The need for speed makes us do silly things. We reach for Juan Pierre types because we want to pencil in 40 steals and move on. But if we pay too much for the speed-only guys, we're left wondering what happened to our power. And a single injury to a single hamstring can bring down the best laid plans.
All of this should make you nervous. And hopefully it will make sure you spend some late picks on speed to bolster even a speedy lineup.
The good news? Stolen bases are on the rise. Also, there are some speedy prospects coming into the league next year that can help you late in your next deeper or dynasty league draft. Let's run through some of the rookie-eligible guys that look like they might have the opportunity to provide value with their legs.
That means, of course, that you won't see Mike Trout (who's not rookie-eligible because of a quirk in the rules), Ben Revere or Dee Gordon on this list. That's for another list. That also means that you'll see some names that you won't recognize -- and hopefully some that your league-mates won't know either.
Technically, Cain is not rookie-eligible since he had 158 plate appearances in 2010 with the Brewers. But maybe people forgot about him since he only had 23 PAs in the majors last year. Now that Melky Cabrera is in San Francisco, Cain should get a full-time shot. He strikes out too much for a speedster, and he doesn't walk enough, either. But last year at Triple-A, he hit 16 home runs to go with his 16 stolen bases and a .312 batting average. Pencil him in for double-digit home runs, more than 20 stolen bases, and a middling average in centerfield this year.
2011 was supposed to be the season in which Cozart showed that he could handle the major league shortstop position for the Reds. But, 38 PAs after he joined the big league team, he was felled by ankle and wrist injuries. The surgery went well and now the job is his to lose. He doesn't have impact power or speed, but he could do just enough of either to be relevant, especially because of his position. The batting average is an open question -- he had one as low as .255 in Triple-A and then came back and hit .310 at the same level the next year.
Paredes is not guaranteed a starting role in Houston next year, but he should be relevant somewhere on the infield. He has experience at second, third and short in the minor leagues. Chris Johnson has been terrible for the most part, so Paredes could take that job, or try to fake shortstop for a while. He is slightly Cain-like in that he strikes out a little bit too much and doesn't ever take a walk, but he makes more impact with his wheels than Cain. He's a little like Emilio Bonifacio -- not a great real-life option because of his flaws, but a great fantasy option if he finds his way into regular playing time and adds shortstop eligibility.
Unless the team trades Alfonso Soriano -- and there are rumors that he might be on his way out -- there isn't an open spot for Jackson in Chicago. Then again, Tyler Colvin is a flawed player and could lose time if he once again plays as badly as he did last year. Tony Campana, another young speedster in front of Jackson on the depth chart, also has no power or patience to speak of, so he's not assured to be an obstacle. Jackson is knocking on the door with power and speed, but he also has been striking out way too much. The guess is that he starts the year at Triple-A in order to work on making contact, but that he's starting and stealing bases regularly in the major leagues by mid-season.
Here's another toolsy prospect with strikeout problems and without a clear starting role waiting for him on his major league team. Robinson came to baseball late in his upbringing, so it might not be so bad that he's been striking out more as he's hit the upper minors -- he could still be making adjustments and getting used to baseball. On the other hand, he's really struck out way too much in the last year-plus, and he needs to make more contact to be relevant. In 2010 and 2011 combined, he hit 38 home runs and stole 53 bases though, so if he can get it together, it will be exciting.
Yonder Alonso might play in left field. Drew Stubbs might be entrenched in center. You might have heard of Jay Bruce in right. That's a shame because Sappelt, a centerfielder for much of his time in the minors, doesn't have much left to learn on the farm. He doesn't strike out much, he takes walks at about an average rate, and he has good speed. It might not be elite -- he only stole five bases in ten tries last year -- but he does steal bags (25 out of 43 in 2010). On second thought, that's not such a great success rate. That's why he's lower on the list.
The best shortstop in Japan is currently being posted, and the Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Orioles are reportedly interested. They do need middle infielders, but, judging from recent import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, maybe he should be regarded with some skepticism. He hit .279/.339/.431 last year with Seibu, and that came with the new offense-suppressing ball in Japan. He's also stolen more than 15 bases a year for the last three years running, and speed translates across the pond better than power. As bad as some recent imports have been, he could be a decent flier in deeper leagues.
The Braves are still looking for a shortstop, but if they don't find him, Pastornicky is possibly the future at the position. He doesn't have much power, but he's now played at Double-A for two straight seasons and has 63 steals over those two years combined. Watch the hot stove, because the shortstop position is so terrible that Erick Aybar, who had a similar offensive profile in the minor leagues, has been valuable in fantasy leagues.
Martin didn't really get a shot in the major leagues last year since the Rangers were competitive and had the two-headed monster of Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez at his position. Well, now Chavez is gone, and in his way is only the other young speedster, Julio Borbon. One of the two should get some playing time -- and stolen bases -- next year, and it looks like Martin has better plate discipline and more power upside. Don't forget about him.