Cheap Speed Targets for 2021 Fantasy Baseball
Congratulations! You snagged two stud starting pitchers, a reigning league MVP, and a multi-positional darling like DJ LeMahieu or a 40-plus home run threat like Eloy Jimenez with your first four picks. You are killing it! There are so many quality bats available in the next few rounds that you simply cannot pass up. You want to make sure you don’t miss out on the inevitable closer run, and even though you have two high-end starters, you need to bolster your rotation because quality starting pitching is going at warp speed. Besides, pitchers are constantly getting hurt, so you need to add some extra arms for insurance purposes. All of a sudden you notice that the draft is half over and you are projected to finish last in steals. You need speed, and you need it on the cheap.
Luckily, there are players out there who can help you later in drafts. Do not expect any of these players to approach Adalberto Mondesi’s levels of thievery. However, there are plenty of players available late who can get you double-digits in steals. If you grab a few, you should be able to perform well enough in stolen bases to keep you afloat, assuming you are near the top of your league in the other Roto categories. For this exercise, I am limiting options to those available after pick 240 based on the last 30 days of NFBC ADP data. 240 is a nice round number, and a common denominator for 10, 12, 15, or 16-team leagues. (If you are in my TGFBI league, please stop reading because we are past pick 200 and my lineup is projected for about 20 total stolen bases. Thank you.)
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2021 Cheap Speed Targets
Myles Straw (26 projected stolen bases, 384.53 ADP)
Myles Straw heads the cheap speed list, but his cost is rising. His ADP is around 340 over the last 10 days. That was right around the time that manager Dusty Baker suggested that Straw was a candidate to bat leadoff for Houston this season. I do not necessarily buy that, as he is a weak hitter with zero power. From a power standpoint, Straw makes Nick Madrigal look like Nick Castellanos. Baker would be much better suited to insert Straw into the 9-hole. Having said that, he should be able to amass steals regardless of where he hits in Houston’s order. Straw has 186 steals with a success rate just north of 80 percent in his professional career. His sprint speed ranks in the 91st percentile per Statcast. He may not stir the drink, but Myles Straw should be a prime source of cheap stolen bases this season.
Manuel Margot (19 projected stolen bases, 269.5 ADP)
Manuel Margot has reached double-digit steals in four consecutive seasons and is poised for a fifth. Margot performed quite well upon returning from the bereavement and Covid lists last August. All 12 of his steals came over his final 37 games. He also provided a .313 average with 16 runs and 11 RBI during that stretch. The only issue preventing me from projecting more steals is playing time. Nobody tinkers quite like Rays’ manager Kevin Cash. Margot’s defensive prowess should earn him most of the playing time, but he may not quite be an everyday player. I have a hard time believing Margot will eclipse 500 plate appearances, which could be frustrating for managers in weekly leagues. Still, Margot should be a solid contributor in steals with the potential to put up decent peripherals when in the lineup.
Jon Berti (19 projected stolen bases, 282.78 ADP)
Jon Berti is another player who provides little punch in his bat, but who can be a weapon on the basepaths. Berti somehow managed a higher xwOBA (expected weighted on-base average) than xSLG (expected slugging percentage) in 2020. That will happen when you combine a 15.4 percent walk rate with a .092 isolated slugging percentage. Despite his solid on-base skills and 84.4 percent career stolen base success rate, Berti does not project as a full-time player in 2021. The Marlins suddenly have three established outfielders, so Berti will likely get two or three starts a week as a fourth outfielder. He also figures to be on the short side of a platoon with Isan Diaz at second base. Berti is a great example of a player I would much rather prefer in a daily or Best Ball league rather than a standard weekly league.
