Digging for Speed, Pt. 2 – First Base

Earlier this week I explored the catching position for some potential speed contributions as the concentration of SB standings makes it so the extra 4-5 could really make a difference. First base is the other position where SBs are often secondary or even tertiary to the target contributions of power production. Let’s take a deeper look at the position to see where we might find some SBs.

The Known Contributors (sorted by Sprint Speed)

Obviously, we know some of the top end guys can help here while also delivering game-changing power. That’s why they go so early in drafts, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them:

Cody Bellinger | LAD, 28.9 ft/sec – Belly’s speed is why he has no problem fitting into center field for the Dodgers. He swiped 14 bases last season in 15 attempts and he’s 24-for-28 across his career (86%). He had a predictable sophomore “slump”, but still put up a 120 wRC+ with 25 HR and those aforementioned 14 SBs… a “slump” anyone would gladly take.

Ian Desmond | COL, 28.1 ft/sec – The speed is keeping Desmond’s fantasy value alive at this point. With a groundball rate that has soared to 62% in Colorado, he was lucky to hit 22 HR thanks to a 25% HR/FB rate and the added grounders didn’t help the batting average as he hit just .236. But his 20 SBs made him the only 20/20 1B available.

Paul Goldschmidt | STL, 26.9 ft/sec sprint speed – He’s been a premium speedster at the position for most of his career with 21, 32, and 18 in 205-17 before just seven last year. His sprint speed was essentially unchanged from 2017 to 2018 so if he’s healthy and the Cardinals management doesn’t hold him back, he should creep back into double digits.

Freddie Freeman | ATL, 26.7 ft/sec – He’s a cut below the others here in speed, but he’s averaged 8 SB/year the last three seasons. His 24 SBs tie him (with Bellinger, who only needed two seasons to do it) for 4th among 1B, or 3rd if we remove Wil Myers, who no longer qualifies at 1B.

The Potential Gems (sorted by Sprint Speed)

Niko Goodrum | DET, 29.1 ft/sec – First base is thin, but probably not thin enough to merit Goodrum as your starter there. Slotting him into CI isn’t a terrible idea, though. He went 16 HR/12 SB last year and should be Tigers starting 2B barring a major flop early on. He wasn’t listed under the 1B sprint speed board, though he did finish 2nd at 2B and would be the top 1B, regardless of PA thresholds. He had seasons of 20, 35, and 29 SBs from 2013-15 and could’ve topped 20 again with a full 2016 (he had just 233 PA). Don’t sleep on the 27-year old as a mid-to-late teens round pick.

Hunter Dozier | KC, 28.6 ft/sec – There’s a lot of winter talk about the speed focus on the Royals thanks to their acquisition of Billy Hamilton to add to Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Brett Phillips, and Terrance Gore, but Dozier deserves some love here, too. His sprint speed ties him with the likes of Tommy Pham, Starling Marte, and Lorenzo Cain last year.

Dozier swiped 8 SBs/600 PA in the minors and could get the full-time 3B role this year. He’s always had some intriguing pop, but with the speed, that full-time role could yield a 20/10 season with some AVG concern thanks to a career 29% K rate in 409 MLB plate appearances. Thankfully, he’s remarkably cheap (491 ADP in Draft Champions NFBC leagues) so I’m going for the gamble.

Jake Bauers | CLE, 27.8 ft/sec –Bauers nabbed six bases in his 388 PA last year, but needed 12 attempts to do so, which undercut the output. He only had a 67% success rate in the minors, but did post a 20-for-23 season back in 2017. He’s got the 5th-best sprint speed at the position and Cleveland led baseball in SBs last year, so they may be willing to let their newly acquired 1B into the mix en route to a 15/15 season. Like Dozier, a high MLB strikeout rate (27%) puts the batting average in question (.201) a bit.

However, he had a 17% K rate in 2567 minor league plate appearances and a .252 BABIP dinger him in 2018 meaning I’m open to betting on a .260+ AVG. He walks a ton, too (14% MLB; 11% MiLB) so even if his AVG is more .240-.250, his OBP should be 90-100 points north of that. Bauers is a very interesting CI pickup with his 246 ADP. As we approach draft season, I think we could see him rise toward his 195 min. pick, a price I could still see paying given this diverse skills profile.

Max Muncy | LAD, 27.6 ft/sec – Muncy’s 8th in 1B sprint speed with the 5th-highest mark once accounting for ties and while power was the driving force behind his breakout last year, he quietly snagged three bags in three tries. He only stole 19 bases in 31 attempts as a minor leaguer, but he has the wheels to double his 2018 output if the Dodgers give him the opportunities.

Yuli Gurriel | HOU, 27.6 ft/sec – The 35-year old went 5-for-6 on the bases last season, adding some value to compensate for being a below average power source at the position. If you’re stacking homers come pick 175 or so, Gurriel is a nice AVG boost with some sneaky speed.

Eric Thames | MIL, 27.1 ft/sec – Quick, how many stolen bases did Thames have last year? Did you guess three? You’re wrong… ya silly goof. Did you guess 12? OK, relax… it was seven, but in seven tries! And he only played 96 games, thanks to a pair of DL stints (thumb, hamstring). Remember the hype when he returned from Korea centered around a 40/40 season. He did steal 24 bases in the 30 attempts (80%) in the surrounding seasons, too.

Josh Bell | PIT, 27.1 ft/sec – Bell’s got some speed, but he’s just 4-for-13 in his MLB career (31%) so we haven’t really seen it come to fruition. A career .350 OBP thanks in large part to his 12% BB rate offers the opportunity to run regularly so if he can sharpen his instincts on the bases, we could see a 6-8 SB output.

Ryan O’Hearn | KC, 26.9 ft/sec – We don’t really have any history with just 16 SBs in 2339 MiLB PA (64% success), but he isn’t slow and perhaps he gets some spilloff SBs being around the Runnin’ Royals. If he can get 4-5 on his own and then tack on another 3-4 on the backend of double steals, there’s some real upside here because I think he’s going to smack 25+ HRs, too.

Dozier, Bauers, and Thames are my favorites here. Goodrum is pretty interesting, too, though I think the AVG will remain an issue where I like those other three guys to improve theirs, so plan accordingly. I love O’Hearn, but not so much because of the speed potential. Muncy isn’t going to be some cheap late rounder after his 2018, but you might get a handful of SBs to counter any pullback on his 35 HR count meaning he might be worth the price (~125 ADP).

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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NL Rulesmember
3 years ago

Muncy with some surprising wheels or at least SB ability even if that only means 5 or so