Last week’s column dealt with the perceived dearth of speed available for fantasy baseball. For those who missed it, click here to read it. Spring training can portend players with a chance to emerge in the category for the season ahead. This follow-up will focus on players at each position who may be readily available on the waiver wire or late in the last weekend of drafts leading up to opening day.
In an effort to focus on the players, they’ve been split up as follows: catcher, middle infield, corner infield and outfield.
Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
Slated to be the backup catcher for the Dodgers, Austin Barnes stands to be the most likely clone of J.T. Realmuto of any catcher in the majors this year. Barnes stole 11 bases between two levels in 122 games in 2014, then 13 in Triple-A and the majors over 101 games with a spike to 18 steals in only 85 games at Triple-A last year. Moving up to the big leagues can depress stolen base gains in the minors, but Barnes should take a step forward in his production and if given enough playing time, could prove valuable in leagues of at least 15 teams or more and especially in National League only formats.
Tony Wolters, Colorado Rockies
It’s hard to believe a player on the Rockies can be underrated, but Tony Wolters not only could be on the positive side of a platoon, he may steal some bases at a position where most do not produce. Wolters used to be a middle infielder in the minors but switched to catcher which slowed his speed on the bases. However, he did steal four bases in 71 games as a rookie last year with Colorado along with hitting a palatable .259/.327/.395 with three home runs. Back at Single-A, Wolters stole 19 bases in only 69 games prior to this move to catching.
Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies
Cesar Hernandez did attempt to steal 30 times last year. So volume proves not to be a problem. He also projects to leadoff for the Phillies this year after moving to the spot last year. Unfortunately, Hernandez only finished with 17 steals last year, so many dismiss him as a stolen base threat this year. But this could be a mistake.
During spring training, Hernandez worked with veteran Micky Morandini to improve his proficiency on the base paths which may occur as Hernandez finished spring five-for-five prior to breaking camp. Of more interest, Hernandez showed tremendous growth in the second half last year. In 70 games, he slashed .298/.413/.411 with 11 steals and a weighted runs created plus of 127. His OBP ranks sixth of all qualified hitters and only seven finished with a total above four hundred. As for stolen bases, Hernandez finished tied for 16th with Brian Dozier, Mookie Betts and Elvis Andrus after the All-Star break.
The most encouraging part of the second half breakthrough lies in his spike in walk rate from 5.5 percent in the first half to 15.7 percent in the second. He also cut his strikeout percentage slightly in the process. Where one can roster Hernandez in drafts makes him a worthy player to target late for stolen base upside.
Raul Mondesi Jr., Kansas City Royals
While Raul Mondesi Jr. could be a detriment to a team’s batting average, the stolen base upside could offset it for those desperate in fantasy leagues. Take note of his struggles to hit for average in the minors before investing too heavily in the spring numbers. But one cannot ignore his four steals this spring along with his chance to reach 20 or more this season as long as he can get on base.
Tyler Saladino, Chicago White Sox
Tyler Saladino’s numbers from 2015 were nothing to write home about. But a light switch may have turned on last year. Saladino finished with eight home runs and 11 stolen bases in only 93 games with a .282/.315/.409. Odds remain likely his 2017 sits somewhere in the middle. Hope lies in the 84.3 career contact rate along with a spike in hard contact last year. Double digit home runs and stolen bases proves valuable anywhere one can find it late in draft season.
Arismendy Alcantara, Cincinnati Reds
It feels like Arismendy Alcantara should be old news but playing time could open up with the Reds and he’s swiped three bases this spring. His eligibility remains at middle infield on Yahoo despite his transition to the outfield with Cincinnati. With two different teams at Triple-A last year Alcantara stole 32 bases in only 102 games. This profile fits for deep formats but he could be a sneaky add at some point this year.