Kevin Kiermaier (18 projected stolen bases, 580.31 ADP)
Remember that time I talked about Kevin Cash and his propensity for tinkering? Well, the same logic applies to Kevin Kiermaier. The debate on how to value Kiermaier and Margot may boil down to your opinion on postseason phenom Randy Arozarena. If you believe that Arozarena and Austin Meadows deserve everyday at-bats, then Margot and Kiermaier are likely left to battle with Yoshi Tsutsugo for two lineup spots on a given day. Kiermaier is also an elite defender, so I would expect him and Margot to see the field more often than not. Again, though, that may be four or five times a week rather than six. Kiermaier flashed 97th percentile sprint speed last season, which is quite impressive given he hit the big 3-0 last April. Given the relatively similar skillsets between the two Rays outfielders, I have a hard time justifying a 300-plus difference in their current ADPs.
Elvis Andrus (17 projected stolen bases, 364.34 ADP)
After a dozen years in Arlington, Elvis has left the building. The Rangers traded their longtime shortstop to division rival Oakland. Given that teams are not always willing to trade assets to divisional foes, the move itself is a bit of a red flag. If Texas thought Andrus had anything left in the tank, would they really trade him to Oakland? On the bright side, we should at least get to find out. There is not a lot blocking Andrus from the starting gig in the Bay. Expecting a repeat of his bounce-back 2019 campaign is a bit unrealistic at this juncture of Andrus’s career. However, everyday players are not easy to come by, particularly once you approach the 30th round in 12-team leagues. Fantasy managers can still use Andrus as a MI candidate in deeper leagues this season if things break the right way.
Raimel Tapia (16 projected stolen bases, 241.99 ADP)
Raimel Tapia acquitted himself quite nicely when the Rockies gave him everyday at-bats last season. He hit especially well in the leadoff role, batting .326 with a .370 on-base percentage. That type of production should make Tapia the favorite to remain in the role as 2021 begins. He was much improved last year both on the road and against left-handed pitching, which should further cement his role, at least to start. You do not need me to tell you that a leadoff hitter who plays half his games in Coors Field is a valuable commodity in fantasy. Tapia has stolen 25 bases in 32 career attempts. Those totals have occurred in roughly a season and a half’s worth of plate appearances, so 16 steals feels like a very reachable number if he can maintain hold of the leadoff and left field jobs.
Kolten Wong (15 projected stolen bases, 257.48 ADP)
Kolten Wong is more of a savvy base stealer than a flat-out burner. He has never had even 70th percentile sprint speed. Yet the former Cardinal has swiped 29 of 35 bases since 2019. Now in Milwaukee, Wong should remain a threat on the basepaths in 2021. Craig Counsell remains one of the most aggressive managers in baseball when it comes to stealing bases. Wong should lead off for the Brew Crew on most occasions, so I expect him to have a green light when on base. If he was on another team, I would probably slot him in for 10-12 steals. But I think 15 is a reachable number given Milwaukee’s philosophy on the bases. That makes him a solid late flier, especially at a thin position at second base.
Nick Senzel (15 projected stolen bases, 275.34 ADP)
Nick Senzel has all the makings of a post-hype sleeper in 2021. It seems as if the uber-prospect has disappointed during his brief time in the Majors. But he still has 14 homers and 16 steals to his credit in just under 500 plate appearances. That is quite impressive considering the injuries he has had to deal with over the last two years. If he can stay on the field, I would not be surprised if he eclipses 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases this season. He is all but assured of the everyday job in center field for the Reds, and Cincinnati still boasts a formidable lineup. Senzel may not steal the most bases of the players listed in this group, but he has the most all-around upside given his relatively cheap draft-day cost.
Oscar Mercado (15 projected stolen bases, 410.65 ADP)
Speaking of post-hype sleepers, fantasy managers are leaving Oscar Mercado for dead after posted a hideous .128/.174/.174 triple-slash line in 92 plate appearances last season. As bad as Mercado looked last season, it was still 92 plate appearances. In a normal year, that would be a blip on the radar. Even with that disastrous showing, Mercado has hit 16 home runs and stolen 18 bases in just under 600 career plate appearances. If all of that was posted in a single season, we would probably be drafting Mercado 20 rounds higher. Mercado will likely hit towards the bottom of Cleveland’s lineup, so the counting categories may not be ideal. But at this price, you are not asking for a ton of production. He should easily provide double-digit steals as long as he does not carry his offensive woes from last season into 2021.
