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Saves and Steals

All About Steals: American League

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: March 25, 2022, 8:30 pm ET

On Monday, we dove headfirst into the stolen base pool with an in-depth look at National League base thieves. Today, we complete the exercise by examining the American League. You’ll notice the Junior Circuit contains a larger share of the league’s best runners. Since we last met, Tommy Pham signed with the Reds and Billy Hamilton inked a minor league deal with the Mariners. Brett Gardner is the only free agent burner like to provide anywhere near adequate fantasy numbers.

You’ll see I reference “percentiles” often. These are pulled from Statcast and refer to sprint speed. A 90th-percentile runner is faster than all but 10 percent of big leaguers. Sprint speed is not a perfect analog for stealing bases. Some fast players take awhile to reach top speed or else get bad jumps. Some slow players reach top speed quickly or are masters at reading pitchers and defenses.

 

American League East

Tampa Bay Rays

Primary thieves: Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Wander Franco, Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips, Vidal Brujan, Taylor Walls, Josh Lowe

The Rays could be the fastest team in baseball – at least from a holistic sense. Nearly every one of their regulars – and most of their bench guys – have a legitimate shot to reach double-digit steals. Arozarena is the best bet to broach 20 steals after achieving exactly that last season. Ominously, he was caught 10 times. Margot and Phillips are ticketed for an unconventional right-field platoon, one that could also include Brujan or Lowe at some point in the season. Brujan could push 40 thefts in a full season while Lowe looks like a 20-plus threat in his own right. Alas, neither player has an easy path to regular reps this season.

Since making some adjustments prior to the COVID season, Kiermaier has been a roughly league average hitter. Oddly, the adjustment he made was to double-down on pounding the ball into the ground. He remains an elite runner which is partly why the grounder-based approach works for him. Walls would be a hyped player in a lot of systems. He’s a capable OBP-centric hitter who compares favorably to Cavan Biggio. He’s also a plus runner.

I’ve seen some… aspirational… expectations for Franco in his first full season. Remember, he attempted just three steals and was caught once in 308 plate appearances. Throughout his entire professional career, he’s 29-for-51 (57%). Despite above average speed, stealing might not be in his skill set.

Dark horses: Brandon Lowe, Austin Meadows, Luke Raley

Lowe and Meadows are 65th-percentile sprinters. Lowe has successfully picked his spots, snagging 17 bags in 19 attempts over his 330-game career. Meadows… not so much. He’s 23-for-35 (68%) in 375 games. Still, Lowe could reach double-digit steals by increasing his attempts slightly while Meadows just needs to pick his spots a little more effectively.

Raley is a classic Rays diamond in the rough. He has 92nd-percentile speed and 89th-percentile max exit velocity. Whiffs are the glaring hole in his game. The Rays know how to get the most out of this type of player, see Phillips.

Honorable mention: Xavier Edwards

The man Blake Snell called a “slapdick prospect,” Edwards is on track for a Major League promotion later this season – assuming the Rays ever have room for him on the roster. Virtually powerless, Edwards has an advanced feel to hit and the wheels to easily take 25 or more bases per 600 plate appearances. The hope is he’ll be like an infielding Myles Straw.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Primary thieves: Bo Bichette, Raimel Tapia

Bichette isn’t actually all that fast. He’s a 74th-percentile sprinter, though his instincts on the basepaths do make up for it. Last season, he was successful in 25-of-26 attempts. Nicky Lopez (22-for-23) was the only other player to attempt at least 20 steals without being caught more than once. Tapia appears ticketed for the bench, but he should receive relatively frequent spot starts. Once a primary outfielder hits the injured list, it will be between Josh Palacios and Tapia to claim a starting gig.

Dark horses: Teoscar Hernandez, George Springer, Cavan Biggio, Josh Palacios, Santiago Espinal, Otto Lopez

With the exception of Espinal, this is a collective of athletic players with 80th-percentile sprint speed and minimal history of big stolen base totals. Hernandez is coming off a career-high 12 swipes while Springer and Biggio saw their running curtailed by injuries. Springer hasn’t reached double-digit steals since 2015 despite possessing sufficient ability. Espinal is an exception in this group – he’s close to a league average runner. Like many fringy utility men, he knows how to maximize his middling wheels. Lopez is one of the first on call if injuries befall the infield while Palacios will serve the same role among outfielders.

