Steals can be one of the more challenging categories to strategize, for multiple reasons. For one, they don't mesh well with another category like home runs and RBI do. They're also less predictable, especially in the lower ranges. Maybe the biggest issue is the the lack of truly difference-making options.
Only 11 hitters stole more than 25 bases in 2015. From 2005-2014, an average of 21 players per year reached that mark. In fact, there were fewer stolen bases in baseball last year than there had been in any full season in the last 40 years. It's difficult to say if it's a trend, but 2013 ranks 34th on that list and 2014 ranks 32nd.
That lack of steals may seem like an excuse to reach for a guy like Billy Hamilton, but I'm not so sure. Hamilton at his best is going to come pretty close to winning the steals category in most leagues by himself. The thing is, you probably aren't going to get zero steals from the rest of your team. There's a good chance 10-20 percent of Hamilton's steals go to waste.
At his worst Hamilton is going to kill you in virtually every other category. It's fine to draft a one-category player at the end of the draft, but Hamilton's current ADP is near the end of the eighth round. Assuming you don't want to slot Hamilton is as your third outfielder, just how long can you wait for steals? I'm glad you asked.
Let's start with the players who did it last year. Of the 11 players to top 25 stolen bases, all but two are being drafted in the first nine rounds according the Fantasy Pros. Both of the other two should be in line for more at bats than they saw in 2015.
Burns figures to start the season as a mainstay at the top of an improved Athletics order after a 2015 season that didn't get started until May. He also figures to get drafted a good 8-10 rounds after Hamilton but outperformed him in every category last season besides steals. There are reasons to believe Burns' power numbers will slump in his sophomore campaign, but I'm still not sure where I'd see Hamilton making up ground.
In our most recent draft, Hamilton fell to the end of the 12th round. He was still taken six rounds earlier than Burns was. You should feel comfortable drafting Burns as early as the 14th round as a late steals option who won't kill you in other categories.
Jarrod Dyson is a bit like the bizarro Billy Hamilton. He's not young (he'll turn 32 this season) and he has gotten no hype, but Dyson is blazing fast. Over the past four seasons he has stolen 126 bases despite the fact he's yet to accumulate 350 plate appearances in a year. The Royals seem committed to using Dyson in a regular role this season, at least against right handed pitchers.
If Dyson thrives in that role, he could accumulate 450 plate appearances, which would likely mean 50-plus stolen bases. He has never been good with the bat, but he has never been as bad as Hamilton either. Dyson has a career .266 average with a .696 OPS against right handed pitching. The best part about Dyson is that his price tag better represents what he'll do for you. His was taken in the 19th round in our recent mock and that's much higher than he's being taken in other industry drafts.
Of course, 26 is an arbitrary cutoff and there were a slew of young players in the 21-25 range in 2015. It's hard to get too excited about Elvis Andrus ot Jean Segura as their ability to get on base is limiting their upside. If you aren't Hamilton or Dyson, it's difficult to rack up big steal numbers with a sub-.320 OBP. That applies to Jake Marisnick and Kevin Pillar as well unless they can make another step forward in 2016. Thankfully there are a couple of young hitters who got on base at a much higher rate and are still cheap.
As a 23-year-old rookie, Deshields only hit .261 but he stole 25 bags in just three fourths of a season and walked enough to put together a nice on base percentage. Deshields had stolen at least 50 bags in three straight seasons in the minors, so this was not a surprising development. Deshields has actually shown more pop in the minors than Burns, so it shouldn't be surprise if his bat actually improves.
In an ideal situation the Rangers offense is improved, Deshields gets 600 plate appearances and a green light on the base paths. If that happens he may be a 50-steal player who is an absolute steal at his current Round 20 ADP. Deshields went two picks after Burns in our most recent mock but I'd be OK with taking him much earlier if you fall behind in steals.
There are parts of LeMahieu's 2015 breakout that we're fairly certain aren't repeatable (like a .362 BABIP), but steals aren't one of them. LeMahieu had 18 steals in 109 games in his rookie campaign and stole 23 in 2011 in the minors. He also figures to have a prominent role in a lineup that plays half his games in Coors Field, so he should be able to help you in runs and provide decent 2B RBI numbers.
LeMahieu is being drafted in the 14th round, so you can either completely punt 2B or take him as one of the top middle infield positions.
Of course, not everyone who will provide help in steals stole a lot of bases last year. We'll finish with five players who stole less than 15 bases in 2015 who could drastically increase that number in 2016, along with their 2015 ADP.
|Name||2015 SB||2016 ADP|
|Francisco Lindor||12||RD 10|
|Matt Duffy||12||RD 17|
|Denard Span||11||RD 19|
|Steven Souza||12||RD 20|
|Ketel Marte||8||RD 21|