We spent the last six weeks reviewing every bullpen in major league baseball. To see the results, follow these links for the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, NL West, and AL West. While a few potential breakout relievers may have slipped through the cracks, those six articles offer hot takes on nearly every major league reliever.
The astute reader may note that this column is titled Saves and Steals. The latter portion of that title has been ignored over the last seven weeks. As such, today will focus solely on base thieves. I've created six groups of five players, ranging from elite talents to little known sleepers.
The resulting analysis should give everybody a good cross section of names to target. We're not hitting all the stolen base threats – Delino DeShields, for example, is notably absent. For what it's worth, he missed the Elite Rabbits list via mental coin flip.
The Elites Rabbits
These are the five players I expect to lead the league in stolen bases. They'll score runs and may even hit for a high average. Just don't expect much power production.
Gordon (58 SB) narrowly edged Hamilton (57 SB) for the second consecutive season. Hamilton still remains the top stolen base threat in the league. The Reds' base burglar was caught only eight times in 65 attempts. His season was shortened by injury, holding him to 454 plate appearances. On average, he stole a base once every other game.
Gordon may have stolen the most bases, but it took him 653 plate appearances to do it. Not only did Gordon play more, he reached base much more often too – he had a .359 OBP compared to Hamilton's .274 OBP. So what if Gordon isn't nearly as prolific as Hamilton on a rate basis? The Marlins second baseman offers fantasy production in runs and batting average. Hamilton's merely a one category guy.
Altuve more than doubled his home run output (15 HR) while stealing 38 bases. There's a case to be made for including him with the multi-threats (see next tier) after a potent four category season. I'm not sure I buy into steady power production from the diminutive second baseman.
Consider this: in 2014 he hit 47 doubles, three triples, and seven home runs. In 2015, he hit 40 doubles, four triples, and 15 home runs. Basically a few doubles squeaked over the wall. I expect him to be around eight to 12 home runs this year. As for stolen bases, bank on at least 30 with a strong average and runs scored total to boot.
The Nationals added Revere over the offseason to help improve their outfield depth. He's a classic rabbit with more career steals (176) than RBI (154). He should play regularly while contributing a .300 average, 30 to 40 stolen bases, and a decent runs total.
Burns was included in the 2015 version of this article in the Who? section. He's already established himself as a top base running threat. While he only stole 26 bases in 555 plate appearances, he was also adjusting to major league pitching. With health, I expect him to pass the 30 steal benchmark this season. Like the other non-Altuve's listed here, Burns lacks power and RBI production.
This quintet offers 30 stolen base potential with strong numbers in several other categories and at least some power. These are expensive, season winning monsters.
Blackmon was supposed to be a fluke. Then he followed up his successful 2014 campaign with an excellent 2015. He popped 17 home runs to go with 93 runs, 43 stolen bases, and a .287 average. He had steep home/road splits which is both a weakness and a strength to fantasy owners. An astute owner can sit Blackmon on the bench when facing tough road pitching.
Pollock may start the season on the disabled list, but he's only expected to miss five games at the most. He's another guy who looked like a fluke in 2014. He repeated his 2014 rates last season with 20 home runs, 111 runs, 76 RBI, 39 stolen bases, and a .315 average. He may be less aggressive on the bases this year, but he still has excellent five-category potential.
Marte has posted back-to-back 30 steal seasons. However, there's a catch. In 2014, he stole 30 bags in 545 plate appearances. Last year, he needed 633 trips to the plate. This time around, I'd expect closer to 25 steals over a full season. He's another five category threat.
The Royals three-hole finally hit for power in 2015, launching 16 home runs. What differentiates him from Altuve is that Cain has long been suspected of possessing 15 home run power. He also stole 28 bases for a second consecutive season. Like Marte, he needed more opportunities to pile up the steals in 2015. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is one of the best five category players in baseball.
Betts should be a perennial 20/20 threat over the next half decade. The Red Sox tend to de-emphasize stolen bases which could stop Betts from ever exceeding 30 swipes. The 23-year-old already has 20 home run power with a strong average and run production.
The Young Guns
In this corner, we have five young players who could steal between 20 and 30 bases with a full season. These are some of the best growth assets in the league.
Polanco is making his second appearance on the Young Guns list. He stole 27 bases last season despite looking lost at times. He was caught 10 times. He probably isn't somebody who will steal bases for his entire career, but there should be a few good years left to his base running. He has plus raw power, but his swing doesn't let him tap into it consistently.
I suppose at 27 years old, Pillar isn't very young. He's a relative unknown despite outperforming many recognizable names last season. He hit .278 with 12 home runs, 76 runs, 56 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. The Blue Jays plan to use him as the leadoff hitter early in the season. He's not a great fit for the role due to a low OBP. Expect him to move down in the order after the April.
The Mariners shortstop could play his way to the top of the lineup with his contact skills and plate discipline. He's not much of a power hitter now although I expect he'll mature into 10 to 15 home runs annually. The 22-year-old should steal between 20 and 30 bases.
