We’ve examined relievers in the All Bullpen Audit and took an in-depth look at the National League in our hunt for stolen bases. Now it’s time to complete our preseason preparations with a close examination of American League base thieves.
With the exact date of Opening Day unknown, we’ll focus on what we can expect from a typical 162-game season. Once we learn more, we can adjust our expectations to the circumstances. After this post, Saves and Steals will be on hiatus until the start of the MLB schedule.
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American League East
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays like athleticism so it should come as no surprise that their roster is littered with athletic types. Kiermaier is an old tease. His frequent injuries and declining ability to reach base have put to rest dreams of a 20/20 fantasy season. Still, despite a dreadful .228/.278/.398 batting line last year, he managed to put up 14 home runs and 19 steals in just 480 plate appearances. Meadows, like many a talented young superstar, has just enough speed to make his presence felt on the bases. Expect around 10 to 15 steals in a normal season.
Margot, Wendle, and Arozarena currently project as backups. Margot may share time in some fashion with Kiermaier while also serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Wendle lost most of his 2019 season to various injuries but still found time to nab eight bases in 263 plate appearances. Most fantasy analysts have written him off, and yet we might all be surprised by how much time he spends on the field in 2020. Arozarena is another defensive maven, and he hit well in the Cardinals minor league system. He’ll start the year in Durham to help alleviate the logjam of outfielders in Tampa Bay.
Dark horse thieves: Vidal Brujan, Lucius Fox
Neither Brujan nor Fox are likely to contribute in a shortened 2020 season. If we have something approaching a full schedule, their status as members of the 40-man roster could push them towards a promotion.
Brujan is the more actualized player. While his stats might look like a typical slappy prospect, he’s a physical specimen who could someday hit for at least average power. Presently, a high ground ball rate limits his fantasy upside. Fox has a similar set of traits but with much lower quality contact. Although he beat Brujan to Triple-A, he probably won’t win the race to the majors.
Toronto Blue Jays
Bichette and Biggio are the table setters for a young Blue Jays offense. Both players are hyped fantasy targets. They also have red flags in their offensive profiles which could parlay into serious problems in their sophomore campaigns. For Bichette, his 2019 batting line was buoyed by a .368 BABIP. Hiding beneath the surface was an overaggressive approach and a low hard contact rate. He was also inefficient on the bases with four steals in eight attempts. Biggio was passive at times, a trait which can lead to deep offensive funks. However, he should reach base enough to use his above average speed for 15 or more steals.
There’s also upside to spare in both cases. Bichette could benefit immensely from slightly tighter plate discipline. Biggio might learn to jump on mistakes over the plate while otherwise refusing to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. A breakout for either hitter probably includes at least 20 steals.
Fisher and Alford find themselves in the same boat. They’re out of options and have yet to establish themselves in the majors despite multiple opportunities. Strikeouts plague them. Fisher features a power and speed combination. To date, he’s played like a poor man’s Keon Broxton – hardly a roaring recommendation. Alford doesn’t have Fisher’s pop, but he does have impressive speed. They currently line up as Toronto’s fourth and fifth outfielders. Fisher is the better bet of the two to overcome his issues.
Boston Red Sox
Benintendi took a big step back at the plate last season. An attempt to hit for more power failed to deliver anything except more strikeouts. He also halved his stolen base attempts. Benintendi is one of the biggest draft day enigmas entering 2020. Regardless of how he performs, he should reliably deliver at least 10 steals.
Pillar was initially projected as an Opening Day starter while Alex Verdugo rehabbed. He’s now relegated to fourth outfielder role or time share with Bradley Jr. Pillar has stolen at least 14 bases in each of the last five seasons while Bradley Jr. usually settles in with around eight swipes.
Dark horse thieves: Jose Peraza
There’s an assumption Michael Chavis will start at second base, but he suffered from some growing pains in his debut season. After the All Star Break, he hit a meager .221/.286/.364 before finishing the year in the minors. Peraza may not be a fantasy favorite, but it’s easy to forget he’s just one year removed from a .288/.326/.416 batting line with 14 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 683 plate appearances. And he’s entering his age 26 season.
