5x5 Category Sleepers: Stolen Bases
It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2022 or even drafting now. Teams still have a lot of work to do when the lockout concludes (hopefully sooner than later), but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2022 fantasy baseball season.
For the eighth year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. After reviewing batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, and ERA sleepers over the last five weeks, we will be looking at possible stolen base sleepers this week. 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). Since the hot stove league still has a long way to go this offseason once it resumes, for the next few weeks we will focus on players in categories that are less based on opportunity and more based on skill. Other roto categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot (R, RBI, SB) or team and manager (W, SV) will be discussed in the latter half of the 10-week series.
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.
Mixed League Sleepers
Vidal Brujan, 2B/OF, Rays
Brujan got his first taste of the majors last season, but he was overshadowed by fellow top prospect Wander Franco. Fortunately, Brujan is an elite prospect in his own right, ranked in the 100 by most major publications over at least the last two years. He’s a natural second baseman, but also has the versatility to play shortstop and all three outfield spots for a team that values defensive versatility. It’s unclear where he would play in Tampa, but the offensive skillset should eventually get him into the lineup.
He’s coming off another good minor league season, hitting .262-12-56 with 44 stolen baes in 103 games. Given that Brujan’s top fantasy asset is speed, we also shouldn’t overlook his excellent plate discipline and ability to get on base, with 49/68 BB/K in 441 plate appearances last year. There’s hope that the soon-to-be 24-year-old will continue to develop more pop, but the speed will play, in any event. He’s swiped at least 44 bases in three consecutive minor league seasons, and Brujan’s sprint speed ranked in the 90th percentile according to Statcast numbers. An unclear spot on the Rays lineup has pushed Brujan around 315 in early NFBC ADP, but he has a chance to make a huge leap if the Rays are active on the trade market after the lockout ends.
Kyle Isbel, OF, Royals
A former third-round pick in 2018, Isbel was one of the talks of Royals camp last year. He was so impressive that he broke camp on the Royals roster despite no minor league work above High-A. Predictably, the experiment didn’t go well for KC, and Isbel was demoted to Triple-A Omaha in April. That gave him enough time to salvage his season in the minors, as he did by hitting .269-15-55 with 22 steals in 105 games, and Isbel was rewarded with a September call-up. The late-season results were far more impressive, as Isbel hit .286/.362/.524, bringing some momentum into 2022.
As things stand now, Isbel has a possible path to playing time in right field and could even spell Michael A. Taylor in center if the veteran’s offense doesn’t improve. The combination of power and speed is interesting for fantasy managers, and it’s made even more intriguing by the fact that Mike Matheny and the Royals easily led MLB in stolen base attempts last year (157) despite missing speedster Adalberto Mondesi for much of the year. His current ADP of 511 makes him a late-draft flier who could have 20-plus steal return.
Jorge Mateo, OF, Orioles
The speedy Mateo has had trouble finding a permanent home, but that might have finally been solved late last year after he was claimed on waivers by the Orioles. Mateo saw more regular playing time over the final two months, hitting a respectable .280-2-8 with five steals and a .748 OPS. Baltimore employed Mateo mostly in the middle infield, and a future as a regular there looks like a strong possibility with few alternatives for the lowly Orioles.
Mateo’s minor league track record shows questions about his bat, but there is no questioning his stolen base potential. He hit only .262/.306/.433 in over 1,000 plate appearances at Triple-A, but Mateo also swiped 49 bases over that time. The elite speed is clear by watching Mateo run or simply looking at his 99th percentile sprint speed, according to Statcast. Baltimore rightfully buried Mateo in the lineup when he did play last season, but that didn’t stop him from showing off his wheels. There’s some risk investing in a one-trick pony with shaky playing time opportunity, but Mateo’s 437 ADP makes the idea more reasonable.
Jose Siri, OF, Astros
Coming up on minor league veteran status as a minor leaguer since 2013, Siri finally got his first chance last season with the Astros at age 26. He was clearly deserving after a terrific season at Triple-A Sugar Land, hitting .318-16-72 with 25 stolen bases in only 94 games. Filling in as the Astros center field in September and into the playoffs, Siri was nearly as impressive. He hit .304-4-9 with three steals in 49 plate appearances to close out September, and added a stolen base while appearing in seven games during the postseason.
