The value of stolen bases in fantasy baseball is an often hotly debated topic. Speedy players are typically not the best real-life hitters. For example, Billy Hamilton was one of the most valuable players in fantasy baseball from 2014-2018 by stealing 264 bases. In contrast, his 68 wRC+ was well below average offensively. Some people feel that the value put on stolen bases in most league formats is contradictory to rostering the most important players in baseball. Others feel that reliance on stolen bases allows for fantasy relevance from those who do not have a typical slugger profile. If you play in a league where stolen bases are important, but do not want to use high draft capital on speed-first players, this is the article for you. Below I detail several players that should provide plenty of steals and you can take them late in drafts.
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Players to Draft for Cheap Stolen Bases
Manuel Margot, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Manuel Margot feels like one of those players that have been around forever. Injuries and inconsistent production have left the once-promising prospect forgotten about in fantasy circles. With inconsistent playing time, Margot averaged 14.6 stolen bases per season from 2017-2021 before posting a disappointing seven last year. Despite this, Margot is still only 28 years old and could be a valuable source of stolen bases late in fantasy drafts. He is currently going as OF76 in fantasy drafts outside of the top 300 making his profile even more intriguing.
Margot’s 2022 season can be broken up into three parts:
The beginning of 2022 was the most exciting and seems completely forgotten about. Across 96 plate appearances through May 9, Margot was batting .337/.400/.500 with five stolen bases and a 163 wRC+. The breakout that fantasy managers had been waiting years for finally seemed tangible. He was barreling the ball up more (6.8%), hitting the ball extremely hard (91.5 mph), and stealing bases at the same time. Margot was finally fantasy relevant and had the early looks of a potential league winner. On his second stolen base on May 9, Margot tweaked his hamstring leading to his removal from the game. After a minimal 10-day stay on the IL, Margot returned but was not the same player.
The second part of the season was the time between IL stints. The slash line from May 25 to June 20 was fine (.256/.316/.344). Margot does not need to be a superstar offensively to be fantasy relevant. Just close to average production would be enough, but he was not running. His hamstring clearly was not healthy and as a result, the stolen bases disappeared. He did not attempt a single stolen base during that period which dissipates any fantasy value in his profile.
The third part of the season was after he returned from a strained patellar tendon. From August 20 forward, Margot struggled offensively batting just .240/.276/.318. Encouragingly, across his final 136 plate appearances, Margot attempted four stolen bases. He at least seemed comfortable running again.,
This has me thinking about what part of Margot’s struggles can be chalked up to playing injured. If we take the first 96 plate appearances, Margot would be a huge fantasy asset. Now healthy, Margot projects as the Rays’ starting right fielder. His only real competition for playing time is Josh Lowe who struck out over 33% of the time during his Major League debut in 2022. Margot still has above-average speed and when healthy has demonstrated a willingness to run. He has 15 stolen base upside and is going late in fantasy drafts. He should be a sneaky source of cheap speed in 2023.
Edward Olivares- OF Kansas City Royals
2022 was a season filled with injuries and missed opportunities for Olivares. With the Royals rebuilding and looking to give young players a chance, Olivares had several chances to claim a starting role. Every time it looked like he was about to, he landed on the IL. He ended up appearing in just 53 games but flashed some of the raw tools prospect evaluators saw during his time with San Diego. He hit .286/.333/.410 with solid exit velocity and contact numbers.
Entering 2023, the Royals’ outfield remains wide open. With no locked-in starter, Olivares is going to get another chance to prove he has what it takes to be an everyday player. Looking at his stat line, you might be questioning his inclusion in a cheap speed article when he only stole two bases last season. The first injury to sideline Olivares for six weeks was a right quad injury. He returned for under a month before missing another six weeks with a left quad injury. He was 2/2 on the basepaths before the first injury and did not even attempt a stolen base after his second injury. Olivares has 83rd-percentile sprint speed and a history of double-digit steals in the Minor Leagues.
Trent Grisham, OF, San Diego Padres
Grisham’s 2022 season got off to a horrible start even resulting in him losing playing time at a certain point. Through June, he was hitting .186/.286/.316 and was dropped in almost all fantasy baseball leagues. While the average from that point forward did not change much, we saw his power skyrocket. Grisham swatted 11 home runs with a .191 ISO. He added five stolen bases during this stretch and had 87th-percentile sprint speed on the season. Drafters are ignoring Grisham this year making him the perfect cheap-speed candidate.
The power and quality of contact improvements have made Grisham a very intriguing profile. I was not even paying attention to him until running second-half statistics for xwRC+. While those results are still being calculated, his xOBP improved from .313 in the first half to .361 in the second half. This was the third-largest jump among all players and is almost 90 points higher than his actual second-half OBP. From July 1 forward, Grisham posted a barrel rate of 10.8% and an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph. He started pulling and elevating the ball more helping his power to take off. Here are some of the comparisons in key contact metrics before and after July 1st.
|Metric||Before July 1st||After July 1st|
This was a clear and deliberate change in Grisham’s approach to unlocking power and it worked. His BABIP took a hit as a result, and we should no longer expect Grisham to run BABIPs close to .300. However, the shift ban and improved luck should help this number improve from the .231 mark in 2022. Grisham hit 17 home runs last year and has the potential to hit 20+ in 2023.
The power improvements give Grisham added value, but he is still a cheap source of speed. Despite only stealing seven bases last season, Grisham has plus speed and a history of running in the Major Leagues. I expect the Padres to give him the green light more in 2023 and he has the potential to steal 10-15 bases. Currently going as OF80 in drafts, I like Grisham to provide cheap speed and offensive upside to my fantasy teams. Target him late for the chance of a bounce-back season.
