Last week, we looked at home run targets for a shortened season. Each player included is being drafted late and can provide a boost in home runs. Home runs are at a premium, meaning you can afford to wait later to draft power in fantasy drafts. Stolen bases are the opposite.
In 2019, a total of 2280 bases were stolen, which was the lowest total since 1981 (excluding the 1994 shortened season). League-wide, stolen bases have dropped by 30 percent since 2011 when there were 3,279 steals league-wide. The numbers show there is a real need for speed in fantasy drafts. The chart below shows the projected top 15 steals leaders and their ADP.
ATC Projection System projects 23 players to steal 20 or more bases in 2020. Of those 23 players predicted to have 20 stolen bases, ten are top 50 picks according to NFBC ADP. Steals are highly valuable, shown by the ADP of those players who can both steal bases and contribute in other categories.
The stolen base targets with high ADPs are players like Ronald Acuña Jr, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, and Trea Turner. These are not the type of player that this article will cover. This article will help you find players that can contribute in steals at different points in the draft.
There are quite a few statistics that you can use to help you find potential home run targets. Unfortunately, there are not as many statistics to help predict stolen bases. Sprint speed, 90-foot splits, previous season stolen bases, and how much a team runs can be helpful stats to use. Studies have shown that 90-foot splits may be more useful than sprint speed when predicting stolen bases.
Stolen base targets discussed in the article will be ordered based on NFBC ADP. Often as you get further down the draft board, the players that steal bases become one dimensional. Stolen bases go quick, so the targets get sparse. This article will seek to help you find players that can give you a boost in stolen bases, while also helping you elsewhere.
Targets Between Picks 50-100
Bo Bichette: SS, Toronto Blue Jays (NFBC ADP 62)
Bo Bichette burst onto the scene upon being called up during his rookie campaign in 2019. He hit .311 with 11 home runs and four stolen bases in 212 plate appearances. The most impressive thing was that Bichette was only 21 years old last year. He was a touted prospect who had shown great stolen base potential in the Minors. In 2018, Bichette stole 32 bases in a full year in AA. Last year between A, AA, and MLB, he stole 20 bases. Additionally, Roster Resource projects Bichette to hit leadoff in a solid top-half of the lineup, meaning he should have plenty of chances to accumulate steals.
Bichette’s Statcast numbers show an excellent sprint speed, placing him in the 83rd percentile of all players. His 90-foot splits do not stand out but are still respectable at the 74th percentile. Interestingly enough, many other good base stealers have a split similar to Bichette. Jose Ramirez, Mookie Betts, and Whit Merrifield are nearly equal to Bichette for 90-foot times.
ATC predicts Bichette to steal 18 bases, but that feels like a conservative pick. ZIPS projects him to swipe 28 bases. In each full season of professional baseball, Bichette has stolen at least 20 with a high of 32. Somewhere between 20 and 25 stolen bases feels like a sweet spot for Bichette for 2020 and in future seasons.
The power and hit tool are also great additions to Bichette’s profile. He hit 19 home runs in 2019 between AAA and the Majors in just 456 plate appearances. Being so young, he has the chance to continue to grow into more power.
Bichette has the kind of profile you look for in a five-category contributor. Over a full 2020 season, Bichette should hit at least 20 home runs with 20 stolen bases. He also should provide a high batting average. His ADP may be costly for some at 62 overall, but this could be the last season to draft him this low. If you are in a dynasty league, now is the time to buy before his value skyrockets even higher.
Victor Robles: OF, Washington Nationals (NFBC ADP 70)
In Victor Robles’s first full Major League season, he fell just short of 20 home runs and 30 steals. In 617 plate appearances, he hit 17 home runs while stealing 28 bases to go with a .255 batting average. The home runs were a career a high, beating the ten he hit between two minor league levels in 2017.
Robles has always been a great runner, dating back to his days as a top prospect. He has stolen as many as 37 bases in a season, which he did in 2017. The Statcast data proves his ability with his 95th percentile sprint speed. His 90-foot splits are also 91st percentile. There is no denying that Robles can steal bases.
A concern for 2020 will be lineup placement. During Spring Training, manager Dave Martinez suggested that Trea Turner would lead off, rather than Victor Robles. Roster Resource currently projects Robles to hit fifth, which would not be ideal for owners expecting more steals. An excellent performance or an injury could bump Robles to the top of the lineup, which would only help his value.