Honorable mention: Mallex Smith

Once among the top base-burglars in the league, Smith’s limp bat and surprisingly mediocre defense have left him stranded in the minors in recent seasons. He showed well in a brief trial with the Jays Triple-A affiliate last season. The acquisition of Tapia indicates to me that Smith is not a part of the Opening Day plans.

 

Boston Red Sox

Primary thief: Trevor Story

Story is a throwback player who seemingly values stolen bases simply because he believes top players should steal. Leaving Coors Field behind should help from a health perspective. He’s a stable 20/20 threat.

Dark horses: Jackie Bradley Jr., Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs

Bradley’s stolen base totals are low for three reasons. He’s extremely selective about when he attempts a steal, he rarely reaches base via single or walk, and he’s only a 55th-percentile sprinter. His defensive reputation is built upon excellent reads off the bat. I expect he’ll regularly start early in the season until the club is comfortable setting Duran free. Speaking of Duran, he’s an elite runner (96th-percentile) who has some kinks to iron out with his bat. As for Downs, reports have him as a below average runner despite nabbing 18 bags in 21 attempts at Triple-A last season. He also slumped to a .190/.272/.333 batting line, albeit with 14 home runs.

Honorable mention: Franchy Cordero, Xander Bogaerts

Cordero has one of the most tantalizing combinations of elite exit velocity (99th-percentile) and speed (87th-percentile). Alas, multiple attempts in the Majors didn’t work out for the swift slugger. He did put on a display in Triple-A: .300/.398/.533 with 13 home runs and 12 steals in 335 plate appearances.

It’s been a while (2017) since Bogaerts stole more than 10 bases. Entering a pseudo-contract year (he has a player option), he could dust off the ol’ wheels for one last spin. He’s a 67th-percentile runner

 

Baltimore Orioles

Primary thief: Cedric Mullins

Mullins stopped switch-hitting and began to more actively manage his Crohn’s Disease in 2021. The result was baseball’s only 30/30 campaign. The breakout feels very “real,” although fantasy managers should be counting on closer to a 20/20 season from this five-category weapon.

Dark horse: Jorge Mateo

If spring lineups are any indication, the Orioles are giving strong consideration to Mateo as their starting shortstop. Mateo is an impatient hitter with 99th-percentile speed. His toolbox is put together like a poor man’s Adalberto Mondesi. If he plays regularly, 10 home runs, 30 steals, and painful rate stats are within reach.

Honorable mention: Terrin Vavra

Vavra is on the 40-man roster and has the skills of an able utility man – one you’d prefer not to start regularly on a playoff contender. Of course, the Orioles are not anywhere near contention so we should see Vavra start for a healthy span at some point in 2022. He’s a balanced left-handed hitter who could go 10/10.

 

New York Yankees

Primary thieves: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Gleyber Torres

The Yankees possesses a plodding offense built around dingers. Kiner-Falefa, like Bichette above, isn’t the speediest base thief. His sprint speed ranks in the 75th percentile. The 2021 Rangers were a team that enjoyed disrupting opponents via stolen bases. I expect IKF to drop anchor more often this season after taking 20 bags in 25 attempts last year. Torres is coming off a career-high 14 steals in 20 attempts – a poor success rate. He’s an exactly league average runner. Reports indicate he was given the green light last season in an attempt to wake up his bat. Stealing requires a certain hunger which can infect other parts of one’s game.

Dark horses: Tim Locastro

Locastro is cleared for full baseball activities after blowing out his ACL last season. It’s a major injury which affects speed so we shouldn’t hold our breath for steals. It’s not even clear if he’ll make the club. He consistently ranks among the laggards in hard contact rate. He merits inclusion here because he’s on the short list for fastest player in the league when healthy.