Buxton will begin the season as the Twins center fielder. The top prospect has massive raw talent, but he was overexposed in his first two tries in the majors. He has 20 to 40 steal potential with latent power. Prepare to be patient.
To reach 20 stolen bases, Lindor will need to become a little more aggressive. He's a quick study, and I expect him to focus on improving his baserunning this year. He flashed 20 home run upside last season. Few people believe in it, and even I forecast between 12 and 15 bombs. He'll hit for average and score plenty of runs.
Every year, an unexpected veteran eclipses 20 steals. Here are some of my guesses to fill that role this season.
One doesn't become the best defensive player in baseball without speed. While he's not always the quickest player on the field, Kiermaier has an astute baseball mind that translates to the base paths. There's potential for a breakout season at the plate. If he can improve upon his .298 OBP, a 30 steal season isn't out of the question.
It's easy to forget Owings is only 24. Many quality prospects are just graduating the minors at that age. Instead, Owings has three seasons of major league experience. Granted, he hasn't been particularly good over those three years. The right-handed hitter has trouble controlling the strike zone which hurts his on base ability. Some scouts think he can cut down on his strikeouts. If he does, 25 stolen bases are within reach. He'll need to eke out playing time from Jean Segura and Nick Ahmed.
A couple weeks ago, Crawford wasn't even worth mentioning. Now he looks to get steady playing time while Andre Ethier is out. He hasn't been a top base thief since 2010, but he still manages a good rate. He stole a base once every five games last season. While he's a role player now, he could take 20 bases in 100 games this season.
Injuries and a slump ruined Harrison's 2015 campaign. The utility man could be asked to bat first or second with regularity. He'll need a full, healthy season to reach 20 steals, but it's possible. His career best is 18 steals (2014).
Hicks, 26, stole 13 bases in 390 plate appearances last year. He's the Yankees fourth outfielder for now, but it's only a matter of time before injuries start to create opportunities. He has enough power and speed to turn in a 20/20 season.
Some stolen base threats struggled in 2015. Here are five who could bounce back to prominence.
From 2012 through 2014, Gomez was one of the most underappreciated fantasy stars in the game. When everybody was finally ready to pay full price last year, he turned in a clunker. The speedy, power hitter is a max effort player so it was no surprise to see nagging injuries mount. Many worry that could be the norm for Gomez going forward – including me. However, there's at least a chance he returns to something like the 2014 Gomez – 23 home runs, 34 steals, and a solid average.
Span missed most of 2015 with a hip ailment. He's no spring chicken so the injuries could continue to pile up. If he does have another healthy season left in the tank, he's one of the best contact hitters in the league. He even has a discerning eye. A .360 OBP and 20 stolen bases are not out of the question.
The strikeouts finally caught up to Desmond, and there's no reason to think that won't continue. His power should recover slightly as part of his move to hitter friendly Texas. If he can just figure out how to reach base a little more often, he can be a league average hitter with 20 home runs and 15 or more stolen bases.
For Ellsbury, it's all about health. When he's firing on all cylinders, he's an exceptional talent. Unfortunately, even small nagging injuries greatly affect his output. He stole 21 bases in arguably his worst season. A little luck could put him back around 35 steals.
Martin may be on his last legs as a major league regular. The Mariners hope he can return to his 2014 form which included plus defense and 31 stolen bases. Speed is his best asset, but he has to actually reach base to use it. His .264 OBP from 2015 won't cut it.
This group of players could worm their way into regular playing time. If they do, you may be best served by using them for streaming steals. With the exception of one, they probably aren't worth stashing in standard and shallow leagues.
One of the Braves to prospects, Smith is on the cusp of the majors. He has a history of plate discipline and contact skills to go with 40 stolen base ability. Scouts are split as to whether he's a true leadoff man or bottom of the order guy.
A big spring from Rule 5 pick Rickard has him in line for starting reps with the Orioles. Rickard lacks much power, but he does have the speed to steal 20 or more bases in a full season. It will be interesting to see if his plate discipline and contact skills translate to the majors.
Another Rule 5 guy, Goeddel is set to start for the Phillies. It's possible he'll form a platoon with Will Venable and/or Cedric Hunter. Goeddel has more power potential than Rickard to go with 20 or more stolen base upside.
Zimmer is a real, bonafide, high quality prospect. However, he flies under the fantasy radar (for some) since he's in the Indians organization. Cleveland's outfield is an area of concern, and Zimmer is nearly major league ready. He could steal 30 or more bases in a full season. There are some concerns about his contact ability.
Schebler will platoon in left field for the Reds. He'll have an opportunity to carve out a larger role – especially once Cincy deals Jay Bruce. Schebler is probably a better bet to reach 20 home runs than 20 steals. Either way, he's an interesting lottery ticket with three to four category upside.