With less than a week left in Spring Training, it's time to wrap up our preseason coverage. Back in January, we kicked off with the All Bullpen Review followed by closer evaluations of the NL East, AL East, NL Central, AL Central, NL West, and AL West. It's time to switch gears to the “steals” portion of Saves and Steals. On Wednesday, we took a peek at the National League. Let's switch our focus to the American League.
As always, I welcome any and all criticism or suggestions. Think I missed somebody? Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @BaseballATeam.
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Toronto Blue Jays
Known Factors: Kevin Pillar
I'll say this, the Blue Jays have more speed than the Giants. The margin isn't large. Like most elite defenders, Pillar has plus speed. His offensive profile limits him to a streaming role in 12 team and shallower formats. Hernandez had a reputation of taking 20 to 30 bags in the minors. After 207 plate appearances in the majors, he's 0-for-3 on the base paths. There's some upside here. Alford could work his way into regular action in the second half of the season. He's a gifted athlete with 15 to 30 steal potential.
Known Factors: N/A
Upside Plays: Manny Machado
The Orioles stole the fewest bases last season, and it wasn't even close. They were 21 steals behind the second-to-last Blue Jays (32 and 53 steals respectively). Machado is the only guy who is likely to take even five bases. Over the last three seasons, he's posted 20, zero, and nine steals. In a contract year, it's possible he'll be more aggressive to inch up his value. Or he may opt against running to better preserve his health.
Tampa Bay Rays
The no-speed roster was starting to feel like an AL East trend. It's nice to see somebody has runners to green light. Kiermaier is the most reliable Rays target. We know he'll play when healthy. One of these years, he'll reach 600 plate appearances, supplying 20 home runs and 20 steals along the way. Even if the 28-year-old lands on the disabled list again, you'll get a useful pace of production.
Smith is your game breaking option. He increasingly looks like a future Jarrod Dyson – somebody who serves as a frequently used backup rather than a pure starter. Despite borderline 80 grade speed, his attempt and success rates aren't elite. We're probably looking at a 30 or 35 steal per 600 plate appearance player.
Span, Gomez, and Duffy are veterans with 10 swipe potential. Adames is a future star shortstop with 20 steal ability. We may see him regularly in the second half of the season.
Boston Red Sox
Upside Plays: Jackie Bradley Jr.
This is a fun club to target for five category contributors. It should be noted that Nunez is recovering from a knee injury. Don't look at his 40 steal 2016 and expect a repeat. Even the 24 bases he snagged last year could be out of reach. Betts is an efficient runner who should continue to post mid-20s steal totals. Benintendi ran a bit above his head last year. I see him as more of a 15 steal guy. Bogaerts is closer to the 10 steal range while Bradley may fall just short of 10 swipes.
New York Yankees
Veterans Ellsbury and Gardner remain speed-first players with other redeeming attributes. Ellsbury will start the season on the disabled list. He's also buried on the depth chart. I suspect he'll still find 300 or more plate appearances with at least 15 steals. Gardner may fall short of his usual 650 plate appearances and 20 steals. Hicks has fringe 10 steal ability.
Wade has a history of frequent thievery in the minors. He's poised to serve a super utility role in the majors this year. To prove his value, he may be frisky on the bases. Torres also has a track record of running in the minors. Unfortunately, he posts poor success rates – a career 60-for-100.
Upside Plays: Greg Allen
Cleveland has an embarrassment of riches on all sides of the ball. Team speed is one of their many strengths. All seven players listed above have 20 stolen base ability under the right conditions. Recent injuries and potentially fragmented playing time may prevent Kipnis, Brantley, Davis, and Allen from reaching the 20 steal plateau. Kipnis and Brantley are opportunists. They don't have above average speed yet still perform well on the bases. Davis and Allen are reserve outfielders.
It feels like Lindor should be a 30 steal candidate, but he's yet to show a predilection to run frequently. Ramirez runs more often yet he also falls short of that 30 swipe ceiling. Shockingly, 6' 5'' Zimmer may be the guy to exceed 30 thefts. He went 18-for-19 in attempts over a 332 plate appearance sample. He completely disappeared in August before a season-ending injury. As such, his grip on the everyday center field role is fragile.