Honorable mention: Aaron Hicks

Once upon a time, Hicks had wheels. These days, he’s a league average plodder with a long rap sheet of injuries. While a cheeky bag or five is possible, don’t pick him up for steals.

 

American League Central

Kansas City Royals

Primary thieves: Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, Bobby Witt Jr., Nicky Lopez, Michael Taylor, Andrew Benintendi

While the Rays may be more athletic top-to-bottom, the Royals will probably lead the league in steals when the dust clears. For one, they value aggressiveness on the basepaths, in part because their bats aren’t built for explosive output. Mondesi is expected to play on only a semi-regular basis at third base. We can still pencil in a steal once every 10 plate appearances. Merrifield is beginning to show his age, though he remains a plus runner with good instincts. He’s coming off a 40-steal campaign. Witt Jr. is a plus runner too. As of today, he is expected to make the Opening Day roster. He has the makings of a five-category monster.

Lopez has a fatal flaw for fantasy purposes – he utterly lacks power. His solid 2021 campaign feels like the high-water mark in his career. Taylor probably shouldn’t play as often as he did last year. He could be directly shoved aside by Kyle Isbel or indirectly by MJ Melendez or Nick Pratto. Benintendi is excessively average in nearly all facets of his game. He too could find himself losing reps to more exciting younglings.

Dark horses: Kyle Isbel, Edward Olivares

Isbel had a brief window to carve out a larger role early last season and fumbled the opportunity. He then improved in the minors and showed well in a late-season trial. He’s a guy whose fantasy output might exceed his real-world value via 15-homer and 20-steal potential with a healthy batting average. Olivares is the sort of fourth outfielder teams don’t mind starting in a pinch.

 

Cleveland Indians

Primary thieves: Jose Ramirez, Myles Straw, Amed Rosario, Bradley Zimmer, Steven Kwan, Andres Gimenez

The Indians have a shot to lead the league in steals too. Ramirez regained a half step last season. He remains a player who consistently exceeds the sum of his parts because he does everything well. Straw is an elite runner who will hopefully attempt even more steals this season. As a relatively punchless hitter, there’s always risk the bat won’t support the legs.

Kwan is an interesting sleeper, combining the contact rates of Willians Astudillo with above average plate discipline, plus speed, and enough power to keep opposing pitchers honest. The profile feels like a better-polished Jeff McNeil. The peak version, not the banged-up shadow we’ve seen in recent seasons.

Rosario is entering an important season in his career. He’s two years from free agency and has yet to find consistency at the plate. At times, he’s flashed the traits of a five-category fantasy monster. He’s an elite runner, and he can make quality contact. A poor plate approach has generally prevented more than the occasional hot streak. Gimenez is still trying to establish himself as a regular. He has elite speed, plus max exit velocities, and the same discipline problems as Rosario.

Zimmer, a former top prospect who lost multiple seasons to injury, is one of those giants who somehow glide effortlessly around the field. As an athlete, he’s reminiscent of Melvin Upton. Galloian strikeout rates hamper his ability to provide fantasy value.

Dark horses: Oscar Mercado, Gabriel Arias, Will Benson, Tyler Freeman, Richie Palacios

Freeman and Arias have some potential to emerge as fantasy assets as soon as this season. Mercado needs to rediscover the consistent hard contact he showed in 2019. It’s possible his lone strong season was the product of the juiced ball.

 

Chicago White Sox

Primary thieves: Tim Anderson, Luis Robert

Anderson never ran as much as he should have during his peak. Now he’s lost a step. While still above average, I’d only count upon 15 steals. Robert has nearly identical sprint speed to Anderson, though he’s shown more willingness to take off running. He has 15 steals in 523 career plate appearances.

Dark horses: Yoan Moncada, Romy Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Adam Engel

Moncada has announced an intention to steal more often this season. With his on base skills, he should have plenty of opportunities to use his modestly above average legs. Engel has played well, when healthy, since the start of 2020. A change in approach has seemingly unlocked a lower strikeout rate. He’s an elite runner who could see regular time in right field.

