Overpaying for stolen bases can put your fantasy baseball team behind. It's safer to target late-round speed sources. If they underperform in other categories, they won't hurt fantasy baseball players. Look for both pure speed demons and moderate threats that can chip in gradually with playing time.
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics
Before having his season ended in June by shoulder injuries, Crisp jacked up his aggressiveness in attempting steals (13 in 180 at-bats). Unfortunately, his batting average tanked due to a horrible BABIP and his upper-body issues.
If Crisp, Oakland's presumed leadoff hitter, can run that much as a Royal, it's safe to think he'll do the same with Oakland, one of the most steal-happy teams in '09. Crisp boasts a bargain-basement price in mixed leagues but should be a more urgent acquisition in AL-only setups.
Alexi Casilla, 2B, Minnesota Twins
He'll compete for a utility infielder gig but is also in danger of not making the club. Casilla is out of minor league options, which helps his chances of breaking camp. He has been inconsistent with the stick, which has hurt his chances at full-time work.
If playing time falls into his lap or he joins a more favorable PT situation, Casilla will have a chance to build on his 11 steals in just 228 MLB at-bats in '09, which included nine in 117 post-break at-bats. His batting eye is good enough that he can regain his .281 clip from '08, but expect some bumps. Tuck him away in mono leagues when middle infield spots run dry and you've reached the stage where reserve players mean something.
Will Casilla have the chance to run?
Michael Brantley, OF, Cleveland Indians
The rook impressed in his '09 debut, showing poise leading off the Tribe lineup. His playing time this season looked to be in jeopardy when the Indians signed first baseman Russell Branyan, but Branyan will start the year on the DL. Brantley will start the season in left with Matt LaPorta at first base.
Brantley swiped 46 bags in 51 attempts at Columbus in '09 but struggled in his MLB efficiency, splitting his eight tries. Cleveland would like him to permanently occupy the top lineup spot; his on-base skills should open up many thievery opportunities. His value is best in AL-only setups as high as a No. 3 outfielder. Deep mixed selectors could try to find a stash spot for him if they're desperate for steals.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
One of baseball's top prospects, Jennings swiped 52 bags combined between Double-A and Triple-A last season. The Rays run. Duh. He'll fit right in.
Jennings' road to the bigs is blocked on paper by a right-field platoon that could involve a mix of Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce and Gabe Kapler. Still, you can bet Jennings will be up sometime in the second half and that he'll start when he arrives. You should target rookies that specialize in one category - it's an easier transition for them to help you out right away; Jennings fits as a profit opportunity if you can stash him in AL leagues and mixed leagues with minor league rosters.
Chris Getz, 2B, Kansas City Royals
His 25 bags wouldn't have been heard by a librarian. More decibels deserved: He did that in 375 at-bats as a rookie and was caught only twice.
Sure, the Royals' offense doesn't rival the Chicago White Sox's, but lining up for a full season as starter puts Getz in prime position to approach a repeat, at least. Getz has often been lost among late-round mixed middle infielders with more risk of even contributing in stolen bases.
Cliff Pennington, SS, Oakland Athletics
The A's can run. Pennington topped 20 steals in both Double-A (20, 2008) and Triple-A (27, '09). He was only caught nine times in 43 attempts combined between Triple-A and the bigs, but in the latter he was only 7-for-12. Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson is working with several A's runners, including Pennington, to improve their baserunning and base-stealing technique.
Pennington is slated to start at short; his competition is minimal. He's a .270-clip type. He probably won't be a big help in non-steals columns, but with playing time he won't sink your hopes in them, either. He'll be a low-end starting AL-only shortstop and could be useful in deep mixed if he picks up his thievery pace.
Cesar Izturis, SS, Baltimore Orioles
Exciting? No. A lineup fixture? Looks like it, if only for his defense. Izturis, however, has stolen 36 bases in the last two seasons. He spent some time on the DL last season but swiped 12 bags in 387 at-bats. Izturis makes ample contact, which would sustain stolen base chances with some lucky bounces.
The vet has proven he can top 20 steals in full-time duty, which shouldn't be ignored in AL-only leagues. Even in an improving offense, he'll probably hurt you in the other roto categories, but given comparable options in the bottom tiers of the AL-only player pool, at least he contributes somewhere.
Wilkin Ramirez, OF, Detroit Tigers
At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Ramirez, 24, can cover ground quickly. His 20-homer potential could arrive sooner than significant batting eye improvements, which might limit some chances for steals. However, Ramirez's speed has foundation: He stole at least 21 bases in a season at each "A" stage of the minors, including 33 at Triple-A Toledo in '09.
Designated hitter Carlos Guillen and outfielders
Johnny Damon and Magglio
Ordonez are aging. Center fielder Austin Jackson
might need more Triple-A polishing. Ramirez has had significant Triple-A work
and can play each outfield spot. The Tigs are considering him for part-time
duty and pinch-running appearances. In AL leagues, his potential power-speed
combo is worth an in-season $1 pickup or a reserve-round stab if you have stash
Don Kelly, IF, Detroit Tigers
With an impressive spring, the versatile, hard-nosed Kelly looks like he'll win the Tigs' last offensive bench spot. His power has come on in the last few seasons, and he hit .331 at Triple-A Toledo last season. The 30-year-old minor league vet showed some aggressiveness on the base paths before exploding last year with 27 steals in 31 attempts in just 372 Toledo at-bats.
Even if he doesn't keep that pace, it didn't come out of nowhere. He had 33 SB attempts in '06, 22 in '05. Maybe he became more aggressive again in order to earn an MLB spot; he might show the same to keep one. With the Tigs carrying numerous injured, injury-prone or aging players, Kelly could see one or two starts per week if he makes the team. His ability to play all over the field adds a hint of value to this end-gamer for your AL-only bench.
Peter Bourjos, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The members of the Halos outfield are either injury prone, old or both. As noted in our sleepers rundown, 28-year-old minor league vet Terry Evans is getting a look as a backup outfielder. Bourjos, soon 23, hasn't played above Double-A yet, but his speed is earning him at least some consideration for a roster spot.
Bourjos swiped 50 bases at high Single-A Rancho Cucamonga in '08 and continued his torrid pace in '09, taking 32 bags in 437 at-bats for Double-A Arkansas. He can hit double-digit homers and showed bating eye growth at Double-A. The speedster posted high BABIPs in the minors, so there's a foundation for similar numbers in the bigs. We know the Angels love to run. In the event of a significant injury or occasional playing time to spell the vets, he can contribute to that philosophy as an end-gamer in deep AL-only setups.
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
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