The preseason is almost complete – and so is our spring analysis. Saves and Steals has covered the saves starting with an All Bullpen Review and digging into the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, NL West, and AL West. On Wednesday we delved into all the meaningful base steals in the National League. Now it's time for the American League.
Next Wednesday, the initial closer tiers will be unveiled. And then real baseball will be upon us.
As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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Toronto Blue Jays
Known Factors: Melvin Upton Jr., Kevin Pillar
Upside Plays: Dalton Pompey, Ezequiel Carrera
The Blue Jays are not a speed-first franchise. Their recent playoff appearances have been driven by thumping the baseball. While Upton did pop 20 home runs and steal 27 bases last season, his performance declined sharply upon joining Toronto. The 32-year-old may not get enough playing time to make a fantasy impact, although the Jays outfield is rather thin. Upton is an obvious fit to embrace the fly ball revolution. His combination of ground balls and high whiff rate hurts the bottom line.
Pillar dropped from 25 steals in 2015 to only 14 last season. However, the rangy center fielder was playing through injury in 2016. It's possible he'll be more aggressive now that he's reportedly at full health. We may also see better results at the plate – particularly in the power department. Pillar is a solid volume pick in deep leagues.
A couple backup outfielders, Pompey and Carrera, could swipe a few bags if given a full time role. Pompey is currently recovering from a concussion. The speedy outfielder has 20 to 30 steal ability, but he'll first have to learn to make enough contact against top level pitching. Carrera is likely to earn a bench role. In 2014, he stole 43 bases in 434 Triple-A plate appearances. Last year, he was 7-for-11 in 310 major league plate appearances.
Known Factors: N/A
Upside Plays: Manny Machado, Michael Bourn
In 2015, Machado stole 20 bags. In 2016, the Baltimore Orioles swiped only 19 bases as a team. Machado was responsible for exactly zero of them. Adam Jones is the only other regular with the athleticism to steal bases, but it's been forever since he took more than 10 in a season.
Tampa Bay Rays
Known Factors: Kevin Kiermaier
Upside Plays: Mallex Smith, Nick Franklin, Matt Duffy, Steven Souza
Kiermaier is the biggest stolen base threat in Tampa. His speed plays up due to excellent awareness. Last season, he stole 21 bases in 24 attempts (414 plate appearances). A full season could result in more than 30 steals. Kiermaier has also improved at the plate. He now contributes a respectable OBP with a hint of power and run production.
If Smith finds his way into a regular job, he has the 80 grade speed necessary to reach 60 stolen bases. Smith is an odd fit on the Rays since they now have Kiermaier locked up long term. As a typically slappy rabbit, Smith may find himself stuck in a fourth outfielder or defensive replacement role.
Duffy would be a safe bet for 15 steals if he wasn't recovering from an Achilles injury. Alas. Franklin likes to run and could push 20 steals in a full season. Unfortunately, since his 2013 debut, he's yet to prove he can hit major league pitching. Nor is it clear that he has a defensive home. Souza was once thought to be a 15 steal threat, but he doesn't reach base often enough. And he's starting to slow down too.
Boston Red Sox
Known Factors: Mookie Betts
Upside Plays: Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi
Like most of the AL East, the Red Sox will let their bats do the talking. Betts is the only Bostonian likely to steal more than 10 bags. He'll reside somewhere in the 20 to 30 range. Betts is a poor man's Mike Trout, which is to say that he's either the second or third best player in the fantasy universe. Your opportunities to acquire him are... limited.
Last season, Benintendi nabbed 16 bases in 25 minor league attempts (418 plate appearances). After reaching the majors, he went 1-for-1 in 118 plate appearances. Given his poor minor league conversion rate, it's unclear if he'll attempt to run in the majors. Bradley has never stolen 10 or more bases in the majors, but he does have the raw speed to take a step forward. Nobody should be surprised by a 15 steal campaign even if something in the six to 10 range is likelier.
New York Yankees
Known Factors: Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner
Upside Plays: Aaron Hicks
As with the rest of this division, outfielders are the primary source of speed on the Yankees. The oft-injured Ellsbury is a forgotten man in most standard-sized leagues. He'll generally bat second while providing run production, a decent average, and 20 steals. Since Yankees Stadium is so friendly to lefty power, he may accidentally hit 10 home runs too. Gardner offers more of the same – a leadoff role, strong OBP, run production, 20 steals, and sneaky useful power. These are extremely useful, cheap, boring veterans.
Hicks, if he worms his way into regular playing time, has the necessary speed to snag 10 to 20 bases. He stole 13 in 390 plate appearances in 2015. He was brutal in his 2016 debut with the Yankees, making him a cut risk.