Siri’s minor league track record is inconsistent, but his pure tools jump out. He not only shows plus pop with an extreme launch angle and good exit velocity, but Siri also shined in the 99th percentile as a runner. He’s stolen at least 20 bases in five consecutive minor league seasons. The biggest concern for Siri is his lack of plate discipline, fanning 35% of the time while with Houston in the regular season and 31% at Triple-A. Still, he did enough last year to compete for the center field job if the Astros don’t add other options, with Chas McCormick as his only initial competitor as Jake Meyers recovers from shoulder surgery. It’s a winnable opportunity in a strong lineup, and Siri’s 558 ADP makes him free in mixed league drafts currently.
Single League Sleepers
Greg Allen, OF, Pirates
Allen broke onto the fantasy scene in 2018 with Cleveland, swiping 21 bases in 91 games. He’s been an afterthought since then, spending more time in the minors than MLB. Still, he swiped 31 bases in 33 attempts between Triple-A and the Yankees last season, and finds himself in a great situation after being claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh.
The Pirates outfield was a mess in 2021, and there’s no reason to think things will change this year. The only outfield spot set in stone is center field with Bryan Reynolds, while a group that includes Allen, Anthony Alford, Ben Gamel, Travis Swaggerty, and Jared Oliva could fight it out for the corner spots. Obviously, the Pirates could add a veteran or two to the competition by Opening Day, but the prospects for playing time still look favorable for the speedy Allen. With the lack of stolen base availability, he’s a solid late-game flier in NL-only leagues.
Nick Gordon, OF, Twins
The younger brother of former MLB speedster Dee Strange-Gordon, Nick was a much more sought-after prospect as the fifth overall pick in 2014. Inconsistent production at the plate has made the climb slow for Gordon, but he got significant playing time all over the field for Minnesota in the second half of the year. The production really wasn’t up to snuff, hitting only .240/.292/.355 in 216 plate appearances, but Gordon’s versatility should keep him around with the ability to play second, third, shortstop, and the outfield.
Gordon doesn’t have the electric speed of his older brother, who swiped 58-plus bases three times in the majors, but it’s still well above average. His sprint speed graded in the 71st percentile last season, and he was 10-for-11 in stolen base attempts in only 73 games. Gordon has swiped 20-plus bases twice in the minors, and his improving efficiency is worth noting, getting caught only three times in 20 attempts between Triple-A and the majors last season. It’s clear Gordon won’t be a stolen base category topper like his brother, but he can do enough to help in AL-only leagues.
Josh Lowe, OF, Rays
As usual, the Rays farm system is loaded, and Lowe could be their best offensive prospect. The 2016 first-round pick went from good prospect before last year to elite with a huge season at Triple-A Durham, hitting .291-22-78 with a .916 OPS and a perfect 26-for-26 on stolen base attempts. The 6-foot-4 outfielder has tools galore, with home run potential that has nearly matched his stolen base ability over the last two minor league seasons.
After making an appearance with the Rays at the end of the season, Lowe could figure more prominently into their plans this season. The younger brother of Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, Josh has a chance to at least carve out a role as a part-time player and the speed to make noise, even off the bench. The opportunity could come sooner than later if the Rays decide to move on from Kevin Kiermaier.
Jake McCarthy, OF, Diamondbacks
McCarthy arrived under the radar late last season after an excellent year between Double- and Triple-A, where he hit .253-15-54 with 29 steals and 40 extra-base hits in only 85 games. It should be noted McCarthy had the benefit of some favorable home ballparks, particularly Reno, but the offensive production was still eye opening for the former first-round pick. The speed had also been on display in his previous two pro seasons, with 21 steals in 58 games in 2018 and 18 steals in 53 games during 2019.
The late-season struggles with the Diamondbacks weren’t a huge surprise for an outfielder who had already seen his strikeout rate inch toward 30% in the minors, but McCarthy also showed some very nice flashes. The pop and speed that he displayed in the upper minors seemed to transfer, albeit in a limited sample size, and a plus walk rate allowed McCarthy to post a respectable .333 OBP. As for his speed, McCarthy graded in the 99th percentile as a sprinter and also showed off plus defense. McCarthy isn’t about to displace Daulton Varsho in the D-Backs outfield, but the situation for playing time is far from insurmountable with the aging David Peralta and young Pavin Smith in the outfield corners. With a good Spring Training, McCarthy should be worthy of a flier in NL-only leagues.