Over the course of the spring, we marched steadfastly through every bullpen in the majors. We’ve sifted through gems, diamonds in the rough, and fool’s gold in our quest to build the best fantasy relief corps. Our work ultimately culminated in the All Bullpen Audit.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to the “steals” portion of Saves and Steals. Today, we’ll take a peek at the 15 National League teams in an effort to tease out a few surprises and undervalued targets. Of course, we’ll also touch upon the some very well-known names in the process.
With the exact date of Opening Day unknown, we’ll focus on what we can expect from a typical 162-game season. Once we learn more, we can adjust our expectations to the circumstances.
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National League East
Primary thieves: Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton
Turner and Robles may battle for the league lead in steals over the next few seasons. Early rumors of Turner moving to the third spot in the order seem to have been debunked. He’s expected to lead off. A healthy season should include 40 or more steals. Robles profiles more as a 30-steal threat. For now, he needs to work on making higher quality contact. Eaton lost much of 2017 and 2018 to injuries. In 2019, he bounced back with a typical 15 steal season.
Dark horse thief: Michael Taylor
Taylor was running at just under a 40-steal pace in 2018. Alas, he only had 385 plate appearances. He’s emphatically blocked from the starting outfield, but he’s also the only truly viable fourth outfielder on the roster. Contact will always be a problem.
Honorable mention: Juan Soto
The most talented pure hitter since Joey Votto can also nab the occasional base when opponents are napping. Since he reaches base at an over-40 percent clip, he’ll get a lot of chances to contemplate taking the next bag.
Primary thieves: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte
Acuna fell just short of a coveted 40/40 season in 2019. He was projected to deliver 35 home runs and 30 steals over a full 2020 season. You’ll need the first overall pick to ensure he lands on your team. Leading off will be good for his stolen base attempts even if it hurts his RBI totals.
Albies has disappointed with mid-teens stolen base totals after consistently stealing over 20 bags a season in the minors. Entering his age 23 season, he’s poised to finally reach a 20-steal pace. Inciarte is on the opposite end of his career. He was among the league leaders in 2018 before injuries sapped much of his 2019. He’s now expected to bat towards the bottom of the order which will hurt his opportunities.
Dark horse thief: Cristian Pache
While some prospect hounds prefer Drew Waters, Pache has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster. He is almost certain to appear on the Braves roster late in the season as a pinch runner and defensive replacement at the very least. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss in his game which will likely limit the 21-year-old in the short term. He profiles as a power and speed double threat if he ever makes enough contact.
Honorable mention: Marcell Ozuna
After a career of station-to-station running, Ozuna randomly stole 12 bases last season. If he remains similarly frisky in a shortened 2020 campaign, he’ll provide a mountain of value at his current ADP.
Primary thieves: Jonathan Villar, Jon Berti
Villar is a familiar face around these parts. He’ll cheat for power which helps his home run total play way above his well-below average pop. He’s expected to bat leadoff for the Marlins. A 40-steal pace is in the cards. Berti is a jack of all trades who should start most days as he moves around the diamond. He’s an adept baserunner but shouldn’t be expected to hit for any power.
Dark horse thieves: Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Monte Harrison, Jazz Chisholm
This is a transitional season for Miami, and we should begin to see a wave of talent crest in the majors. Brinson is probably on his last legs in Miami as a post-hype prospect. In many ways, he’s a poor man’s Byron Buxton. He posted a .270/.361/.510 batting line in 339 Triple-A plate appearances last year with 16 home runs and 16 stolen bases. His big league career includes 709 plate appearances and a .183/.238/.293 triple slash.
Sierra and Harrison are both candidates to eventually steal Brinson’s roster spot – and some bases too. Sierra is out of options and figures to initially share fourth outfielder duties with Brinson. He’s an aggressive hitter and an above average defender. A 30-steal pace is possible if gifted regular playing time. Harrison is probably a better prospect since he hits for more power. He has a similar set of traits to Brinson, meaning there’s a wide range of plausible outcomes. Chisholm is a pure athlete who should take over a middle infield position in the near future. He’s a high-whiff hitter who has power, speed, and plate discipline.
Primary thieves: Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery
Like many teams, the Phillies have a smattering of athletic types who will nab the odd base while contributing in other ways. Harper is coming off a 15-steal campaign in his Philadelphia debut. Segura and Kingery are the best bets on the roster to exceed 20 steals. Segura had his worst baserunning season last year (just 10 steals). However, he also lost weight and worked on agility over the offseason. Kingery is finally on the verge of receiving full playing time. He’s a 20/20 threat.
