4 Cheap Speed Options

We only have three weeks left of the regular season, which means you can throw out your player values (if you haven’t already) and focus solely on your categorical needs. If you’re good in home runs and RBIs, feel free to jettison Joey Gallo. If you need stolen bases, here are four under the radar options who might be available in your league depending on its depth.

Nicky Lopez | KCR 2B/SS

Lopez was last ranked as the Royals seventh best prospect back in 2019, but his debut that season included something you don’t see very often. Although he did record just over 400 plate appearances, he combined for just three home runs plus stolen bases. It’s hard to do that over that many PAs! Along with a .240 batting average, he was a literal 0-category contributor for the season. He didn’t perform any better during the short 2020 season, so he was an afterthought in fantasy leagues this year. He’s the guy you end up stuck with at MI, even in a deep league, because you missed out on everyone else you preferred.

Welp, it was a good year to be stuck with him because his minor league promise has officially translated to MLB success. The main driver of his breakout is his BABIP surging from well below .300 to well above it. For a hitter whose main fantasy promise is from his speed, a higher BABIP means more times on base and more opportunities to steal bases. From 2019-2020, he only stole one base and was caught six times. This year, he has attempted 19 steals and amazingly, has succeeded on every single one. Yes, he’s obviously getting on base more, but he’s also attempting a steal more frequently when he is on base.

He’s liable to be caught at some point and his .287 xwOBA is identical to last year and far below his actual wOBA, so he’s no automatic to steal a bunch of bases the rest of the way. But he does play every day, hits second, and makes excellent contact. He’s a worthy roster spot in nearly all formats.

Yonny Hernandez | TEX 2B/SS/3B

Hernandez has been apart of the Rangers youth movement as they look toward the future. Since his recall in early August, he has played fairly regularly, spending the majority of his time at third base. Heading into the season, he wasn’t highly regarded, ranking just 27th among Rangers prospects. That’s likely because he owns almost no power, having posted a career best ISO of just .074 in the minors over a reasonable sample size.

But the lack of power doesn’t mean he can’t hit. His walk rate has sat in the mid-to-high double digits everywhere he has played and his mid-teen strikeout rate is only that high because of his stupendous plate patience. His SwStk% has been consistently in the low-to-mid single digits. That on-base ability is exciting given his speed. He has stolen as many as 46 bases in the minors (back in 2018) and has already stolen eight bases with the Rangers, getting caught just once.

With a .352 OBP, his value jumps in leagues that count that stat instead of batting average. Think of him as the infield version of Myles Straw, which means he’s clearly with starting in the majority of leagues.

Bradley Zimmer | CLE OF

Once upon a time, Zimmer was a top prospect. Back in 2017, he was actually the Indians second best prospect. But injuries have derailed his career and he had accumulated just 510 plate appearances in the Majors from 2017-2020. He has received yet another shot this year and has actually stayed healthy enough to record the second highest PAs of his MLB career, currently sitting at 287.

Nothing has really changed for the 28-year-old though, as he struck out more than 30% of the time, but has shown both home run power (16.7% HR/FB rate) and speed (13 steals). Those 13 steals have come in just 15 attempts, and he has now swiped 37 bases and been caught just five times during his MLB career, which amount to a little more than a full season.

He seems to be on the strong side of a platoon, rotating between outfield spots, as the Indians continue to try determining whether a healthy Zimmer should be part of their future plans. With a wOBA just over .300, but excellent defense in right field, but just replacement level defense in center field this year according to UZR/150, he’s not giving the team a clear cut answer. However, you don’t need to worry about that as he’s likely to continue playing most every day for the remainder of the season.

Given his inflated .370 BABIP, there’s a strong possibility he doesn’t continue getting on base at the .341 clip that has allowed him to attempt 15 steals. But who knows, in three weeks, anything can happen, and he’s been a strong enough basestealer that he should continue to attempt steals when he’s one.

Lorenzo Cain | MIL OF

You may have thought that at age 35, Cain might be through being a fantasy asset. You would be wrong. While he has battled injury as usual, he has contributed to fantasy teams while on the field. Assuming 600 plate appearances, he has actually hit at a 20 home run and 27 stolen base pace. His 11 steals have also come with just two caught stealings, so it’s not like he is losing his steal ability, but has made up for it by attempting more.

No, Cain isn’t exactly playing every day. The Brewers know they need to be careful with him to keep him healthy, so he has been getting routine days off here and there. It makes it tough to roster him in weekly leagues, but not a problem in daily formats where you could just see if he’s in the lineup and bench him if he’s not.

The nice thing about Cain is that he could potentially contribute in all categories in a given week, whereas the top two names on this list aren’t going to have a multi-homer week with a bunch of RBI. So even if you start Cain given a need for steals, you don’t have to make any particular tradeoffs to potential gain those steals.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Thanks Mike! Much needed article down the stretch.