It is also important to remember that Robles was only 22 years old last season and should continue to improve with age. Most of the concern with Robles is about his power and his poor exit velocity of 81 mph. The good news? On pulled fly balls and line drives, Robles had a 91.5 mph exit velocity. He pulls the ball 45 percent of the time.
Robles struggled against changeups last season, so if he can improve his pitch recognition, his batting average should rise. He has shown a great hit tool and the ability to hit for a good batting average in the minors. If Robles makes adjustments, his batting average should rise to the .265-.270 batting average range.
Drafting Robles and expecting a significant breakout would be a mistake. You should draft Robles expecting him to be a 15 home run and 30 steal type of guy. Regardless, Robles is a good value if you find a need for stolen bases at this point in the draft.
Luis Robert: OF, Chicago White Sox (NFBC ADP: 81)
The hype train on Luis Robert has left the station. When Robert signed a six-year, 50 million dollar extension in January, it all but guaranteed he would be an everyday player for the Major League club. Robert became only one of five players to sign a contract extension before debuting in the Major League.
His ADP has steadily risen throughout the fantasy draft season and rightfully so. Last season, Robert transitioned from Single-A to Triple-A throughout the year. Between three minor league stops, Robert mashed 32 home runs while stealing 36 bases. In 551 total plate appearances, he also posted a .328 batting average.
The home runs seemingly came out of nowhere after Robert hit zero in 2018 and only three in 2017. Sixteen of his home runs came in 47 games upon being called up to Triple-A Charlotte. BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte is the Coors Field of the International League. When examining park factors, where a score of 100 is average, BB&T rated at a 164. The next closest park in the International League was Columbus, which measured at 121.
Robert posted a .337/.394/.695 slash line at home compared to a .262/.289/.579 on the road while in Charlotte. His .579 slugging percentage on the road was still an impressive stat, but if Robert’s season-long stats were closer to what he did on the road, he would not be drafted nearly as high.
Regardless, Robert is still an elite runner. Using Speed Score, a method designed to measure a player’s speed and base running ability, Robert graded out at an 8.7 out of 10. To put it in perspective, Victor Robles, who was labeled a 75-grade runner, scored a 6.4. Myles Straw, who stole 70 bases in 2018, was graded at an 8.3. There is no denying that Robert is fast and can steal bases. His sprint speed was also recorded at 31.3 feet-per-second in the futures game last season which would have been the fastest in the Major League.
30.0 is considered elite.
— Manny Randhawa (@MannyOnMLB) July 7, 2019
A concern for 2020 is Robert’s lineup spot. Roster Resource projects Robert to hit eight, which would not be ideal for Robert to steal bases. Another issue is that the White Sox generally have not stolen many bases. Tim Anderson stole 49 bases in a minor league season, but his Major League career-high is 26. Yoan Moncada also stole 49 bases in a minor league season but has never passed 12 with big league club.
The concern that Robert might not have as many stolen bases chances is legitimate. But, the upside is there for him to steal 30 bases. 20-25 is more of the expectation, but if Robert can make his way to the top of the lineup and get the green light to run, he has elite stolen base potential.
Targets Between Picks 100-150
Oscar Mercado: OF, Cleveland Indians (NFBC ADP 118)
Oscar Mercado posted a strong rookie campaign in 2019. He had a .269 batting average to go with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 115 games. He also played 30 games in Triple-A prior to being called up where he had four home runs and 14 stolen bases. Mercado led all rookies in stolen bases and runs scored last season.
Mercado has always been a great base stealer, with his career-high being 50 in 2015. The Statcast numbers also back up the steals. Mercado’s sprint speed is 97th percentile, while his 90-foot splits were 92nd percentile. ATC projects him for 22 stolen bases in 2020, but he has the speed to swipe 30 bases.
April 17, 2019: Oscar Mercado steals not one, not two, not three, but FOUR bases in a 9-5 win over Louisville. It was just the fifth time in Clippers history that a player swiped four bags in a single game. #ClipShowFlashbackBaseballFix pic.twitter.com/Y5gDnp1W4m
— Columbus Clippers (@CLBClippers) March 20, 2020
Roster Resource projects Mercado to hit second, between two solid hitters in Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. That lineup spot should provide a boost in counting stats of runs and RBIs. There is concern that the home run power could regress since Mercado’s average home run exit velocity was 98.5 mph, which was the second slowest in baseball. His average home run distance was also 13th shortest in baseball at 385 feet. Regression in home runs is possible. The profile is similar to Victor Robles, who is going nearly 50 picks earlier.