Dark horse thief: Roman Quinn
The most notable stolen base threat in Philadelphia is also the most unlikely to contribute. Quinn has appeared in this column on and off since before his 2016 debut. An unceasing parade of injuries have prevented him from staying on the field throughout his entire career. He’s lost a lot of development time. Now out of options, Quinn has an outside chance to grab a starting job in center field.
Honorable mention: J.T. Realmuto
Since his first full season in 2015, Realmuto’s 40 stolen bases as a catcher have paced the league. The next most prodigious backstop over the last five seasons is Yadier Molina with a paltry 25 steals. Realmuto is the only active catcher who can reliably contribute to the category.
New York Mets
Primary thief: Amed Rosario
While the Mets have plenty of depth and pop, speed is not their strength. Rosario is an overly aggressive hitter. However, he’s young enough to still project skills development. He was hopelessly miscast as a leadoff hitter last season, and he’ll likely return to the eighth spot in 2020. Expect another 20-steal season with a small chance for a breakout.
Dark horse thief: Andres Gimenez
If Rosario remains a roughly league average player or if injuries take their toll elsewhere on the roster, we could see Gimenez late in the year. One of the Mets top prospects, Gimenez has an uncanny resemblance to Rosario as a player. He’s an overly aggressive hitter with speed as a carrying trait.
National League Central
Primary thieves: Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Keston Hiura
Before suffering a brutal season-ending injury, Yelich was on his way to over 50 home runs with 35 to 40 stolen bases. On a rate basis, he had one of the best fantasy lines in recent memory. With a gaudy on base percentage and excellent speed, Yelich projects to be among the league leaders in most categories.
Beware of Cain. Once a regular 30-steal threat, his speed and leg health have declined rapidly. A slower Cain is liable to repeat his forgettable 2019. Hiura has an unusual set of traits that don’t usually add up to more than a handful of steals. However, he projects to reach double-digits.
Dark horse thief: Corey Ray
Scouts have always doubted Ray’s ability to make contact in the majors. A pitiful performance in Triple-A seemingly backs up those concerns. If he can figure out the finer details of making contact, his blend of power and speed could put him among the most valuable fantasy players. While Ray struggled in an injury marred 2019 campaign, he hit 27 home runs and stole 37 bases at Double-A in 2018.
Primary Thieves: Kevin Newman, Jarrod Dyson, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cole Tucker
The Pirates are prepared to test their future. Dyson is the familiar face, and I have to imagine he’ll quickly settle into a platoon or fourth outfielder role. While he’s a superb base thief and defender, Dyson simply isn’t a passable batsman. Newman is an aggressive, high contact hitter with modest power and speed. He could deliver upwards of a 15/15 season as a middling leadoff hitter.
A couple prospects, Hayes and Tucker, are likely to grace the Pirates lineup at some point. Tucker received an extended opportunity last year but failed to convert on it. In the minors, he stole 47 bases in 2017 and 35 bags in 2018, albeit with high caught stealing totals. Shockingly he attempted zero steals despite 159 major league plate appearances. Hayes is a pure athlete who can be expected to steal 10 to 15 bases over a full season. He doesn’t carry a high-octane bat, but he should settle in as a steady fantasy asset at some point in the future.
Dark horse thief: Jared Oliva
Not currently on the 40-man roster, Oliva is the heir apparent to the center field. He’s a merely decent hitter who chipped in over 30 stolen bases at High-A and Double-AA. He’ll open 2020 in Triple-A and could quickly oust Dyson for regular reps in Pittsburgh.
St. Louis Cardinals
Primary thieves: Kolten Wong, Tommy Edman, Harrison Bader
With the possible exception of Matt Carpenter, the entire Cardinals lineup has the capacity to take at least a handful of bases. Wong, Edman, and Bader are the best bets to reach double-digits. Wong is coming off a breakout season at the plate and on the bases (24 steals) – maybe fueled by the juiced ball. Edman is a high average utility man with 20/20 potential. Bader has struggled to hit in the majors. He was rumored to have made key adjustments at the plate this spring. Given his double-plus speed, he’s underperformed on the bases with only 28 steals in 925 career plate appearances.
Dark horse thief: Dylan Carlson
Carlson was trending towards a possible Opening Day debut before the season was delayed. Officially, he hit .313/.436/.469 this spring with more walks than strikeouts. Reports were even more impressive. Carlson has the makings of an OBP-league monster with 20/20 potential.