Brice Turang, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
I recently covered Turang’s profile in a dynasty article which you can check out at PitcherList. As a result, I am going to keep this section brief. The Brewers’ first-round pick from 2018 had a breakout 2022 Minor League campaign. He saw his power increase as a result of a swing change and hit a career-high 13 home runs. Chris Clegg details the improvements a little bit more in the tweet below.
People have forgotten about Brice Turang as a prospect. He spent last year at AAA as a 22 yo. From July 1 on he slashed .296/.390/.484 with 10 HR/20 SB 13.9% BB/18.6% K in 295 PA. Top 100 dynasty prospect that you can get MUCH cheaper.#FantasyBaseball pic.twitter.com/AfsQ1ScBvm
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) November 22, 2022
Now looking ahead to 2023, Turang is projected to be the Brewer’s Opening Day second baseman. He will have to fight off Keston Hiura and Abraham Toro, but the trade of Kolten Wong signals the Brewers’ faith in him. There are still some questions about his hit tool, but the glove should be more than enough to get Turang into the lineup on a regular basis. With this, we should expect to see plenty of stolen bases. He followed up 20 steals in 2021 with 34 steals in 2022. The same base stealing rules from 2021 in AAA will be around in 2022 and Turang has already demonstrated a willingness to run. As long as he is starting, he is an easy bet for 15-20 steals with the upside for even more.
Since January, Turang’s ADP is SS36 outside the top 540 picks. He is going behind other prospects like Anthony Volpe and Elly De La Cruz. Although not as exciting as those two names, he is the one prospect with a high probability of starting for the entire season. He will gain second-base eligibility quickly and is an excellent source of cheap speed in drafts. If you need MI depth with speed late in drafts go get Turang.
Jace Peterson, 3B, Oakland Athletics
This name surely comes as a surprise. While doing research for this article, I can’t say I expected it to include Jace Peterson. An important thing to remember is the bar for cheap speed is lower for a third baseman than an outfielder which helps get Peterson on this list. Peterson who spent the last three seasons in a utility role for the Brewers, signed a two-year contract with Oakland this offseason. He appeared in 113 games last year (his most since 2016) slashing .236/.316/.382 on the season. He has an uninspiring 98 wRC+ since 2020 and the move to Oakland does not exactly give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.
This is a cheap-speed article for a reason. If Peterson was an All-Star caliber player, he would not be cheap in fantasy drafts. Looking into his profile, he has better quality of contact metrics than his slash line suggests he should. The issue has just been a reluctance to swing the bat. His swing percentage is over 6% below the league average. Maybe a new coaching staff will encourage Peterson to swing more? For the Athletics to hand out $9.5 million they must have seen something in his profile that they liked. He has the versatility to play all over the diamond and is quietly an excellent third baseman.
Now in Oakland, Peterson should have no trouble receiving consistent playing time. Even if he does not make any strides offensively, his glove should be enough to keep him in the lineup. The biggest threats to his playing time are Aledmys Diaz (who I think will be their starting shortstop) and prospect Zack Gelof. Neither seems like much of a threat to me. With consistent playing time, there is 15-steal upside to Peterson who has stolen at least ten bases in each of the past two seasons. He has 81st percentile sprint speed and has only been caught twice since the start of 2021. At 3B48, it is hard to not love the value that Jace Peterson provides. The counting stats might not be there in Oakland, but if you are looking for cheap speed, make Peterson a target.
Dylan Moore, 2B/OF, Seattle Mariners
Dylan Moore is another player that I recently wrote about. He was featured in the backups to stars article and I encourage you to check that out. For this article, all you really need to know is that Moore loves to run. Despite being a part-time player, Moore has 42 steals over the last two seasons and has a chance to receive even more playing time in 2023. He has infield and outfield eligibility and is an excellent source of cheap speed in drafts. Going outside the top 500, Moore has huge upside and needs to be drafted to your fantasy team.
Garrett Mitchell, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Since being drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft, Mitchell has demonstrated an elite ability to steal bases. Mitchell has stolen 42 bases in his first 160 professional games while only being caught three times. Mitchell did not just rack up high stolen base totals in the low levels of the Minor Leagues either. In 28 Major League games, Mitchell went a perfect eight for eight on the base paths. His eight steals in 68 plate appearances is good for a 70/600 steal pace. A player with this type of stolen base potential is rare. Get Mitchell on your fantasy radar now.
The red flags in Mitchell’s offensive profile are plentiful. Last year, he struck out over 40% of the time in the majors and ran a .548 BABIP. Dropping the BABIP 150 points to .398 would leave Mitchell with a batting average below .200. On the flip side of the concerns are the 99th percentile sprint speed, 11.8%-barrel rate, and 41.2% sweet spot. Mitchell is one of the more difficult offensive profiles to figure out entering 2023 drafts. All we know for sure is that the speed is elite and right now he projects to be the Brewers’ Opening Day center fielder. He projects as a plus fielder which should help extend his leash at the plate.
All Mitchell needs is consistent plate appearances to be a 20-steal threat. Where things stand right now, he projects to have that and could amass 500 plate appearances in 2023. Cutting his stolen base rate in half from last year and projecting out for 500 plate appearances still gets Mitchell 29 steals. He is currently going as OF73 in drafts which is a STEAL if you are looking for late speed. Plenty of players with elite speed are pushed up draft boards (Jake McCarthy this season), but this has not been the case for Mitchell. Grab him now and reap the rewards during the 2023 season.
Got your own sources of cheap speed? Drop some love in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!