Kansas City Royals
Upside Plays: Raul Mondesi
The most Royals moment of the offseason was when they re-signed Escobar. He cratered on the bases last season, going just 4-for-11. I anticipate a modest rebound in part because Kansas City has nothing to lose from sending their runners. As such, Merrifield may attempt 40 steals for a second consecutive campaign. That should put him well within reach of at least 25 swipes. Mondesi will get a chance later in the year for regular action. He may never reach base often enough to be a palatable fantasy option.
Known Factors: Leonys Martin
Finding fantasy value in this Tigers offense is a challenging exercise. Martin is expected to leadoff for the club, and manager Ron Gardenhire wants him to be aggressive on the bases. While he offers interesting upside in very deep formats, he typically plays his way out of a job by mid-season. He's posted a sub-.270 OBP in two of the last three seasons.
Technically, I listed three other players who could reach 10 steals. Unless you're in a deep AL Only setting, you shouldn't need to use these guys.
Upside Plays: Zack Granite
Sadly, Polanco was dinged with a PED suspension. He was an interesting late-draft target with 15 homer and 15 steal talent. Dozier remains a safe bet for 15 swipes with plenty of power. Buxton offers some growth potential after stealing 30 bases in 30 attempts (technically he was 29-for-30 due to over-sliding second base). If he does break out on the bases, he'll need to start stealing third. Granite is a contact king who could nab 20 or more bases in limited action. He'll offer very little help in other categories.
Chicago White Sox
Like the Tigers, many of these guys might not have enough bat to take full advantage of their legs. Garcia is a super utility guy while Engel and oft-injured Tilson look like future fifth outfielders. Anderson consistently disappoints with a painful OBP and shockingly few attempts. He went 15-for-16 on the bases last year. Moncada only attempted five steals (3-for-5) despite spending a third of the season in the majors. I'm planning for 12 swipes this year. There's definitely upside for more.
Los Angeles Angels
Trout is proud of his ability to contribute in every way imaginable. With a chance to push a .450 OBP, he has so many opportunities to catch the opposing battery off guard. Good luck drafting him! Upton has stolen between eight and 19 bases in each of the last five seasons. You can pencil him in for about 10 swipes. Kinsler has been equally consistent – 10 to 15 steals over the last five years. Meanwhile, Simmons set a career high of 19 thefts in 2017. He's an end-round target for shortstop.
Like the Indians, the Astros have so much athleticism. Altuve hardly needs an introduction. This might be his first full season with fewer than 30 steals. He'll still carry your squad. Carlos Correa and George Springer have ceased stealing bases – probably because it doesn't make sense for non-elite runners to risk making an out. Bregman may be the next guy to curtail his attempts.
Presently, Fisher projects to take a big chunk of the left field platoon. He has considerable speed, but his instincts leave something to be desired. Tucker is the next premium prospect in line if Fisher flops. Marisnick and Kemp will patch over any injuries.
Known Factors: Marcus Semien
Shortstops account for Oakland's best runners. Semien quietly stole 12 bags in only 386 plate appearances last season – a pace of about 20 over a full season. Barreto and Mateo may be major league ready this year. One will eventually displace Jed Lowrie at second base while the other may be forced into super utility duty. Both have 20 steals in the tank. Fowler is more of a 10 to 15 swipe guy.
Most Seattle steals will be supplied by these two guys. Gordon is rated around the 30th best player in standard 5x5 drafts. His reliable 60 steals make it easy to dominate the category. You'll need to find home runs later in the draft. Segura's speed is declining, but he's still a safe target for 20 thefts. Ichiro Suzuki is floating around this roster too. He only nabbed one bag last season.
Upside Plays: Shin-Soo Choo
DeShields will bat leadoff ahead of some very potent bats. On the hand, he'll have to be more selective about when he steals. On the other hand, he'll have plenty of opportunities reach the coveted 40 steal plateau. Andrus turns in 25 steals practically every season. He's not old enough to start worrying about a sharp decline. The uptick in power makes him a stealthy fantasy monster. Odor needs to rebound from a hideous .252 OBP season. Choo proved he'll still run when his legs are healthy. Part time work makes another healthy campaign all the more likely.