New York Yankees
At full strength, the Yankees offense will be a frustrating puzzle for some fantasy managers. Players like Gardner and Tauchman would start for upwards of 28 clubs. However, when Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks are all healthy, at least one of Gardner or Tauchman will have to ride the pine. Of course, that full-health scenario might never come to pass. Gardner stole a career low 10 bases (excluding his lost 2012 campaign). He also hit a career high 28 home runs. Tauchman looks like a regular 10 to 12 steal threat.
Dark horse thief: Tyler Wade
The Yankees are deceptively shallow in the middle infield, especially if Gleyber Torres hits the skids. Wade is a sparkplug utilityman with a track record of success in the minors. In three brief cups of coffee, he’s struggled to make quality contact. However, he has the tools to be a roughly league average hitter while chipping in a 20-steal pace.
Honorable mention: Aaron Hicks
Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, we’ll see just how frisky Hicks is feeling when he returns to the lineup. He typically steals around 10 bases.
The Orioles may not have any players reach 10 stolen bases. Of the regulars, only Hayes and Iglesias appear to have any chance of doing so. Last season, across five levels and 453 plate appearances, Hayes nabbed 11 bags. All but two of those were while in the minors. Iglesias stole a surprising 15 bases in 2018 before declining to just six steals in 2019.
Dark horse thief: DJ Stewart
If he plays on a regular basis, Stewart could also push double-digit swipes. He performed well at Triple-A last year, compiling a .291/.396/.548 batting line with 12 home runs and five steals in 277 plate appearances. He also stole 13 bases in 2018 split between Triple-A and the majors.
American League Central
Cleveland has no shortage of thieves. Lindor and Ramirez are superstars with projections for over 20 steals along with power and run production. Mercado could be a fantasy bargain. While he’s only a roughly league average player in reality, he combined 15 home runs and 15 steals in 438 plate appearances last season. That kind of power/speed combination really plays up in roto leagues.
Hernandez had his worst season in terms of steals in 2019. He went 9-for-11. He usually attempts around 25 steals, albeit with an iffy success rate. Hernandez was shaking off a foot injury which ruined the tail end of his 2018 campaign. It’s possible we’ll see a rebound on the bases and at the plate. Allen, in my opinion, really isn’t anything more than a fifth outfielder. He currently projects as the starting right fielder. He’s a solid streaming option for empty steals.
Dark horse thieves: Bradley Zimmer, Jake Bauers
Post-hype prospects Zimmer and Bauers aren’t expected to start the season with the Indians. Zimmer is attempting to shake off the rust of multiple lost seasons. He also wasn’t especially effective when he did take the field. He’s unusually fast for his size, but that might feed into all the injuries he’s suffered since his 2017 debut. Bauers reportedly overhauled his hitting routines over the winter in an effort to become more consistent. If he improves over his tepid 2019, he’ll be one of the fastest first base eligible players in the league. That still only works out to around a 12-steal pace.
Honorable Mention: Delino DeShields Jr.
DeShields is currently a fourth or fifth outfielder, but there is some fluidity to the Indians outfield beyond Mercado. The former Ranger usually stole 20 or more bases despite only receiving around 400 plate appearances. While his bat leaves much to be desired, his above average plate discipline offers a certain degree of value for a speed-first player.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox offense is divided between multi-talented athletes and plodding sluggers. When it comes to stolen bases, Anderson and Moncada have consistently underperformed expectations. Anderson usually swipes around 15 bases while Moncada has settled in the 10-to-12 swipe range. Both have the raw speed to take over 20 a season. This might reflect an organizational ethos. If so, perhaps we should temper expectations for Robert. Some analysts are counting on 30 or more steals after he nabbed 36 bases across three levels (551 plate appearances). Until we see more, I’m penciling him for around 18 thefts.
