It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2020 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2020 fantasy baseball season.
For the sixth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first five articles in the series were batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, and ERA sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at stolen base sleepers. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
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Mixed League Sleepers
Delino DeShields, OF, Indians
Depth is the new currency for contending teams in MLB, especially in the age of bottom feeders seemingly trying to accumulate less current MLB talent. While Cleveland doesn’t have many elite outfield options, they do have many capable ones. The Indians promoted Oscar Mercado last year, effectively replacing the disappointing Greg Allen, and they also acquired Franmil Reyes from San Diego at the trade deadline. This year Domingo Santana and DeShields have been added to the fold, and Bradley Zimmer is also expected to be healthy in spring training after a lost 2019 season.
In terms of price relative to upside, both DeShields and Zimmer are most intriguing for speed-hungry fantasy owners. Zimmer has been mentioned in this article multiple times in past years, but he’s disappointed repeatedly due to injuries. DeShields has a long MLB track record in Texas before he was traded to the Indians in the Corey Kluber deal this offseason. He’s swiped at least 20 bases in four of his five MLB seasons, but playing time has been a problem due to his struggles against right-handed pitching (.239/.324/.316). A change of scenery couldn’t hurt, and at the very least, DeShields has a strong chance to hit leadoff against lefties after posting a .791 OPS against southpaws last season. DeShields remains one of the fastest runners in the game, as Statcast numbers showed he was in the top 20 in average sprint speed last season, and the defense has remained elite in center field. The hope for DeShields owners in 2020 would be that Mercado’s breakout rookie season doesn’t hold up, as his previous minor league track record (.678 career OPS) leaves much to be desired. Either way, with an ADP of 472 in NFBC, there’s not much risk in taking a flier on DeShields.
Trent Grisham, OF, Padres
Few young hitters have seen their stock rise more over the last year than Grisham. The former first-round pick hit just .233 with a sub-.700 OPS at Double-A Biloxi in 2018, and then struggled in the Arizona Fall League. That all changed last year, as he hit .300-26-71 with a 1.010 OPS between Double- and Triple-A before hitting .231-6-24 in 183 plate appearances with Milwaukee. His playoff defensive struggles notwithstanding, Grisham’s stock skyrocketed, as evidenced by his inclusion in the Padres trade of Eric Lauer and Luis Urias for him and Zach Davies, as well as San Diego’s apparent elevation of the Grisham as their starting center fielder after trading Manuel Margot yesterday.
What hasn’t even been mentioned yet is Grisham’s running game. He had a total of only 13 stolen bases between the minors and majors last season, but the history suggests there’s a lot more potential here. Grisham had 25 steals in 55 games as an 18-year-old in 2015, and stole 38 bases in 133 games at High-A two years later. The athleticism is clear when looking at the Statcast numbers, as his sprint speed number ranked just behind Mike Trout, and he ranked between Tommy Edman and Ozzie Albies in Statcast’s 90-feet running splits metric. Neither of these metrics necessarily mean that Grisham will suddenly swipe 30 bases this season with a regular opportunity, but along with his minor league track record, they do show the potential upside. If he can somehow carve out a role near the top of San Diego’s talented batting order, there’s plenty of profit to be had for what’s currently a 341 ADP in NFBC.
Josh Rojas, OF, Diamondbacks
Rojas is a player that stat nerds love, so it’s appropriate that he came up in the Astros farm system. The former 26th round pick was acquired last year in the Zack Greinke trade and saw regular playing time down the stretch for the Diamondbacks, but hit just .217-2-16 with four steals in 157 plate appearances. That followed a brilliant year between Double- and Triple-A in which he hit .332-23-83 with 33 steals in 105 games, showing a true breakout.
While Rojas played mostly in the outfield with Arizona, he’s got utilityman written all over him. He appeared at every infield position in the minors last season, and the versatility is fortunate after the Diamondbacks added Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun this offseason. Rojas has swiped 30 bases in the minors in back-to-back seasons, and his minor league performance last year shows real upside. He will need some luck to find playing time, but with an NFBC ADP of 448, there’s not much risk in putting this upside play at the bottom of your roster.
Cole Tucker, SS, Pirates
Tucker is known to most fantasy owners for what he didn’t do in his rookie debut during 2019. Promoted early in the season after a hot start at Triple-A, the former first-round pick finished his rookie campaign hitting just .211-2-13 in 159 plate appearances between several promotions. At age 22, it’s certainly no crime that Tucker wasn’t quite ready, and his bat did make strides at Triple-A Indianapolis hitting .261-8-28 with a .759 OPS in 77 games.