Mercado should see more stolen base attempts this season. Based on his speed, 30 is not out of the question, as he should see plenty of plate appearances hitting at the top of the lineup. Despite the potential home run regression, Mercado can still be a valuable fantasy asset because of his stolen base potential.
Amed Rosario: SS, New York Mets (NFBC ADP: 136)
Few remember the days when Amed Rosario was ranked as the top prospect in baseball by multiple outlets. Rosario struggled upon being called up to the Major Leagues in 2017. In 46 games, he had a .248 batting average while striking out 28.8 percent of the time and walking only 1.8 percent of his plate appearances. The good news is that Rosario has improved each season and is only 24 years old. Last season, Rosario posted a .287 batting average to go with 15 home runs and 19 stolen bases. It was a career-high in home runs, but he also continued to show his excellent base-stealing ability.
Rosario’s Statcast data is appealing when looking at speed. His average sprint speed of 29.2 feet per second was 94th percentile in 2019. The sprint speed shows that he is capable of translating more of his attempts (29) into stolen bases. His expected batting average of .291 was also in the top ten percent of all hitters.
Roster Resource projects Rosario to hit 8th in the lineup, but if he can move to the top, he can thrive. Batting first would mean more plate appearances, leading to more counting stats. When Rosario hit leadoff last season, he had a .294 batting average with four home runs and five stolen bases.
Rosario also made adjustments in the second half that led to productive results. Most would assume the tangible statistical changes were because he was less aggressive at the plate, but it was the opposite. He became slightly more aggressive at the plate, leading to more contact. His 92 percent Z-Contact% in the second half was 17th among all hitters.
His batting average in the first half was .260, but in the second half, he produced a .319 batting average. The counting stats were similar, but his strikeout rate dropped by seven percentage points in the second half. Last season, there were only seven hitters that had at-least a .290 expected batting average while also hitting 15 home runs and stealing 15 bases. Amed Rosario was one of those players.
There were only 6 players in MLB to have at least a .290 xBA and 15+ HR & 15+ steals last season:
AMED ROSARIO pic.twitter.com/gYBZPbyxax
— Matt Williams (@MattWi77iams) April 12, 2020
Even if the power does not improve, Rosario will be a valuable asset to fantasy teams due to the stolen base potential. A 30 steal season is not out of the question. Pair that with 15 home runs and a solid batting average, and you get a great fantasy asset. Rosario could be a diamond in the rough in a deep shortstop position. If you don’t draft a shortstop early, Rosario is an excellent target for stolen bases and fallback option.
Elvis Andrus: SS, Texas Rangers (NFBC ADP: 140)
Elvis Andrus is a player that feels like he has been playing forever. In his 11th season in the Majors, he showed no signs of slowing down, stealing 31 bases. He also provided good counting stats across the board, posting a .275 batting average with 12 home runs and 81 runs scored.
When looking deeper, it is surprising that Andrus stole 31 bases, given his sprint speed being equal to J.D. Martinez, who is far from a base stealer. His 26.7 feet per second sprint speed was good for 46th percentile among all players. Andrus 90-foot splits were even worse at 41st percentile. It is quite baffling that Andrus was able to steal so many bases with his below-average sprint speed.
Reports in the spring were that Andrus showed up ten pounds lighter after the Rangers general manager told him and Rougned Odor that they must improve and show up in better shape. Andrus must have taken the message to heart and appears ready to prove he can still be a valuable shortstop for the Rangers.
With weight loss, Andrus could have a quicker first step in 2020. But at 31 years old, it is hard to project another 30 stolen base season. It is not unreasonable to think he could provide 20 or so steals with excellent counting stats in other categories. There is no threat to take his starting position at shortstop, so he should see plenty of plate appearances at the top of the Rangers lineup.
Targets After Pick 150
Byron Buxton: OF, Minnesota Twins (NFBC ADP: 156)
Byron Buxton is one of the fastest players in baseball. The only issue, his inability to stay healthy and on the field. When Buxton is playing, he successfully steals bases at a high rate, only being caught eight times in 68 career attempts.
