds in all drafts and you should too, unless you’re playing in my league, then don’t.
Garrett Hampson (2B/OF – COL): ADP 273
It’s now or never time for the fourth-year veteran. It feels like just yesterday fantasy experts were hyping him up as a speedy prospect to target, and looking back, it was for good reason. The Long Beach St. product accumulated 123 thefts over his first three seasons in Minor League ball, while maintaining a steady .850 OPS. You would think coming to Coors would launch him into stardom, but the second baseman scuffled in his Major League debut and hasn’t done a whole lot since.
With the Rockies turning towards their youth, there isn’t much standing in the way of regular playing time for Hampson other than his own struggles. Now, 27 years old, he could be in line for more starts, but only if he can increase his production against right-handed pitching. If he can’t cut down on the strikeouts and find a way to get on base better than 29 percent of the time, he’ll find himself back on the short side of a lefty/righty platoon again.
Until he finds his way, Hampson is more valuable in leagues that allow daily transactions, but he does have a nice ceiling, so don’t let him go undrafted. Could this is the year he finally puts it all together and swipes 30 bags? Probably not, but it’s not out of the question!
Jose Siri (OF – HOU): ADP 529
Chas McCormick is likely to draw the majority of starts in center, but Siri and his top five overall sprint speed could see a fair share of playing time as well. The speedy 26-year-old stole three bags on only 46 at-bats after swiping 24 in Triple-A last season. Siri also hits for power evident by the four long balls he hit during his September call-up and the 16 homers he crushed down on the farm (along with 29 doubles and four triples).
Siri’s probably still an injury away from earning everyday playing time, but with a handful of injury-prone veterans on the roster, he could be racking up the steals before long. He’s not someone to target outright in standard leagues, but in deeper ones where you’re desperate for stolen bases, he is definitely someone to monitor.
Anthony Alford (OF – PIT): ADP 563
Alford can be had for next to nothing and for those of you in 10 or 12 team leagues he’s best kept on the wire. For those of you in much deeper leagues, however, or in leagues that have a sizable bench, Alford may be someone to consider.
He was thrown out more times than he was successful last year, but 11 attempts on only 133 ABs is hardly anything to scoff at. Plus, he’s shown he can hit for power, giving him a near 20/20 ceiling. Of course, he’ll have to stay somewhat consistent (and healthy) to stick in the lineup, but being a part of the cellar-dwelling Pirates should give him every opportunity to play. And with nothing to lose, Alford will likely be given the green light often again with Pittsburg taking advantage of his 98th percentile sprint speed.
The uber-athletic Alford just needs a bit of fine-tuning on the base paths and if he’s able to make the adjustment, there’s no telling how many bases he could swipe. He is someone to target in NL-Only or 15+ leagues.
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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.