Dark horse thief: Nick Madrigal
Perhaps “dark horse” is an exaggeration. However, the delayed start could obfuscate Madrigal’s path to the majors. Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick, both of whom are decent baserunners in their own right, might also slow Madrigal’s ascension. When he arrives, expect something like a better Luis Arraez with at least a 20-steal pace.
Kansas City Royals
The extra delay should be good for Mondesi. He survived an abbreviated Spring Training without any setbacks to his injured shoulder. A little more rest can only help his recovery. He’s the odds-on favorite to win the stolen base crown despite projecting for a sub-.300 on base percentage.
Merrifield is a more well-rounded player, but there are two issues with his game. He’s relied on huge plate appearance totals, and his speed seems to be fading. He was 20-for-30 in steals last season after going 45-for-55 the previous year. Entering his age 31 season, we also shouldn’t be too eager to bet on iron health.
After burning through the minors, Lopez completely vanished in his major league debut. Not only did his previously excellent plate discipline evaporate, he also only stole one base in two attempts (402 plate appearances).
Dark horse thief: Brett Phillips
Phillips is out of options so he likely won’t get a chance to continue improving at Triple-A. He has an interesting blend of power, speed, and plate discipline, but it’s all overshadowed by a mountainous strikeout rate. Since his defense is so good, he could easily oust one of Alex Gordon or Hunter Dozier. The latter could also return to the infield. In 414 Triple-A plate appearances last season, Phillips hit .240/.378/.505 with 18 home runs and 22 steals.
Since a surprise 33-steal campaign in 2017, Maybin has taken a reserved approach on the bases. He’s set to start regularly and bat leadoff so perhaps the steals will return. Goodrum has twice stolen 12 bases and should get a shot at everyday reps this year.
Jones and Reyes are below average hitters competing for a regular role. Jones has the better combination of power and speed for fantasy owners while Reyes looks like the superior real-life player. For all but the deepest leagues, these Tigers are best used as temporary roster patches.
Dark horse thief: Daz Cameron
While still an unfinished product, Cameron is also possibly the best outfielder on the Tigers’ 40-man roster. After spending all of 2019 in Triple-A, we should see Cameron debut sometime this season. He blends power, speed, and discipline with a hefty strikeout rate. Expect considerable growing pains.
Primary thief: Byron Buxton
Once the golden child of fantasy prospectdom, Buxton’s career offers a downside glimpse of the possible outcomes for Luis Robert. Since his breakthrough 2017 when he hit .253/.314/.413 with 16 home runs and 29 steals, Buxton has scarcely made his presence felt in the majors. Injuries, including recurring post-concussion-like symptoms, have conspired to deprive him of playing time. When he is on the field, he’s one of the most gifted defenders in the league. He’s ensured of regular starts. A fully healthy season could return 20 home runs and 30 steals.
Dark horse thief: Nick Gordon
If the Twins need to reach into their minor league inventory for a utility man, Gordon has the benefit of a 40-man roster spot and sufficient athleticism to appear all over the field. His bat remains underdeveloped so his above average speed plays down.
American League West
If you miss out on the more exciting shortstops, Andrus is a solid fall back option for sneaky decent pop, a playable average, and upside for 30 steals. He swiped 31 bags last year, his best total since 2013. Expect closer to a 20-steal pace.
Santana was able to overcome serious plate discipline issues and a high whiff rate to post a .283/.324/.534 triple-slash with 28 home runs and 21 stolen bases. A sharp uptick in hard contact rate coincided with the power outburst – perhaps a sign he can continue to feature power, speed, and a high BABIP. Of course, the savvier play is to expect regression. Odor and Choo offer closer to 10 steals. Odor tends to play Jekyll and Hyde with debilitating slumps and blistering hot streaks. Choo is a steady on-base machine who rediscovered his legs when moved to a full-time designated hitter role.
