All of a sudden, the 2022 season is looming ahead of us. Today, we at Saves and Steals HQ begin our own abbreviated Spring Training with a comprehensive rundown of National League stolen base threats. Yep, you read that headline correctly. We’ll switch over to the American League on Friday before moving on to relievers next week. That’ll set us up nicely for the initial closer tier reveal on Wednesday, April 6 – just in time for Opening Day.
First, let’s quickly saunter through the free agent pool. There remain a few notable burglers on the open market. Outfielders Tommy Pham, Brett Gardner, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton, and Danny Santana all have the speed to comfortably nab more than 10 bases. Of those, only Pham seems destined to find a starting role. The others are better-suited to bench duty. Speaking of which, Adam Eaton, Kevin Pillar, and Brian Goodwin all run enough to compile 10 steals in a season, but they lack sufficient batting prowess.
National League East
In recent history, the Marlins have shown a tendency to push for extra bases. Chisholm is their only obvious 20-steal threat, and even his playing time is far from secure. He’ll need to continue barreling the ball at an above average rate to overcome an otherwise poor plate approach. He’s among the fastest players in the league. Rojas is actually a below average runner, but he makes up for it with craftiness.
None of these five players are expect to participate in the Opening Day lineup. However, we can be reasonably certain at least a few will have their moments as starters, especially Wendle and Berti. Wendle hasn’t reached double-digit steals since 2018, but that’s mostly down to his part-time role. He usually runs at a 20-steal pace per 600 plate appearances. Berti tied for the 10th-fastest sprint speed of 2021 with Jo Adell and Garrett Hampson. Quinn is a hair faster (tied-8th). He and DeShields face an uphill battle for a backup outfielder role. Both are non-roster invitees. Devers is recovering from a shoulder surgery and lacks upper minors experience.
Honorable mention: Avisail Garcia
Folks don’t look at Garcia and see a blazing runner. In his 10-year career, he’s only once managed to achieve double-digit swipes – exactly 10 in 2019. Despite his size and bat-first mentality, he possesses 88th-percentile sprint speed, on par with the likes of Trevor Story and Travis Jankowski. The Marlins could encourage him to run.
New York Mets
Marte is dealing with a suspected intercostal strain. The oft-injured center fielder seems destined to start 2022 on the injured list. He tied a career-high with 47 steals last season despite only 526 plate appearances. Expect a more measured approach as the Mets attempt to keep their investment healthy. Lindor’s speed is on the decline. His days as a regular double-digit steal guy might be behind him.
Nimmo is deceptively speedy but has yet to make much noise on the basepaths. That’s doubly confusing since he reaches base so often via walk. It’s a missed opportunity. Canha has a reputation as a bat-first guy, but he too is an above average runner. The Mets hope to not need the likes of Mauricio, Lee, and Fargas, all of whom can run if called upon. Fargas in particular profiles as just a pinch runner or defensive replacement.
Honorable mention: Travis Jankowski
With Marte banged up, Jankowski has a path to make the Opening Day lineup. He’s coming off his best season at the plate after posting a .252/.364/.351 line in 157 plate appearances with the Phillies – hardly Earth-shattering numbers.
The defending World Series champions aren’t exactly built around speed. This is a theme we see around the league these days – base-running prowess is largely unrelated to team success. Acuna is recovering from a torn ACL. He’s targeting an April 21 return and is expected to serve as the designated hitter when first back in the lineup. Do not expect many steals in his first few months. Players from across all major sports report needing as much as another year before they feel comfortable with their reconstructed knees. Baseball players do have an advantage in that stealing is a straight-line endeavor. All of which is to say, Acuna could offer anywhere between zero and his typical stolen base attempts. Bet low.
Albies went 30/20 last season despite what’s best described as merely above average speed. His swing from the left side of the plate remains underdeveloped, possibly holding him back from superstardom.
Swanson is entering a contract year. He could seek to pad his stats by running more frequently. To date, he’s never swiped more than 10 bags in a season (2018 and 2019). Waters has a suspect plate approach and his sprint speed doesn’t match the stolen base totals he’s posted in the minors, including 28 swipes in 459 Triple-A plate appearances last season. Still, the club will probably need him at some point even if he’s just a Keon Broxton reboot.
Harper is an opportunist. His ability to reach base often allows him to post 10 to 15 steals annually. Realmuto, who’s actually faster than Harper, usually only burgles around 10 bases. They’re extra-valuable since he’s a catcher.
While Plan A in center field consists of an Odubel Herrera and Vierling platoon, Haseley, Moniak, Muzziotti, Kingery, and even Rojas could see a turn in the middle pasture. For the most part, there isn’t much to recommend them as fantasy targets. Rojas is an exception – at least for “watch list” purposes. He has only a brief taste of High-A experience. With across-the-board above-average tools, he could race through the minors en route to an August or September callup. Given their dearth of clearcut answers in center field, the Phillies would love for it to happen. Vierling, who happens to be a part of the Opening Day plan, has the same sprint speed as Myles Straw.
