As Paul Sporer noted last week, stolen bases are getting expensive in this year’s drafts. With players like Jose Peraza and Jarrod Dyson shooting up draft boards, it’s clear that fantasy owners are more than willing to pay for steals in 2017.
Personally, there is nothing I love more than a good bargain. I spent a good two minutes doing price comparisons on hot dog buns at the grocery store yesterday, before finding some off-brand buns for just 89 cents on the bottom shelf. I don’t care who you are, you don’t need to be spending big on hot dog buns.
This is the same approach I take to speed-only players in fantasy baseball (great transition, Scott). I don’t like to spend on speedsters in my leagues, partially because I know steals are probably going to be available on the waiver wire. There’s usually a handful of undrafted bench players or minor leaguers who end up swiping a significant number of bags.
Last year, Travis Jankowski stole 30 bases in 383 plate appearances. Keon Broxton swiped 23 in 244 PA. Dyson was another example, stealing 30 bases in his 337 PA. The aforementioned Peraza picked up 21 steals in 256 trips to the plate. It’s no coincidence that Dyson, Peraza and Broxton were the top three players Sporer mentioned last week when discussing rising ADPs.
I got to thinking about who those guys will be next year; the players who go undrafted in fantasy leagues this year, but end up in high demand in 2018 due to gaudy smallish-sample steal totals. I identified three players to keep an eye on for steals as the season progresses, or perhaps slot into a reserve or minor-league spot, if your league has those.
Roman Quinn — Phillies (OF)
Who is this guy? The oft-injured Quinn got a cup of coffee in the majors last year, after picking up 31 steals in 322 Double-A plate appearances. The 23-year-old doesn’t profile to be much more than a league-average hitter, but he’s blazing fast, averaging almost exactly one steal per ten plate appearances in his minor-league career (159 SB in 1592 PA).
What’s his path to playing time? Any idea of Quinn making the Opening Day roster vanished when the Phillies traded for Howie Kendrick, then signed Michael Saunders and Chris Coghlan as free agents. Still, Quinn’s got a great shot of seeing regular playing time at some point this year.
The Phillies aren’t exactly built to win now. Here at FanGraphs, they’re projected for just 72 wins this year. There is a near-zero chance that all three of Kendrick, Saunders and Coghlan are still in Philly after the trade deadline. The odds of all three being gone by then might be higher than all three sticking in Philly all season.
If/when outfield playing time opens up on the major-league roster, the Phillies will likely want an extended look at Quinn. There are plenty of other young outfielders around, but Quinn might have the fewest warts of the bunch. Aaron Altherr needs to prove that he can hit again, after having major wrist surgery and hitting .202/.304/.293 when he returned.
Tyler Goeddel clearly needs minor-league seasoning, seeing as he hit .192/.258/.291 in the majors last year as a Rule 5 pick. Nick Williams fell flat on his face in Triple-A last season, with a .258/.287/.427 slash and horrifying plate discipline (3.6% BB, 25.8% K). Dylan Cozens is a fascinating prospect, but has yet to play above Double-A.
That’s a long list of outfield options for Philly, but there might be room for two of them in the major-league outfield by midseason. Quinn’s going to play in the majors this year. It’s just a matter of when, and how many bases he steals once he gets there.
Zack Granite — Twins (OF)
Who is this guy? Despite having a name worthy of a cartoonish video-game slugger, Granite is a speedster through and through. He’s a relatively unheralded prospect, landing 12th on the Twins’ top prospect list, and the internet isn’t even bothering to reach a consensus on how to spell his first name yet. The 24-year-old possesses elite plate discipline, with 8.7% BB and 10.0% K in 1,487 minor-league PA. He hit .295/.347/.382 with 56 SB last year in Double-A.
What’s his path to playing time? Max Kepler and Byron Buxton have right and center field locked up, but that left-field platoon of Eddie Rosario and Robbie Grossman looks pretty unappealing. Grossman impressed with the bat last year, but he might as well have “REGRESSION CANDIDATE” stamped on his forehead, and he’s also such an atrocious defender that it’s hard to even trust him to play left in a platoon.
In Brandon Warne’s 2017 player profile on Rosario, he referred to him as having “the talent of an All-Star with very, very poor execution.” I can’t think of a better way to say it. Rosario is one of those great athletes who seems like he chose the wrong sport somewhere along the way. I used to be high on Rosario, but now I see him as the next Felix Pie (sorry for the reminder, Cubs fans). His ceiling is probably Juan Encarnacion with more strikeouts. Boy, isn’t that an exciting thought.
As for Granite’s organizational competition, there’s Danny Santana, who is essentially a way worse version of Rosario. Daniel Palka has a ton of pop in his bat, but hit .232/.296/.483 with an astronomical 38.6% strikeout rate in Triple-A last year. Other than that, it’s just a handful of random former major-league journeymen, like Drew Stubbs and J.B. Shuck.
It won’t take much to get Granite to the majors this year. Once that happens, he can put his fleet feet to good use for fantasy owners. Also, Granite is tailor-made for the creation of a punny team name. Nice.
Greg Allen — Indians (OF)
Who is this guy? The 24-year-old Allen is a solid contact hitter, with excellent vision at the plate. He also stole 45 bases between High-A and Double-A last year, with another 11 steals in 22 Arizona Fall League games. There’s near-zero home run power potential here, but Allen does everything else well. He’ll start the year in Triple-A, but he’s a polished player with the potential to be a league-average major-leaguer right now.
What’s his path to playing time? There’s a reason I gave Allen that somewhat faint praise in the last sentence, and that’s because Tyler Naquin might not be a league-average major-leaguer right now. His .296/.372/.514 slash in 365 major-league PA last year looks mighty impressive, but it came with a 30.7% strikeout rate and a ridiculous .411 BABIP. It’s not a question of whether the regression monster will bite him, it’s a matter of how hard.
Lonnie Chisenhall is about as boring as it gets in right field, and probably wouldn’t be hard to displace. Brandon Guyer is a nice bench piece, but isn’t an everyday option because he’s only good at hitting lefties (and getting hit by pitches). Austin Jackson, Abraham Almonte, yuck and yuck.
The biggest issue for Allen regarding potential playing time is that Bradley Zimmer will likely get a shot before Allen does. It’s possible that Zimmer’s contact issues keep him in Triple-A, but it would still be very surprising to see Allen get the call ahead of him. However, would it be all that surprising if Zimmer and Allen take over both center and right field for Cleveland by midseason? It’s not the most likely scenario in the world, but it’s realistic enough to keep an eye on Allen as the season gets underway. If he finds his way into the lineup, he should rack up the steals.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.