Dark horse thief: Adolis Garcia
An acquisition from the Cardinals farm system, Garcia hit a barn-burning 32 home runs with 14 steals at Triple-A last season. However, his overall batting line of .253/.301/.517 with a 30.1 percent strikeout rate was below league average. The power and speed upside are interesting for deep fantasy leagues, especially with the team that uncovered Santana.
The Mariners might lead the AL West in steals just with the work of Smith. He’s shown a pattern of slow starts to the season followed by better hitting in the second half. My approach is to let others deal with his painful one-category production. If I need a player of his ilk, I can trade for him later.
Gordon’s $14 million option vests with 600 plate appearances so the Mariners will be careful to avoid too many starts for the uni-dimensional utility man. Beware: a truncated season could change how these options are handled. It might also help Gordon play more often if there’s never any risk of him activating the option. He stole 22 bases last year in 421 plate appearances despite also playing through a foot injury. Fraley is an interesting outfield sleeper who projects to deliver over 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases.
Dark horse thief: Shed Long
Long is the main beneficiary of Gordon’s multi-year decline. The former Reds prospect was an above average hitter in 168 plate appearances last season. He stole 19 bases with the Reds Double-A affiliate in 2018. Don’t expect anything game changing, but you might get something like 15 home runs, 10 steals, and a playable batting average. He’s expected to get a chance to bat leadoff too.
Los Angeles Angels
The last time Trout stole only 11 bases, he spent the offseason working on his speed en route to a 30-swipe season. Of course, he was a svelte 24-year-old at the time. Entering his age 28 campaign, an older, wiser Trout might be happy with 10 to 15 steals a season while focusing on finally breaking the 50-homer plateau.
Ohtani could easily steal 20 bases over a full season. However, his dual role as a pitcher will eat into his plate appearances and might also sap his friskiness on the base paths. Expect closer to 10 steals. Simmons has stolen exactly 10 bases in three of the last four seasons. Put me down for more of the same in 2020.
Dark horse thief: Jo Adell
Adell is one of the most-hyped prospects. He oozes with athleticism and figures to supply both power and speed as soon as this year. However, he’s a high whiff rate hitter and largely failed in his first stint at Triple-A. A promotion is not guaranteed for this year – Brian Goodwin and Justin Upton might legitimately be better corner outfielders right now. The stolen base projections are largely conjectural too. He stole just seven bases in 341 plate appearances last year, and scouts believe he’ll lose a step as he reaches maturity. Then again, he could win the Rookie of the Year backed by five category production.
Once a regular base-thieving machine, Altuve managed just six steals last season. A knee issue from 2018 reportedly affected his sprint speed last year. Entering his age 30 season, it’s possible Altuve will continue to focus on his power stroke (career high 31 home runs) rather than delivering value with his legs.
After recording 72 plate appearances in both 2018 and 2019, this is supposed to be Tucker’s year to shine. He’s a 30/30 threat – in fact, he blasted 34 home runs with 30 steals in 536 Triple-A plate appearances last season. Strikeouts will temper his results, but he does a lot of damage when he connects. This is a future fantasy superstar. We might have to put up with growing pains and inconsistent playing time in 2020.
Dark horse thief: Myles Straw
Perhaps my favorite non-starter in the league, Straw has above average plate discipline and contact skills to go with 70 or 80 grade speed. He’s a classic leadoff hitter with upwards of a .360 on base percentage and 50 steal upside. Alas, despite his ability to play virtually any position, the Astros have made little effort to find a regular role for him. Nor will they set him free to one of the 28 or so clubs who would use him as a starter. An injury or two could open the door.
The Athletics are known for taking a station-to-station approach on the bases, but Laureano and Semien occasionally buck the trends. Laureano should be expected to be the more prolific of the pair as he’s at his best when playing aggressively. Semien is more of an opportunist. Both should reach at least 10 swipes in a typical season.
Kemp, Barreto, and, to a lesser extent, Mateo are all competing for second base reps. All three can deliver at least a 15-steal pace. Barrera was off to a hot start in Double-A last year before injuries ended his season. He’s on the 40-man roster.