JaCoby Jones, Detroit Tigers
Another player who benefits from eligibility as opposed to where he will play. Right now, JaCoby Jones could start in center field for the Tigers. A post-hype player with the tendency to strike out, Jones did steal 18 bases across three levels last year. Double digit stolen bases at corner infield could be quite a boon for those in 15-team or league-only formats which remains something Jones’ accomplished in each of the last three seasons in the minors.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets
Whether the cloud of last year’s suspension or the perception of a declining skill set, Jose Reyes remains vastly overlooked at a time when stolen bases may be valuated too highly. This creates a rare buy-low opportunity on a veteran who may spend most of his time atop the Mets batting order with a clear path to playing time. Reyes produced 45 runs, eight home runs and nine stolen bases during his 60 games last year. Expecting a total akin to his 2015 results of seven home runs and 24 steals in 116 games seems like a reasonable floor.
Denard Span, San Francisco Giants
On the surface, Denard Span’s 70 runs, 11 home runs, 51 RBI and 12 stolen bases seem average. He did last 143 games last year for the Giants and while the home run spike in his new surroundings surprised, it did not make him anymore valuable. However, take a gander at this tweet from a Giants beat writer:
I'm telling you, the Span I saw the last 10 days or so we never saw last year: speed, pop, even a slightly better arm. Needs to stay healthy
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 29, 2017
This spring, Span’s slash line sits at .294/.368/.490. His total through 18 games and 51 at-bats: eight runs, two home runs, six RBI and two stolen bases. Looking at his career with the Nationals, these numbers seem more in line with his past production levels. During Span’s time in Washington, he hit .292/.345/.404 and stole 62 bases in 75 attempts with a high of 31 in 2014. While this number may be out of reach, Span’s value could rise with a higher average and at least 20 stolen bases. If he’s truly healthy, Span makes for a worthy late round flier.
Delino DeShields, Texas Rangers
What a difference a year makes for Delino DeShields. From starting center fielder to fighting his way onto the roster and now putting himself in contention to lead off for the Rangers in certain lineup configurations. Part of the reason lies in DeShields being successful in all 12 of his stolen base attempts to lead all players this spring. This wave of production pushed his draft status into the 20th round last night during my 12-team NFBC satellite draft.
During 2015, DeShields slashed .261/.344/.374 with 25 steals in 121 games. He cratered last year to an average below .210 with an OBP below .300 and only eight stolen bases. There’s no guaranteeing his playing time or future production, but use the hot spring along with 14 walks versus 12 strikeouts during his 57 at-bats in Arizona for more late round speed thunder.
Terrance Gore, Kansas City Royals
Another speedy Royal? When the team traded Jarrod Dyson to the Mariners, it only made sense to speculate on his replacement being the fleet footed Terrance Gore. Add in Jorge Soler heading to the disabled list and Gore could see playing time early on for Kansas City. Gore does not seem to possess on-base skills like Dyson, but speed should not be an issue. Remember, Dyson stole at least 30 bases in four of the last five seasons without exceeding 375 plate appearances. This sort of production with a lower batting average could suit Gore well.
Jacob May, Chicago White Sox
Many fawned over the upside in Charlie Tilson prior to his foot injury and now it’s Jacob May who may have seized the center field job for the near term. May hit .349/.369/.524 this spring with 11 runs in 25 games. He also stole four bases in five attempts prior to breaking camp. His 22.4 strikeout percentage at Triple-A last year should portend regression once the season begins, but May fought for the job and in American League only formats or deeper leagues, retains value based upon his 19 steals in 83 games last year in the minors.
This list gives options for those who may miss out on speed early in drafts or auctions for players with upside. Not on included but owning potential value, the winner of the Michael Taylor versus Wilmer Difo battle for the last roster spot on the Nationals could be intriguing. A favorite draft and stash target could be Derek Fisher of the Astros. He hit .289/.417/.447 this spring with 11 stolen bases without being caught. Fisher also walked eight times against 14 strikeouts but this becomes more palatable when seeing he totaled 21 home runs with 28 stolen bases across Double-A and Triple-A last season. Once the Astros tire of Nori Aoki, be poised to add Fisher if he gets the call.
Speed can be fleeting, but knowing the late round targets and what positions provide latent production will be a key to draft day success.
Statistical Credits: Fangraphs.com, MiLB.com, Baseball-Reference.com