It’s never too early to prepare for your draft, and some of us draft fiends are already setting our draft dates for 2021 or even drafting now. The hot stove league is just taking shape, but it’s still a fun time to look toward the 2021 fantasy baseball season.
For the seventh year in a row, I’ll be breaking down category sleepers at each of the 5x5 roto categories. The first five articles in the series were batting average, WHIP, home run, strikeout, and ERA sleepers. This week, we’ll be looking at stolen base sleepers. Over 10 weeks, I will be providing a list of sleepers for each 5x5 roto category (BA, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV). After looking at categories that were more based on player skill over the first five weeks, we shift to categories that are more dependent on opportunity, supporting cast, and batting order spot.
Before reading any further, it’s important to note the definition of a sleeper. In this case, it’s a player who will exceed draft day ADP AND projections in a particular category. The players are broken down by mixed league sleepers and single league sleepers.
Mixed League Sleepers
Andres Gimenez, 2B/SS/3B, Indians
Arguably the Mets top prospect heading into last season, Gimenez made his much-anticipated debut in 2020 and was everything the team could have hoped for at age 21. He hit .263/.333/.398, but more importantly for fantasy managers, contributed eight stolen bases and 22 runs scored as a versatile infielder. He also showed improvement in his base stealing efficiency, going 8-for-9 on stolen base attempts after going 38-for-52 in 2018 and 28-for-44 in the minors over the previous two seasons.
What was lacking for Gimenez last season was every day at-bats, but as one of the centerpieces of the Francisco Lindor/Carlos Carrasco blockbuster trade, the young infielder could have a better opportunity in Cleveland. As things stand now, it looks like he will have a similar utility role following the signing of Cesar Hernandez with some upside as the possible leadoff man. That opportunity would bring a spark to a lineup that will have to do more to manufacture runs this season after losing Lindor and Carlos Santana. If the improvement in base stealing efficiency is real, Gimenez would seem to have a realistic shot at 30-plus steals, creating a major profit opportunity with a current NFBC ADP of 193.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Orioles
Mullins’ name isn’t new for fantasy managers who have been scrounging for steals over the last few years. He broke in with the team late in 2018, playing 45 games and adding optimism that he could be Baltimore’s center fielder of the future. Unfortunately, Mullins was lost at the plate early in 2019 and spent most of that season in the minors, hitting .233-10-42 with 33 steals in 117 games between Double- and Triple-A. Injuries to the Orioles outfield allowed Mullins to get another shot last year, and he made good on that chance as a regular in late August and early September, hitting .271-3-12 with seven stolen bases in 48 games.
The rebuilding Orioles have yet to do anything significant this offseason, so the opportunity for more at-bats in the leadoff spot still looks like it’s in play for Mullins. The team currently has more powerful options like Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, Austin Hays, and D.J. Stewart for the outfield, but Mullins is certainly capable of finding playing time if he can maintain anything close to what we saw late last year. Much like a lower tier closer, you might have to put up with some mediocre stat contribution in other categories for the upside of 20-30 stolen bases, but in this case it could be a necessary evil with so little supply of steals available.
Edward Olivares, OF, Royals
Olivares was one of the stories of early spring training, 2020, before COVID-19 shutdown the world. Overshadowed by several top prospects in San Diego, Olivares was still a proven capable minor league performer coming off a .283-18-77, 35 steal season at Double-A in 2019. An MLB roster spot looked in reach with Olivares’ 8-for-22 start, but he struggled for the Padres when the MLB season did eventually get underway.
The opportunity looks far better now after Olivares was traded to KC in the Trevor Rosenthal deal, and he has a real chance for at-bats with the left field and center field jobs currently up for grabs. There is five-category upside for Olivares, but it’s his speed that could make the most immediate contribution. He swiped 20-plus bases in three consecutive minor league seasons from 2017-2019, and Statcast showed a player with 95th percentile sprint speed last season. The current 484 ADP makes Olivares a flier in most leagues who could see his draft stock skyrocket if he gets off to another strong start in spring training.
Leody Taveras, OF, Rangers
Taveras has been on Rangers prospect lists during most of his life as a pro, making his debut at age 17 in 2016. His bat has developed very slowly since then, hitting just .260/.323/.358 in four minor league seasons, but the defense and speed certainly looks like it will play. On that end, Taveras had a solid debut as the Rangers center fielder and leadoff man last year with four home runs and eight stolen bases in 33 games while also showing himself to be an asset defensively. Taveras also found himself as the team’s regular leadoff man for almost all of September.