Tucker’s speed has always been his most interesting tool for fantasy owners. He had 47 steals in 2017 and 35 steals in 2018 before swiping 11 bases at Triple-A last year. With a plus glove, he should find regular shortstop work at some point soon, and at the time of this writing it looks like the sea is parting in Pittsburgh for him. The Pirates recently traded Starling Marte, creating the possibility that they will shift Frazier to the outfield and open up a spot for Tucker. The situation is still fluid with names like Yasiel Puig and Kevin Pillar still available in free agency, but the speed upside for Tucker is worthy of a flier in any case.
Single League Sleepers
Tim Locastro, OF, Diamondbacks
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Locastro is capable cheap steals after what he accomplished in 2019. The Diamondbacks outfielder was a fine bench player for the team, posting a .357 on-base percentage and swiping 17 bases in 17 attempts. He was also 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts at Triple-A for the year. The speedster was also the fastest player in the game, according to Statcast’s sprint speed metric.
Drawing up a scenario in which Locastro sees more playing time this year is the hard part. Arizona acquired Starling Marte to play center field, and the outfield corners are filled capably by David Peralta and Kole Calhoun. Still, it’s worth noting that Locastro got nearly half of his steals as an in-game sub last season (eight of 17), and has a better chance to remain on the roster this year with the expansion to 26-man rosters. The upside might be lacking, but stolen bases have more value than ever due to their scarcity, and Locastro can help build your category goals on a 5x5 NL-only roster.
Jorge Mateo, SS, Athletics
It’s an under-reported story at this point in the offseason, but Oakland still doesn’t have a clear starting second baseman after trading Jurickson Profar. There are options available in free agency like Brian Dozier, Jason Kipnis, and Scooter Gennett, but it looks like Billy Beane and co. might head into spring training with their current options. Those include Mateo, Franklin Barreto, Sheldon Neuse, and Tony Kemp.
Given Oakland’s depth, it’s not going to be easy for Mateo to win the second base job outright. That doesn’t mean we should overlook him, especially with the ability to also play shortstop and potentially center field. Mateo features elite speed, as he’s shown in the minors with five consecutive 20-plus steal seasons. He also rebounded offensively last year, albeit with the help of hitter-friendly Las Vegas and the juiced ball at Triple-A, hitting .289-19-78 with 24 steals in 119 games. Despite the playing time risk, the speed upside is worth a flier.
Roman Quinn, OF, Phillies
Recent seasons have been very frustrating for Quinn, who can’t seem to stay healthy. He’s missed out on great opportunities due to injuries, and has managed to play 80 games just two times in his eight-year pro career. The lack of durability makes it almost impossible for the Phillies or fantasy owners to rely on him, but the speed is apparent in his 23 career steals in 109 games in Philly, as well as four 30-plus steal seasons in the minors.
At this time, Quinn also has opportunity going for him. Odubel Herrera seems to be on the outs after his domestic violence issue last year, and Adam Haseley posted an unspectacular .720 OPS in the majors last season. That group will battle it out for the center field job in spring training, so Quinn has a shot, at the very least. Even if he doesn’t win the job, regular playing time at any point this season with be worthy of usage for fantasy owners given his speed.
Magneuris Sierra, OF, Marlins
Miami goes into spring training with a lot of potential moving parts. Among their big offseason acquisitions were Corey Dickerson and Jonathan Villar. The latter could play almost anywhere on the field, adding to the utility-capable Jon Berti. The outfield also just added Matt Joyce, and are still trying to figure out if Lewis Brinson will ever hit MLB pitching. Brian Anderson, a natural third baseman, could also play an outfield corner if pressed, and Harold Ramirez proved semi-capable in the outfield last season.
This entire crowd of outfielders overshadows a few other interesting young players like Sierra. Acquired from St. Louis in the Marcell Ozuna trade two years ago, Sierra has struggled to hit over 262 career plate appearances (.553 OPS). That said, he started to come around late last season after a good year between Double- and Triple-A, hitting .275-7-28 with 33 steals in 129 games. It was the second time in his career that Sierra has swiped at least 30 bases, and the Statcast numbers showed his elite sprint speed, ranking 12th in the game. There are still valid questions about whether Sierra will ever hit, but he’s just entering his age 24 season and behind another player in Brinson who is trying to answer those same questions. This is a situation worth watching in spring training for steals-hungry NL-only owners.