Buxton’s 90-foot splits were tied with Trea Turner for second among all players only behind Adalberto Mondesi in 2019. His sprint speed was third among all players behind Tim Locastro and Turner. Despite the elite numbers, Buxton’s career-high in steals was 29 in 2017. He did steal 55 bases between two minor league levels in 2013, but that remains a huge outlier.
Buxton made great strides at the plate last year despite only playing 87 games. He showed a much-improved plate discipline by dropping his strikeout rate by nearly seven percentage points from his career number. He also showed improved power, posting career highs in slugging percentage, barrel percentage, exit velocity, and hard-hit rate. It is easy to forget that Buxton is only 26 years old and is just entering what many consider to be the prime of a player’s career.
Other than injury history why are people not buying into Byron Buxton?
He made notable improvements at the plate last season.
29.8 K% ➡️ 23.1 %
3.2 BB% ➡️ 6.4 %
27 Hard Hit % ➡️ 38.7 %
1.6 Barrel % ➡️ 8.3 %
GB%⬇️ LD & FB % ⬆️
Elite Sprint Speed!
20 HR/30 SB potential pic.twitter.com/XBCqC0gbRV
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) June 2, 2020
If Buxton is healthy for a full season, there is true five-category potential. If you extrapolate last season’s numbers to 550 plate appearances, his stat line would have been 19 home runs/ 89 runs/ 86 RBIs/ 26 stolen bases with a .262 batting average.
The tools are there for Buxton to be a breakout player, and owners that are willing to take the risk in drafting him could reap the reward. Thirty stolen bases are not unreasonable, and at his ADP, he could yield a high return on investment. Remember that not every prospect is Juan Soto or Ronald Acuña Jr. Baseball is a hard sport, and it can take years for players to put it all together. Buxton’s 2019 was a significant improvement from past performance and could be a good sign of growth. He is polarizing among fantasy baseball players, but given the potential and his 2019 advancement, I am buying in for 2020 and beyond.
Garrett Hampson: 2B/OF, Colorado Rockies (NFBC ADP: 185)
Garrett Hampson was a popular breakout candidate before the 2019 season. Unfortunately, he did not contribute much to the Rockies and spent much time going back-and-forth between Colorado and Triple A before September. Then September came, and Hampson hit five home runs, scored 16 runs and stole nine bases with a .318 batting average. Hampson’s finish to the season sparked excitement as he flashed his potential.
The most encouraging part of Hampson’s incredible September was the contact improvements that he made. Consistent playing time for the first time all season, could have played a role in this. Furthermore, only three players in baseball had a faster average sprint speed than Hampson’s 30.1 feet per second. During the breakout September, he was also nine-for-nine in stolen base attempts. There is no denying that Hampson has elite upside for stolen bases, but there are concerns.
Roster Resource has Hampson on the wrong side of a platoon with Ryan McMahon at second base. But, the introduction of the universal designated hitter could open up more at-bats for Hampson. But with the way the Rockies manage their young hitters, it is hard to know for sure. The latest reports before Spring Training shut down, were that Hampson was battling for a bench role. That is not encouraging news, but a lot has changed since March.
At his ADP, and if he plays regularly, he could be a bargain. But, throwing away a mid-round pick in 15 team leagues on a player that only plays a couple of times a week could hurt your team. If the situation clears up and Hampson has a lineup spot, the stolen base upside is worth the pick. Not to mention getting to play his home games in Coors Field.
Kolten Wong: 2B, St. Louis Cardinals (NFBC ADP: 221)
Kolten Wong flew under the radar for most of his career-season in 2019. Getting regular at-bats for the first time since 2015, Wong showed his ability by posting a .285 batting average with 11 home runs and 24 stolen bases. It was a career-high in stolen bases and tied for a career-best in batting average.
Wong does not hit the ball hard, with an average exit velocity in the bottom two percent of hitters. His hard-hit rate was also in the bottom tenth percentile. Looking at his Statcast numbers, he is also not an elite runner. Wong’s sprint speed was 67th percentile among all players. His 90-foot splits were identical to Bo Bichette’s, who was discussed earlier in the article.
Wong could provide good late-round value, especially since second base is a shallow position. He is going to play every day and see plenty of opportunities to steal bases. Wong made the most of his steals chances last year with an 85.7 percent success rate. Since he will be the Cardinals leadoff hitter, there is no reason to believe that he will stop running in 2020.