Stott is ready for prime time and should see a significant amount of action in the infield. He may even break camp with the club. A midseason callup is likelier. He doesn’t profile as much of a stolen base threat – look for 10-12 swipes.
Honorable mention: Jean Segura
Segura used to be a consistent source of 20 stolen bases. For the shortened 2020 campaign, he briefly arrested a downward trend in his sprint speeds. Unfortunately, 2021 was his slowest season yet.
Robles still possesses the speed to make himself a nuisance on the basepaths. What’s less certain is if he’ll ever hit worth a lick. He’s annually among the dregs in terms of average exit velocity and hard contact rates. He can put a charge in the ball from time to time – it’s just uncommon. Adding to his trouble is frequent fly ball contact. Soft fly balls are outs. Soto is a league average runner who, like Harper, gets to take advantage of an otherworldly on base percentage to pad his stolen base totals. Still, you’re only hoping for 10 steals.
Dark horse: Lane Thomas
Thomas has 93rd-percentile sprint speed and an opportunity to carve out a regular role on a talent-deficient Nationals squad. He could easily go 15/15.
St. Louis Cardinals
Edman will spend this season looking over his shoulder at Nolan Gorman. The utility fielder is a below average hitter whose role atop the Cardinals lineup is precarious. He needed 691 plate appearances to reach 30 swipes. The 2021 season will almost certainly count as his highest plate appearance total. He has the raw ingredients of a high-BABIP approach despite checking in with a career .308 BABIP.
O’Neill is one of those guys who’s faster than you thought – he was tied for 13th-fastest sprint speed, outrunning Billy Hamilton, Ronald Acuna, and Bader among others. Stolen bases obviously aren’t a top priority for the power hitter, but he could be easily swindle 20 bags if he set his mind to it. Bader is only a nose behind O’Neill as a runner and is coming off two above average seasons at the plate. There’s an argument to be made he’s a better leadoff man than Edman. He’s coming off a season of just nine steals in 401 plate appearances.
Goldschmidt is a plodder who knows how to take a base when it’s offered. Carlson was once viewed as a future five-category fantasy monster. We’re still awaiting a true breakout. This is only his age 23 season so it hasn’t been a long wait. He showed no willingness to attempt steals last season despite above average speed. Gorman could clock 10 swipes per season, but even that low bar is a stretch.
Villar’s role on the Cubs figures to be adaptable – they possess a number of players who can mix-and-match around the diamond. He’s a roughly league average hitter with fast-plummeting speed. His experience as a burglar could help him to overcome the aging process. Ortega figures to have a short leash. An annual inclusion among the “dark horses,” he finally showed well in 2021 and will need continued success to stave off the likes of Clint Frazier, Brennen Davis, and others. Like Villar, he’s not actually as fast as his reputation would have you believe.
Suzuki stole 25 bases in Japan as recently as 2019, but it’s thought he’ll be more of a station-to-station player in the Majors. Since the start of 2020, he’s only 15-for-23 as a runner in 869 plate appearances. Happ has above average speed and could brush against double-digit steals for a second consecutive season (9 SB in 2021). We should see Davis later in the season. He also has the potential to take 10 bags per season.
The Cubs really botched the development of Hoerner who’s consistently played at levels beyond his capabilities. Forced to focus on keeping his head above water, he’s never shown much interest in taking extra bases. Despite this, he has 91st-percentile sprint speed – more than sufficient to support a spree. He has the makings of a high-BABIP approach and stole 5 bases in 170 plate appearances last season. As for Madrigal, he’s less speedy than expected – though still above average. He should finally get a chance to demo his unique talents after a couple injury-shortened campaigns.
India draws rave reviews for his baseball acumen. With an OBP-centric approach and speed to spare, he should build upon the 12-steal total he posted last season. Fraley is perhaps overly cautious at the plate. He was eager to run last season despite barely better than average speed.
It’s been ages since we’ve seen Senzel healthy for any length of time. Even in his brief appearances last season, he flashed 94th-percentile sprint speed. If he can put years of injuries behind him, he could be a league average hitter with 15/15 ability and 20/20 upside. The Reds aren’t bothering with fielding a competitive roster so they’ll need to use complementary parts like Lopez, Friedl, and Dawson. Lopez is a poor runner who knows how to seize opportunities.
Honorable mention: Jose Barrero
Barrero would have been a dark horse before requiring hamate surgery the other day. He’ll need a month on the sidelines and then several more months to recover his bat control. It now behooves the Reds to allow him more time to develop in the minors.
All three members of this trio project to swindle around 15 bases. Yelich has dealt with injuries and declining performance in recent years, although his output strikes me as the safest. Wong is a below average runner while Cain has become downright challenging to manage through his physical maladies.
Taylor and Peterson figure to fill backup roles initially. Taylor in particular deserves a longer look after a solid 2021 campaign. He’s a plus runner who can ably man center field. He has roughly the same speed as Cain. Peterson isn’t nearly so swift, but he has the defensive chops to appear all over the field while posting a league average batting line. Last season, he stole 10 bags in 302 plate appearances.
Honorable mention: Keston Hiura
Hiura, if he ever figures out how to reach base, has shown an aptitude for running despite modest speed.