The Rangers did sign David Dahl this offseason, but as things stand now, there’s room for both outfielders to play regularly. The question is whether Dahl will replace Taveras as the Rangers leadoff man, especially considering Taveras’ poor .308 on-base percentage last season. Either way, the stolen base efficiency we saw from Taveras could continue to allow him the green light on the base paths, with 20-plus stolen base upside. As is the case with other speedsters mentioned, Taveras could potentially hurt you in other areas as he tries to refine his raw approach at the plate, but his ADP of 206 still provides profit potential if he steals regularly.
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Single League Sleepers
Anthony Alford, OF, Pirates
Less than a month from the start of spring training, Pittsburgh’s roster is a mess. The team seems okay with that after leading MLB in losses during 2020 and already trading three faces of the franchise in Josh Bell, Joe Musgrove, and Jameson Taillon this offseason after moving Starling Marte last year. The Pirates have clear holes in several areas, and while there’s time to add cheap veterans in free agency, the center field job is still very much up for grabs now.
Alford has a huge opportunity going into his age 26 season with Pittsburgh. As a former failed prospect in Toronto, Alford still needs to play his way onto the roster, but his pure talent could be worthy of a long look by the team. Alford has a respectable .358 on-base percentage in the minors for his career, and he swiped at least 17 bases in five consecutive seasons. For now, his biggest competition in center field looks like converted shortstop Cole Tucker, who has also had his fair share of MLB struggles thus far. If Pittsburgh doesn’t add a veteran to compete, this situation is worth watching for NL-only owners desperate for some speed.
Sam Haggerty, OF, Mariners
Fantasy managers in search of steals in 2021 are looking for the next Dylan Moore, who went from utilityman to major fantasy asset for Seattle last season. Haggerty’s all-around offensive game isn’t as developed as Moore, but he still has a shot to be a cheap speed breakout on the Mariners in 2021. His biggest pluses offensively have been speed and willingness to draw a walk, with a career .355 on-base percentage in the minors and at least 23 steals in three consecutive seasons from 2027-2019.
Haggerty appeared at third base and the outfield for Seattle last season, but he’s a natural middle infielder. The versatility gives Haggerty a better chance to crack the Mariners roster this season, and for a team that’s still in rebuild mode, anything is possible. Haggerty did swipe four bases in only 13 games with the team last season, so the hope of a 15-20 steal flier isn’t out of the question in AL-only leagues.
Monte Harrison, OF, Marlins
The frightening COVID-19 outbreak in Miami last season put several players down for significant portions of the season, opening up opportunities for young players. Harrison was one of those young players getting his shot, but he looked overmatched in the majors, hitting only .170 with 26 strikeouts in 51 plate appearances. It was clear the 24-year-old needed more seasoning, but he did get enough chances to show off his speed with six stolen bases in 32 games.
The ceiling here is still a solid major league center fielder, with Harrison showing 20/20 upside and in fact hitting 21 home runs with 27 stolen bases in 2017 while with the Brewers organization. Unfortunately, Harrison’s lack of plate discipline has been a huge red flag with a strikeout rate that has hovered around 30% for much of his minor league career. The raw approach at the plate and addition of Starling Marte late last season will likely push Harrison to the bench, at best, to start the 2021 season, but the five-time 20-plus stolen base outfielder in the minors could see regular at-bats later in the year if Miami falls out of contention, and Harrison has 20 stolen base upside for NL-only leagues.
Eli White, OF, Rangers
White got his first MLB opportunity at age 26 last season, and the former 11th-round draft choice likely profiles as a bench player. He has shown some offensive ability in the minors, particularly at Double-A in 2018, when he hit .306/.388/.450 with 18 steals in 130 games while in the Oakland farm system. Some more power started to sprout at Triple-A in 2019 after joining the Rangers org, with 14 homers in 116 games at Nashville.
It’s notable for White’s playing time prospects that he’s a converted infielder who spent most of 2019 at shortstop. He only saw time in the outfield while with the Rangers last season, but he has the versatility to be a super utilityman on the Rangers roster this season. While he’s never swiped 20 bases in as season as a pro, White did have double-digit steals in four consecutive seasons and flashed 98th percentile sprint speed last year, according to Statcast. There is some speed potential off the bench in AL-only leagues, and his potential to add more position eligibility could make White rosterable if you’re in a pinch.