Lorenzo Cain (14 projected stolen bases, 251.07 ADP)
If you think that Senzel and Mercado were disappointing last year, consider that Lorenzo Cain did not steal a single base in 2020! Oh wait, he opted out after five games. That explains it. Cain turns 35 next month, so he may not have a ton left in the tank in the stolen base department. On the flip side, essentially taking last year off may reenergize him a bit, particularly early on in the season. Before 2020, Cain posted at least 10 stolen bases in eight consecutive seasons. He should still man the two-hole in Milwaukee in front of Christian Yelich. As I noted with Wong, Milwaukee likes to put pressure on opposing defenses on the bases. Provided he has not lost a step, Lorenzo Cain should steal 12-15 bases and provide solid overall production.
Garrett Hampson (14 projected stolen bases, 259.57 ADP)
For a hot minute last summer, it looked like Garrett Hampson would take over the leadoff role in Colorado. The fantasy community rejoiced, as our wildest dreams were finally on the brink of being realized. And a week later, it was over just as quickly as it had started. Hampson was left to bounce around in and out of the lineup as well as around the diamond as Raimel Tapia secured the role as Rockies leadoff hitter. Hampson split time at second and the outfield, with occasional appearances at short. That appears to be where we have headed with Hampson once again in 2021. The potential is there for a breakout, and he has 23 career steals in just 559 plate appearances. But it is impossible to say with any conviction that Hampson gets more than 400 looks at the dish this upcoming season.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa (14 projected stolen bases, 301.47 ADP)
Isiah Kiner-Falefa seems to always outperform expectations and provide versatility. That will be put to the test again this season. Kiner-Falefa is set to replace Elvis Andrus for the Texas Rangers at shortstop. It feels like a big ask for a player who has manned the position just 17 times in his Major League career. If Kiner-Falefa can perform as needed in the field, he should remain a solid fantasy contributor as well. The former catcher has 11 steals in 450 plate appearances dating back to 2019. That feels like a number he can get to fairly easily with a full complement of plate appearances. Playing at shortstop is demanding, but should take less of a physical toll than playing behind the plate. Fantasy managers would prefer IKF’s steals at the catcher position, but we’ll take what he can get.
J.P. Crawford (13 projected stolen bases, 510.49 ADP)
J.P. Crawford makes excellent contact and has stolen 14-of-20 bases in his young career. He seems to have Seattle’s shortstop position and leadoff role locked down after a solid showing last season. Crawford finished as a top 120 hitter in both Baseball Monster’s and Roster Resource’s final 2020 rankings. The problem as it relates to projecting a high stolen base total going forward is that he simply does not have a lot of natural speed. Crawford ranked in the 45th percentile in sprint speed last season, down from his 62nd percentile mark in 2019. Neither number will keep opposing batteries up at night. Though I believe Crawford is an overall value from a fantasy perspective based on his current role relative to his ADP, it is hard to imagine him approaching 20 steals anytime soon.
Harrison Bader (13 projected stolen bases, 518.72 ADP)
When the Cardinals dealt veteran Dexter Fowler this offseason, it opened up some room in the outfield. Presumably, Harrison Bader should be allowed to play center field every day, at least to begin the season. Bader has regressed a bit over the last two seasons, but still has 31 career home runs and 31 stolen bases in just over 1,000 plate appearances. If Bader can simply figure out how to get on, he should be a huge threat to steal bases. Bader boasts 98th percentile sprint speed and has only been caught stealing eight times in his career. He does not figure to hit for a high average, and will likely hit low in the order, meaning runs and RBI will be hard to come by. But he has 15-20 stolen base potential if he can keep Austin Dean and Justin Williams at bay.
