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Saves and Steals

NL Stolen Base Targets

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: March 25, 2021, 9:51 am ET

Our job today is to thoroughly examine National League teams for stolen base targets. First, we should address the “Saves” portion of this column, namely some late-spring news. Let’s start with injuries.

The Blue Jays intended closer, Kirby Yates, is expected to require Tommy John surgery. Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis, and Tyler Chatwood may share duties early in the season until someone runs away with the job. Romano has looked sharp this spring. In San Diego, it was always unclear if Drew Pomeranz would reprise his role as closer. Now Pomeranz is dealing with a forearm strain. Mark Melancon, Keone Kela, Emilio Pagan, and Austin Adams are credible ninth-inning options. They all make for worthy stashes while we await more information. The Rangers are drowning in reliever injuries. Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez will both start the season on the Injured List. So too will Joely Rodriguez, although he might return after a minimum stay. Matt Bush looks likely to begin the season as a temporary closer. Personally, I’m rostering Rodriguez in the hopes that his absence is brief.

In non-injury news, the Indians keep signaling that Nick Wittgren is in the ninth-inning picture. While there’s no doubt that James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase are more traditional (and potentially elite) closers, using Wittgren would enable Karinchak and Clase to be assigned as stoppers in high leverage situations. There’s also a financial component – Karinchak will be more affordable when he eventually reaches arbitration if he doesn’t have a pile of saves to his name. In Pittsburgh, David Bednar has made a strong impression this spring while running his fastball up to 99-mph. Roster considerations could force him to miss the Opening Day roster. He’s a solid stash target in deeper formats. The Pirates keep going out of their way to say Richard Rodriguez is not an ideal closer.

For more bullpen information, check out writeups for the AL WestNL WestAL CentralNL Central, AL East, and NL East. You can also visit The All Bullpen Audit for a (slightly outdated) high level review of every bullpen.

As noted in last week’s AL Stolen Base Targets, I will reference Statcast sprint speed percentiles on BaseballSavant.com to inform today’s column. I also missed a player, Rangers outfielder Eli White. He’s performed well this spring, and the club claims they will only carry one of White or Leody Taveras. White is a classic fourth outfielder with 15/15 potential.

National League East

Atlanta Braves

Primary thieves: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Cristian Pache

Acuna and Albies scarcely require introduction. The former relishes contributing in all facets of the game and has 96th percentile sprint speed. Albies is merely an 80th percentile runner, and it shows in his stolen base totals. Fantasy managers in deep leagues should consider Pache, an elite runner with pop and questionable contact ability. His defensive talents will help to keep him in the lineup.

Dark horse thieves: Dansby Swanson, Phillip Ervin, Drew Waters

Although Swanson has only topped out at 10 steals in a season, his 90th percentile sprint speed and gradual improvement as a hitter suggest a chance for a 20-swipe outburst. In the outfield, if Pache doesn’t manage to hit enough, Ervin and/or Waters could eek out an opportunity.

Honorable mention: Ender Inciarte

Once a credible platoon hitter, Inciarte’s bat has declined in recent seasons. Last year, his maximum exit velocity was 98.5 mph. Only Dee Strange-Gordon made weaker contact. Inciarte also featured well below average speed. His time on the 40-man roster is likely coming to an end.

Miami Marlins

Primary thieves: Starling Marte, Jon Berti, Jazz Chisholm

For the better part of a decade, Marte has contributed a steady batting average, some pop, and a couple dozen stolen bases. Injuries have intervened any time it looked like he might ascend to stardom. He showed no signs of aging last season. Berti is an over-30 late-bloomer who should find his way to 500 plate appearances as a utility man. He works counts well at the expense of too many strikeouts for a hitter with his contact ability. Chisholm is the latest toolshed to arrive in Miami. He is battling Isan Diaz for the second base job. Chisholm profiles as a middle-infielding Keon Broxton. He’s more aggressive at the plate which should help to keep the strikeouts in line. He was overmatched last season, trading power for more contact ability to no effect.

Dark horse thieves: Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Monte Harrison

The Marlins have a type – uber-athletes who lack polished baseball skills. Sierra has come closest to looking like he belongs on a Major League roster. Brinson *looks* like a budding star, but he has utterly failed through 821 plate appearances. The soon-to-be 27-year-old might be out of time. Harrison has the same massive hole in his swing as Brinson.  