Primary thieves: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz
Hayes seemingly enjoys running and has a history of strong success rates. It’s less certain if the hulking Cruz will continue to use his wheels. He stole 19 bases in 302 high-minors plate appearances last season, a career-high.
The Pirates have Alford and Ben Gamel penciled into the starting lineup, and they may deal away Bryan Reynolds at some point. That’s potentially a lot of open opportunities for this collection of misfits. Alford seemingly deserves no more than a brief look. He’s a tooled-up outfielder with plus power and elite speed whose Galloian strikeout rate seems doomed to sink him. Tucker and Park are able utility men and perhaps nothing more. They’ll get their chances. Allen, Oliva, and Smith-Njigba are expected to fill sixth outfielder roles. They’ll step in for injured players. Swaggerty was showing breakout traits before a shoulder injury spoiled his 2021.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Turner was the fastest sprinter of 2021. Notably, his stolen bases attempts did not decrease upon joining the Dodgers. Sometimes, clubs with elite lineups ask their players to not risk making outs on the bases. Betts seemingly has incentive to maintain a more sedate stolen base pace as age starts to catch up to him. Last season, his speed plunged to league average. Taylor consistently steals fewer bases than expected based on his near-elite speed. His 13 swipes last season mark only the second time he’s reached double-digits.
Lux hasn’t shown an inclination to run since 2017 when he barnstormed for 27 steals in Single-A. Even so, he’s an elite runner who should make better use of his wheels. Pollock remains stealthily above average as a runner too.
Honorable mention: Cody Bellinger
Bellinger has more to worry about than recovering his mid-teens stolen base performances of yore. Still, if he resumes mashing, he has the legs to steal too. His 2021 campaign is one of the great mysteries of the ages.
San Diego Padres
Tatis will miss months with a fractured wrist. We know he’ll run when he eventually returns. His sprint speed is on par with Myles Straw and Mike Trout, and perhaps no player matches his aggression. Grisham is nearly as speedy, but he lacks Tatis’ thirst for thievery.
Myers should benefit from the advent of the NL designated hitter – he struggles to stay healthy while manning non-first base positions. Myers has remained sneakily athletic as he’s aged. The Padres recent acquisition of Luke Voit does throw a wrench into those plans. Profar and Kim figure to handle most of the shortstop reps in Tatis’ absence. Profar is slow but consistent. Kim flashed the power and speed that made him a heralded free agent. Unfortunately, he failed to make quality contact with any consistency. Perhaps a second tour will prove fruitful.
Should the Padres need to reach into the minors, Rosario, Abrams, and Ruiz are all on track for Major League debuts this season. Their minor league numbers presage potent futures as fantasy contributors.
An 86th-percentile sprinter, Cronenworth is the lone Padre who has shown no knack for running. Even plodding Eric Hosmer out-stole him last season. The peripherals are in place for an outburst. By comparison, Machado is a well-below-average runner coming off a 12-steal season. Draft him for the bat and hope the steals come along as a bonus.
Presently, the Rockies have Hampson and Hilliard for center field while Tapia and Connor Joe will man right field most days. It’s a less-than-ideal combination of fourth and fifth outfielders. The trio listed here are all plus or better runners so they should at least swindle bags when playing. Daily managers can maximize their output by using them only at Coors Field.
Dark horse: Ryan Vilade
Vilade is seen as a future part-time outfielder – perhaps a lefty-masher. As a member of the Rockies, there’s a strong case to be made he’s already a superior right field option to Tapia. He’s expected to hit for average and steal the odd base.
Honorable mention: Kris Bryant
Having inked his big contract, Bryant might opt to holster his legs. After all, Coors Field isn’t the sort of place to risk outs on the basepaths.
Varsho could lead an admittedly slow-footed club in steals – all the more valuable for his catcher eligibility. His sprint speed is plus, and he’ll play outfield more often than not. Rojas would count as an able utility man on most clubs. On the Diamondbacks, he’s a leadoff man. He’s only slightly better than a league average runner.
McCarthy is the least interesting of this trio, a passable fourth outfield prospect who might be able to sponge innings without embarrassing anyone. Perdomo is on the verge of graduating with less speed than initially expected. It’s a shame since he’s a disciplined hitter. Thomas could be a special talent and a top-of-the-lineup force. That said, he’s not expected to steal more than 10 or 15 bases annually.
San Francisco Giants
Primary thief: Austin Slater
Slater isn’t… slated… for a starting role, but he should get a decent run of play. He’ll predictably start against left-handed pitchers for those of us in daily moves leagues. He went 15-for-17 on the bases last season in just 306 plate appearances.
Wade Jr. and Crawford are legitimately slow. They’ve also succeeded as part-time burglars despite this shortcoming. Ramos is on the verge of a big league debut, though he strikes me as trade bait for a Giants roster that desires instant gratification.
Honorable mention: Mauricio Dubon
Dubon was once heralded as a five-category fantasy performer. Instead, he’s emerged as a replacement level backup whose lack of weaknesses is paired with a similar lack of strengths. Weirder things have happened than a player of this ilk breaking out at age 27.