If you wanted me to talk about the top guys in steals, you came to the wrong place. Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, Trea Turner and Jose Altuve all provide the steal type ability that should be snatched up within the first four rounds of any type of draft. I am not even afraid of how low Hamilton’s average is or the fact that Altuve can mash in all hitting categories. Turner and Gordon I would say are going to be the most consistent in getting on base and looking to steal. I would say all four of these guys are a lock for 30 or more steals entering 2018.
Steals seem to be that forgotten category in hitting like that of saves or holds in pitching. I will be honest in that I often look past this category unless I happen to get lucky to draft a guy that will steal bases. I am going to talk about a few guys that you can get in round six or later to help you bolster the steals category. Speed kills both on and off the diamond. Don’t be that guy who throws away the category when you could have won it that week.
2018 Fantasy Baseball Speed Targets
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
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Upon entering the league, many feared that Buxton was not going to be a good hitter. He is already a special player and the Twins, if his bat moves along, will have a superstar. Even while his bat is moving along, his non-hitting skills, specifically his stealing ability, is where he stands out. According to FanGraphs metric, the 2017’s most valuable baserunner went to Byron Buxton.
Buxton possesses both league-leading sprint speed and league-leading outs above average. He also takes chances which can be disappointing in the end, but not for Buxton. There are only two outs that he made on the base pads that would have made him have a perfect season on the bases. One time he overslid second base against the Orioles which made him 29 out of 30 for stolen bases and the other was when he got doubled up on a line drive against the Rangers. Other than that he would have been perfect.
Buxton is only going to get better in 2018. Some fault him for being too efficient and not taking enough chances in 2017. This being said maybe he underestimated what he is truly capable of. Buxton is a rare talent that you don’t want to miss. He is a perfect guy to draft especially because these skills don’t come around too often.
A.J. Pollock, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
The only reason I do not have Pollock as a lock up top is because of his looming injury that seems to be bothering him. In 2015, Pollock undoubtedly had one of the most valuable seasons in the past ten years. In 2016, he missed the entire season with an elbow injury after sliding into home plate during a spring training game. Then in 2017, he missed about a quarter of the season with a groin injury. He was ok in 2017, not great, with posting 20 stolen bases and 14 home runs. This is far from his 39 stolen bases and 20 home runs that he posted in 2015.
I believe that the only reason he was not as aggressive as he could be in 2017 was the looming injury concern. In the first half of the season he went 13-for-15 in swiping bags in 43 games, whereas in the second half in 69 games he went 7-for-11. When his speed went down, his power increased by hitting an 11 of his total 14 home runs in the second half of the season. He is now showing a good balance of speed and power. I think he will have better health in 2018 and could see another 20 home run and 30 stolen bases type of a season.
Delino DeShields, OF, Texas Rangers
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The biggest thing that hangs over DeShields is the amount of playing time he is going to get in order to be effective on the bases. After a horrible 2016, he rebounded with an over 400 plate appearance in 2017 and was an impact as a base stealer going 29-for-37. Entering his third year, his numbers last year resembled close to what he did his rookie year in 2015. He had an OBP of .347 and walked 10% of the time.
Another thing that is questionable is where the Rangers place him in the batting order. This type of answer depends on how successful he can be in 2018. Since entering the league, I have always been a DeShields believer. As of right now, it looks like the Rangers will utilize him as a fourth outfielder with high potential of taking the centerfield position. He has definitely proven to be a better defender, while I know we don’t look at this in fantasy perspective, but it does help him get on the field more. On the plus side, so far in spring training, he is batting .389 with an RBI and a stolen base.
Whit Merrifield, 2B, Kansas City Royals
The 29-year-old busted on the scene in 2017 with a great power/speed combination. He finished the season with 19 home runs, had 34 stolen bases and hit .288. He spent most of last season in the bottom part of the lineup and looks like entering 2018 he will be the leadoff hitter for the Royals. I do believe that his power numbers are a little skewed with the next highest amount of homers he hit in a season was 10.
The Royals offense as a whole is going to be down this year. With both Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer gone and Mike Moustakas having an uncertain future with the organization, I feel like the Royals are going to lean more on the small ball to get their offense going. This is where Merrifield comes into play. I do not see him hitting close to 19 home runs this year, but I do see him stealing more bases. As a baseball coach, you have to work with the type of team you have and Merrifield is perfect for capturing many of the stolen categories in 2018.
According to StatCast in 2017, Merrifield’s speed surpassed Trout. The speed metric is measured in "feet per second in a player's fastest one-second window" when running on the bases. Merrifield’s was 28.6 while Trout’s was 28.4. When asked about what he thought about his speed Merrifield replied, “It does feel pretty good. I feel like sometimes my speed sometimes gets overlooked a little. It’s nice to have some validation. I work pretty hard on my speed.”
Late Round Flier
Jarrod Dyson, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
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Dyson joined the Diamondbacks this offseason and one of their main priorities for signing him was his elite speed. Mike Hazen, GM of the Diamondbacks, explained why they made the signing. "We had talked quite a bit about him as an ideal fit in a lot of ways. We felt like this was something we needed to jump at at this moment in time. I feel like he complements a lot of what we're trying to do… Adding speed and usable speed, the ability to steal bases when people know you're looking to steal a base, I think that can only help us win games."
Dyson’s overall statistics are a model of consistency. In 2017, he had a slash line of .251/.324/.350 which was very close to his career one of .258/.325/.352. His defense is still elite enough to keep him in lineups which makes him somewhat useful in fantasy. Look for Dyson to be there for you in later rounds and he is good enough to take a chance on.
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