Harrison is a below average sprinter these days, but he did nab nine bags last year. His bat fits well at Guaranteed Rate Park. He makes a lot of middling-quality fly ball contact. Gonzalez is potentially an important depth piece for a relative shallow roster with playoff aspirations. He hit 20 home runs with 21 steals in 344 Double-A plate appearances last season. There are some flaws in his game.

Honorable mention: Leury Garcia

A consummate utility man, Garcia always seems to play a lot more than he should. He’s provided a roughly league average bat over the last five season while twice crossing the double-digit steal plateau. Those seasons came back in 2018 and 2019.

 

Detroit Tigers

Primary thieves: Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, Javier Baez

Baddoo was a Rule 5 revelation who now stands as an obvious 20/20 threat. He has 91st-percentile sprint speed backed by a decent if inconsistent bat. His sophomore campaign will be spent searching for more frequent hard contact.

Grossman is coming off the best season of his career. Fantasy managers were stunned to receive 23 home runs and 20 steals (25 attempts). We can safely treat this as a high-water mark. His sprint speed doesn’t support 25 attempts nor is he likely to reach anywhere near the 671 plate appearances he had last season. His previous career high was 482 plate appearances. As for Baez, he remains a 30/20 threat whose painfully poor plate discipline can lead to long slumps.

Dark horses: Victor Reyes, Derek Hill, Daz Cameron

Somewhere in this collection of names is the Tigers regular center fielder. Reyes is an impatient hitter who leans on his athleticism. Cameron isn’t as swift as Reyes – he could be a tad stretched in center. As a hitter, he’s more broadly skilled and thus has a better chance to emerge as a fantasy asset. Hill has changed his swing several times in the last few seasons to mixed results. He’s on the shortlist for fastest runner in the league if he can overcome his strikeout problem.

Honorable mention: Riley Greene

Although Greene nabbed 16 bases in 17 attempts across Double- and Triple-A last season, speed is not expected to be among his calling cards. Perhaps he’ll reach double-digits a couple times early in his career.

 

Minnesota Twins

Primary thieves: Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco

Buxton remains one of the most tantalizing talents in the league. He possesses 99th-percentile wheels and 96th-percentile exit velocities. When on the field, he’s one of the game’s premier players. Alas, staying on the field has proven difficult. He hasn’t exceeded 300 plate appearances since 2017. Polanco is coming off a career-best campaign following recovery from an ankle injury. He might inch beyond 10 steals again if he avoids injury.

Dark horse: Max Kepler

Kepler squeaked out 10 steals last season. He’s barely an above average runner, and that figure stands as his career high.

Honorable mention: Royce Lewis

Lewis hasn’t appeared in a game since 2019. There’s no telling where he is developmentally. A 2022 debut of some kind feels likely. Lewis is a plus runner with double-plus power and questions about his contact and plate discipline skills.

 

Los Angeles Angels

Primary thieves: Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, David Fletcher

Trout remains one of the swiftest players in the league. Coming off a season lost to a tenacious calf injury, we can expect him to be restrained with his running. Ohtani should really cut it out too, if only because he’s perhaps the biggest injury risk in the league not already suffering from an injury. His 26-for-36 (72%) performance on the basepaths wasn’t ideal.

Fletcher, who is roughly an average runner, is coming off a career-high 15 steals. Sometimes, fringy players like Fletcher run more when they’re struggling to try to make up for their slumping bats. Adell has elite speed (98th-percentile) but has shown little inclination to use it. Marsh is similar, though he did snag six bases in seven attempts (260 PA) in the Majors.

Dark horses: Tyler Wade, Kean Wong, Michael Stefanic, Brendon Davis, Luis Rengifo, Andrew Velasquez, Dillon Thomas, Magneuris Sierra

The Angels have built a deep stockpile of athletic backups, none of whom is expected to start the season in the Majors besides Wade. A former Yankees farmhand who never looked comfortable in the Big Apple, Wade has the discipline and physicality to be an above average player provided he can figure out how to more consistently make decent contact.

 

Texas Rangers

Primary thieves: Marcus Semien, Adolis Garcia

Semien has reached double-digit steals in six of the last seven seasons. He was on a double-digit pace in 2020. Despite this, his 15 swipes in 2021 were a career best. The Rangers have a history of aggressive base running, so they might cut him loose. Garcia is sneaky fast for a low-OBP masher (83rd-percentile speed). He doesn’t land on first base very often which curtails his opportunities.