Tim Locastro (13 projected stolen bases, 615.98 ADP)
Tim Locastro has led Major League Baseball in sprint speed in each of the last two seasons. He has also yet to be caught stealing in his Big League career in 26 stolen base attempts. Locastro also may be Arizona’s starting center fielder to start the season. If indications continue in that direction, Locastro’s ADP will surely rise in the coming weeks. As it stands, fantasy managers are skeptical about his role. Locastro does not figure to hit for a high average or much power, and I doubt he will see much time near the top of the order, especially given his reverse splits. He is a career .284 hitter versus right-handers, but just .225 against lefties. However, his speed is unparalleled. If he can get consistent at-bats throughout the season, he could blow away both his ADP and current stolen base projection.
Anthony Alford (13 projected stolen bases, 649.88 ADP)
After nearly a decade of toiling in Toronto’s Minor League system, the Blue Jays finally gave up on Anthony Alford. He never fully realized his potential despite his tantalizing mix of power and speed. Pittsburgh claimed Alford off waivers last August, and he will get a chance to be the team’s center fielder this spring. The Pirates recently signed Dexter Fowler as competition, but I suspect they will give Alford every opportunity to win the job. Alford is a major liability in the batting average department but has tremendous speed that he can utilize if and when he ends up on the basepaths. Alford is by no means a sure thing or a safe pick. However, when you are this deep into a draft, it can’t hurt to take a flier on a player with Alford’s raw skills, including his wheels.
Joey Wendle (12 projected stolen bases, 335.33 ADP)
Joey Wendle has a .279 batting average with 14 homers and 32 steals over his last 992 plate appearances. He is also eligible at three infield positions. That does not feel like a player who should be readily available after pick 300. Yet there he sits, as one of many seemingly interchangeable parts in the Tampa Bay Rays lineup. Wendle, like Margot, Kiermaier before him, will likely sit once per week or so as Kevin Cash plays mad scientist with the Rays chess pieces. But as long as Wendle is in the lineup, he should produce. He should be a solid source of batting average, RBI, and stolen bases while adding flexibility that few others in this ADP range can. He will not steal the most bases of this group, but he is a solid pickup at the end of drafts.
Sam Hilliard (12 projected stolen bases, 352.54 ADP)
Most fantasy managers still covet the intriguing skillset of Garrett Hampson. Admittedly, I also project Hampson for more steals this season than Sam Hilliard. But Colorado brass never seems to fully commit to Hampson for whatever reason. Perhaps they know something we do not, or maybe the same fate will await Hilliard. Either way, Hilliard does seem to have the first crack at Colorado’s center field job this spring, as Ian Desmond has once again opted out. Hilliard stole at least 20 bases in four straight seasons in the Minors and has top-end sprint speed. As a left-handed hitter, Hilliard also figures to be on the right side of any platoon scenario. If you draft Hampson, it would be wise to double back and grab Hilliard several rounds later. In fact, Hilliard may be the better value straight up when all is said and done.
Roman Quinn (599.87 ADP) should remain in a reserve role in Philadelphia, as has been the case for several seasons now. Quinn has never seen as many as 150 plate appearances in a single season. Yet he has 35 career stolen bases in just 40 attempts over the course of just 150 games. If Quinn were to ever luck his way into a full-time role, he is the type of player who can single-handedly carry a fantasy team in steals. Jarrod Dyson (750.7 ADP) has carved out a decade-long MLB career as a part-time player and pinch-runner extraordinaire. The 36-year old has stolen at least 26 bases seven times in his career despite never accumulating more than 92 hits in any season. There is virtually no chance of him earning significant playing time in 2021, but he could be a waiver wire pickup in daily leagues if circumstances allow.
Did you find Mick’s take on cheap speed targets helpful? For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2021 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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