Off the 40-man roster, Brian Miller is a speedster who lacks in-game power. He’s probably a better fourth outfielder than these volatile types.

Honorable mention: Miguel Rojas

The Marlins shortstop has grown into a team leader and potential future manager. While not the fastest player by any measure (39th percentile sprint speed), he helped to foment a more aggressive teamwide approach on the bases last season. Expect him to use his baseball acumen to swipe 10 bags. If the plate discipline gains he made last season stick, he’ll be a sharp draft-day bargain in deep formats.

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Washington Nationals

Primary thieves: Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Juan Soto

Turner is one of the 10 fastest players in the league. He’s not as prolific a runner as Adalberto Mondesi, but he makes up for it by being a well above average hitter. Robles re-conditioned himself after gaining weight and muscle backfired in 2020. He looks like his 2019 self with sneaky pop and 30-steal potential. Soto claims he wants to steal 30 bases too. While he’s a below average runner, he certainly reaches base enough to make an impact in the category. As a 22-year-old entering his fourth season, he has never posted below a .400 OBP.

Dark horse thief: Andrew Stevenson

Any injuries to the starting trio of outfielders could open an opportunity for Stevenson. The left-handed hitter was superb in a small sample over the last two seasons, and he features enough speed to make his presence felt on the bases.

New York Mets

Primary thieves: Francisco Lindor, Jonathan Villar

Absent a last-minute contract extension, I anticipate a fallow season from Lindor while on the bases. When the cost of an injury could run well over $100MM in future earnings, chasing steals just doesn’t seem worth it. Villar’s role on the club is uncertain – to my eyes he appears deeply buried on the bench. Should he ever dig his way to the surface, he usually runs at over a 30-steal pace.

Dark horse thief: Mallex Smith

Smith isn’t expected to make the Opening Day roster. A minor league assignment could be just what he needs to re-develop his bat. He need only post a modest average and on base percentage to carve out a career like Jarrod Dyson.

Honorable mention: Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, Kevin Pillar

These are average runners who will probably nab six to 12 bags over a full season.

Philadelphia Phillies

Primary thieves: Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, Roman Quinn

For the most part, this is a rich man’s Moneyball lineup – all OBP, power, and plodding runners. Harper and Segura are the everyday exceptions, but even they probably won’t exceed 20 steals. Segura’s conditioning improved last season and his sprint speed responded in kind. Kingery has struggled enough to possibly trigger a demotion to Triple-A. He’s an interesting post-hype sleeper for his 20/20 upside.

Quinn is seemingly trailing Odubel Herrera in the center field battle. The oft-injured burner has 100th percentile sprint speed. He’s a perfect 20-for-20 over his last two seasons (238 plate appearances).

Dark horse thieves: Nick Maton, Mickey Moniak

Maton is a future utility man. Moniak looks the part of a good fourth outfielder. They’re both on the 40-man roster and will be needed at some point in 2020. Neither is an elite runner, but they could take more than 10 bases over a full season.

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers

Primary thieves: Kolten Wong, Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Keston Hiura

The top of Milwaukee’s offense has enviable athleticism. After a bit of a lost 2020 season, Yelich could be the player everybody wishes they picked in the first round this year. He projects to hit 35 home runs and steal 25 bases. Wong has quietly come into his own as an elite defender with on base skills. Cain’s body seems to be rapidly aging. He dealt with a quad injury earlier this spring. His days of 30 steals are probably behind him. His sprint speed cratered last season due to various ailments. Hiura is often described as a 10 to 20 steal threat, but he’s actually a below average runner. He also has sizable holes in his swing which could affect his ability to stick in the lineup.

Dark horse thief: Luis Urias

The diminutive utility man is at risk of starting the season in the minors after missing time with a hamstring injury. He’s not as speedy as you might expect and only profiles for eight to 10 steals a season.

Honorable mention: Jackie Bradley Jr.

While rarely among the showiest base thieves, Bradley Jr. is often among the best combinations of power, speed, and platoonability on a 12-team waiver wire. He’s also known to go on wild hot streaks. American Family Field (formerly Miller Park) is a better venue for Bradley Jr. than Fenway.