Dark horses: Nick Solak, Yonny Hernandez, Leody Taveras

Although this trio of players appears to be ticketed for the bench or minors, I have little doubt they’ll pile up plate appearances at some stage of the season. Solak will fill a poor man’s Chris Taylor role. He’s a 93rd-percentile runner. Taveras is even faster (98th-percentile) while Hernandez is actually slower than average despite huge stolen base totals including 11 steals in 13 attempts across just 166 Major League plate appearances. He’s a no-power, highly disciplined hitter – a profile which doesn’t often work in the Majors.

 

Seattle Mariners

Primary thief: Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic, despite a reputation otherwise, is only a 50-grade runner. I do think he’ll take 12 to 20 bags this year if only because he’s hungry and has run in the past. I doubt there’s much long term potential for double-digit steals.

Dark horses: Dylan Moore, Sam Haggerty, Adam Frazier

Frazier is another league average runner who just managed 10 steals last year. Expect closer to five this season. Moore was excellent in the shortened 2020 season, but gigantic holes in his swing limit his utility. If he settles into a predictable role, he might be streamable. As for Haggerty, he features elite speed and just enough bat and utility to maybe stick as a fringy starter. He’s off the roster for now and thus has a difficult path to playing time.

Honorable mention: Billy Hamilton

My instinct is that Hamilton will make the initial expanded roster, do a little pinch running and fielding, then leave for a new club once rosters contract to 26 players. He still can’t hit, though his legs are enough to support a bench profile. Real benches, not fantasy.

 

Houston Astros

Primary thieves: Kyle Tucker, Jeremy Pena

Tucker has a knack for picking good moments to run. He’s only a 60th-percentile run. Fortunately, he’s a career 28-for-32 (85.5%) on the paths. Pena has yet to ply his trade in the Majors. He showed well at Triple-A last season and has no in-house competition for shortstop reps. Scouting reports are mixed, and it’s not clear if he’ll run often in the bigs.

Dark horses: Chas McCormick, Jose Siri, Jake Meyers, Pedro Leon

The Astros really good a lot of juice out of their three-headed center field of McCormick, Siri, and Meyers. They’re all excellent runners with enticing hitting qualities. McCormick and Meyers were oddly restrained with their opportunities while Siri ran with abandon in limited play. Leon is one of the few in-house alternatives to Pena. Scouting reports indicate he might not make the transition out of the minors any time soon.

Honorable mention: Jose Altuve

Altuve remains capable of stealing bases – for instance, he can easily beat Tucker in a straight race - though his aging body might request he drop anchor instead.

 

Oakland Athletics

Primary thieves: Tony Kemp, Elvis Andrus

This is a slow team. Even Kemp and Andrus project for exactly 10 steals only. Kemp is a little guy with below average wheels and Andrus is just as slow these days. Even these modest expectations feel aspirational.

Dark horses: Kevin Smith, Cristian Pache, Dalton Kelly, Nick Allen, Luis Barrera, Mickey McDonald

Smith has a nice combination of power and speed. It’s unclear if he’ll make enough contact to allow those traits to play. The Athletics really have no reason to avoid giving Smith a long look in the Majors. Pache too will get his chances to settle into the bigs. He’s lost a step since his heyday as a prospect, but that only means he’s a 91st-percentile burner instead of a top-five speedster.

Kelly is an ultra-deep sleeper. The former Rays farmhand mashed 27 home runs with 17 steals last year. He’s a little like Smith in that his strikeout rate could disrupt his transition out of the minors. He’s also post-prospectdom at age 27.

Allen, Barrera, and McDonald are guys who will probably put in brief appearances on the roster without making a fantasy impact.

Honorable mention: Ramon Laureano

Laureano still has 28 games remaining on his PED suspension. There is widespread expectation that he won't play many games in an Oakland uniform. Still, he'll have plenty of time to pursue something like a 20/10 season.