Cincinnati Reds

Primary thieves: Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama

Senzel and Akiyama have the makings of a center field platoon once the latter recovers from a hamstring injury. Senzel is entering his age 26 season without yet establishing himself as a consistent player. There’s a post-hype element to him as he has upside for 20/30 output. Did you know he has 97th percentile sprint speed? It’s not obvious from watching him play.

Akiyama was a bit of a letdown in his stateside debut, but he did manage to post a healthy .357 OBP and steal seven bases in 183 plate appearances. It was his .297 slugging percentage that might hold him back from regular play.

Dark horse thief: Jonathan India, Jose Garcia

With every day that passes, it becomes more and more likely India will make the Opening Day roster as the starting second baseman. While he’s average at best in terms of raw tools, his baseball savvy allows all of his traits to play up. Way up. He’s one of the most talked about prospects this spring. I’ve heard third-hand that he’s even flashing 70-grade raw power. He’s also known for plate discipline and contact skills.

Garcia was the India of 2020, and he was horrifically overmatched in his debut. He’s a candidate to return to the roster later in the season if the club decides Eugenio Suarez just isn’t cutting it at shortstop.

Honorable mention: Dee Strange-Gordon

A non-roster invitee to Reds camp, Strange-Gordon is the only competent backup center fielder on the roster – at least until Akiyama returns.

St. Louis Cardinals

Primary thieves: Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson, Harrison Bader

Edman is nominally penciled in as the starting second baseman and leadoff hitter. However, he’ll need to hit better than last season to retain both roles. Presently, he projects as one of the worst leadoff men in the league. His all-over utility is his best fantasy trait along with the potential for 15/15 output. Carlson is the discount version of the Randy Arozarena and Kyle Tucker profile. He’s an exciting prospect with a high variance of potential outcomes. Bader is a defensive stalwart with 98th percentile sprint speed and a history of wariness on the basepaths. A breakout season could include more than 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, albeit with a low batting average. He’s running behind this spring due to forearm soreness.

Dark horse thief: Lane Thomas

A classic Cardinals out-of-nowhere prospect, Thomas has several paths to playing time this season – namely if any of Tyler O’Neill, Justin Williams, or Carlson struggle at the plate. He has the makings of a low average, modest OBP fourth outfielder.

Chicago Cubs

Primary thieves: Javier Baez, Nico Hoerner

Baez is coming off his worst season and is arguably the most obvious rebound candidate in the league. Aside from his 21-steal 2018 campaign, he’s never been a prolific thief. Hoerner has 93rd percentile sprint speed. It’s unclear how frequently he’ll play, if he’ll hit enough to be fantasy viable, or if he has an inclination to use his wheels. To date, he has just three steals in 208 plate appearances.

Dark horse thief: Jake Marisnick

Happ might not be a surefire starter, and there isn’t a better center fielder on the roster than Marisnick. He really isn’t much of a hitter, but he’ll post decent power and speed totals while starting almost exclusively against left-handed pitchers.

Honorable mention: Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo is a cunning player who uses his lumbering lack of speed to lull opposing defenses. Since he reaches base so often, he could push for 10 steals.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Primary thieves: Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman

Hayes looked like the complete package in his brief debut last season. His draft price seems to incorporate a 25/20 ceiling, although I do expect some growing pains in his sophomore season. In particular, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone do more damage on fastballs right down the middle. Look for opposing pitchers to work the edges better this year.

Newman’s bat went silent in 2020. He’s a classic utility type who happens to have an everyday role on a bad roster. Don’t look at him as anything more than a warm body.

Dark horse thieves: Anthony Alford, Dustin Fowler, Cole Tucker, Jared Oliva

This is hardly the complete list of athletes who have slipped through the cracks and may appear on the Pirates roster. Alford couldn’t hit enough to carve out a role in Toronto. He has just 88 career plate appearances across parts of four seasons. He could benefit from a more extended opportunity. His 97th percentile sprint speed speaks to serious fantasy upside. Fowler is speedy too (93rd percentile) but has struggled with ill-timed injuries in the past. Tucker is a 90th percentile runner trending towards a utility role. He could outplay Newman. Oliva runs in the 95th percentile with a classic slappy hitter profile.

Honorable mention: Gregory Polanco

A once promising prospect, Polanco’s shoulder betrayed him. He still has raw power and decent wheels, but it’s unclear if he can handle velocity. He posted a brutal 37.4 percent strikeout rate last year backed by a 20.9 percent swinging strike rate. This is his last guaranteed season on the contract he signed prior to 2017.

National League West

San Diego Padres

Primary thieves: Fernando Tatis Jr., Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham, Jake Cronenworth

As of today, there are questions surrounding all four of these potential thieves. Tatis is day-to-day with a left shoulder injury. His all-out style of play might need to be tempered to preserve his health. Grisham is recovering from a hamstring injury which could slow him early in the season. Pham suffered a life- and career-threatening stab wound early in the winter. He also had issues with finding new contacts for his eye condition – supposedly that has been resolved. Cronenworth is a 92nd percentile runner who showed little inclination to steal last season even though the rest of his teammates were running wild.

Dark horse thieves: Ha-seong Kim, Jurickson Profar

Until injuries open the door, Kim and Profar don’t have an obvious path to consistent playing time. The club intends to mimic the division rival Dodgers so don’t be surprised if one or both exceed 500 plate appearances and 10 steals. Cronenworth might fall into this same category.

Honorable mention: Manny Machado, Wil Myers

These veterans are aging out of the speed game. Their willingness to run will likely be determined by their lower-body health.

Colorado Rockies

Primary thieves: Trevor Story, Raimel Tapia, Sam Hilliard, Garrett Hampson

Like Lindor, Story might ease back on the stolen bases now that a massive multi-year contract is dangling in front of his eyes. The Rockies likely won’t mind since they’ll be keen to trade him at the deadline. If it’s business as usual, expect 35 home runs and 25 steals – hence the first-round price tag. He doesn’t look it, but he has 95th percentile sprint speed.

Tapia (83rd percentile), Hilliard (98th percentile), and Hampson (99th percentile) are in an indirect battle for playing time. Tapia is coming off his best season. His exit velocities are up this spring, indicating a potential for a second consecutive breakout season. Otherwise, he offers empty stolen bases with a decent batting average. The Rockies show no inclination to give either Hilliard or Hampson a fair shake. Both have the makings of fantasy juggernauts with the help of Coors Field. Hilliard showed some signs of life late last year after a brutal start to the season.

Honorable mention: Brendan Rodgers

Not exactly known for his wheels, Rodgers was saying he intended to steal 30 bases before a hamstring strain ended his bid to make the Opening Day roster.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Primary thieves: Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger

What is there to say about this pair? Betts is in the mix for first overall player for a reason. Bellinger’s actually slightly faster than him. Since he suffered a dislocated shoulder, we might see fewer steal attempts – head first dives risk aggravating the issue.

Honorable mentions: A.J. Pollock, Gavin Lux, Chris Taylor

Pollock and Taylor are nearly full-time veterans with sufficient wiles to plunder a couple handfuls of bases apiece. Lux is somewhat of an unknown quantity – at least with regards to his propensity to run.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Primary thieves: Josh Rojas, Ketel Marte, Daulton Varsho

Rojas is being given every opportunity to earn a regular role this season. His minor league numbers make him appear to be a more prolific runner than is likely. Marte is built like a five-category stud. At this stage of his career, hoping for more than 10 steals is a recipe for disappointment. Varsho is the rare impact catcher with 20-steal upside. As a bonus, he’ll likely start in right field early in the season.

Dark horse thief: Tim Locastro

Locastro is another 100th percentile runner who finally has a path to semi-regular action. Because he’s adept at being hit by pitches, he gets additional chances to use his high-impact speed. He’s also a legitimately decent hitter unlike most players with his flash and sizzle.

On the farm, Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll have an outside shot of playing their way onto the Major League roster by season end.

San Francisco Giants

Primary thieves: Mauricio Dubon, Austin Slater

Don’t look to San Francisco for stolen bases. Dubon and Slater are the only regulars with obvious potential to nab more than 10 bases. Even that requires them to shake part-time roles.