Brad Evans
Yahoo! SportsFebruary 27, 2007

Imagine you're behind-the-wheel of a modified DeLorean packed with a plutonium-fueled flux capacitor that makes time travel possible. You turn the key. Punch June 1, 1987 into the time indicator. Step on the gas. Reach 88 mph and 1.21 gigawatts. And vanish into an alternate dimension leaving behind a trail of fire, an upset group of Libyan terrorists and a wild-haired Christopher Lloyd.

In your return to the decade dominated by ambiguous glam rockers, Swatch watches and overly flamboyant baseball jerseys (Remember Mike Scott in those hideous rainbow orange Astros stripes?), you notice something peculiar about America's pastime – coaches actually encourage players to steal. Great Scott! What a concept!

It was 20 years ago that Vince Coleman surpassed the century mark in steals for the third time in his career and the last time by a player in a season. That year, the Cardinals speed demon tallied a drop-jaw 109 stolen bases. Amazingly, 57 others swiped a minimum of 20 bases – a farce compared to 2006 when a mere 34 players, a 40 percent difference, accomplished the feat.

The plentiful swipes production of yesteryear begs the question: What happened to steals?

I'm pretty sure it has something to do with chicks and longballs.

Where's Rickey Henderson when you need him? Even in Depends and orthopedic shoes he could steal 30 bags!

In the out-of-the-park obsessed 21st century, base thieves have become endangered species. Based on data from the past two decades, 18 more players eclipsed 20 homers per season than those who stole the same number in bases. That's why wheel-possessed players are the pink diamonds of fantasy and fly off draft boards faster than you can say Alfredo Amezaga.

Since we all have a need for speed, here are my top 30 base burglars for the upcoming season.

Rank Player Team Pos ADP AAV
1 Jose Reyes NYM SS 3.35 $39.93
Outlook: Reyes has become the preeminent base stealer in the game today. The NL leader in swipes the past two seasons, the 24-year-old tire-squealer has totaled 124 steals since 2005. His dramatic 54-point rise in on-base percentage and discernable eye (54 walks) in '06 arrows to another steals crown. Clearly the second best player in fantasy behind Albert Pujols this year, he'll become the first person to reach the coveted 20-60 milestone since Rickey Henderson 17 years ago.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 62 SBs
2 Carl Crawford TB OF 7.10 $36.35
Outlook: Crazy legs Crawford is a ridiculously efficient base stealer. Since 2003, he's stolen an average of 54.5 bases per season. What's more impressive is Crawford's improvement in base instincts. Over the past three seasons, his caught stealing percentage has dropped from 20 to 13 percent. Those in denial will bypass him in favor of Vladimir Guerrero – don't be that shortsighted.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 57 SBs
3 Chone Figgins LAA 2B, 3B, OF 42.26 $16.97
Outlook: Fig Newton is no soft cookie. Last year, his batting average and on-base percentage numbers dipped significantly, which translated into 10 less stolen bases compared to 2005. Although eligible at the deepest positions, the ultra-versatile Figgins will likely qualify at second base and/or short at some point. Right now a mid-third rounder in 12-team drafts, a rise in contact percentage should inch him close to 60 steals once again. Buy on a bear market.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 52 SBs
4 Hanley Ramirez Fla SS 28.83 $26.97
Outlook: Surprise rookie sensation from a year ago, Han-Ram is no flash-in-the-pan. Many analysts argue his skills peaked too soon, but I'm not one of them. A slight across-the-board regression is probably likely, however if his on-base percentage totals hover near .350, he's a lock for 45-plus steals. Only stay away if you believe Kevin Federline is really a genius in disguise, the boogeyman hides in your closet and sophomore slumps are guaranteed.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 49 SBs
5 Jimmy Rollins Phi SS 25.86 $24.56
Outlook: Faster than the Philly Fanatic on a four-wheeler, all signs point to a career year for J-Ro. Steals instructor extraordinaire – and cookie duster connoisseur – Davey Lopes was brought in to jump-start a Phillies base game in need of a jolt. Rollins said recently he is confident Lopes can "step my stolen-base game up." If you thought his '06 leap in power was a shocker, wait until you see his stolen base totals this year. With an ADP near 26, weapons will not be needed to steal Rollins at your draft.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 48 SBs
6 Juan Pierre LAD OF 48.77 $14.53
Outlook: The first Cub to surpass 50 steals in a season since Eric Young in 2000, Pierre is a perennial steals god who, if were really French, would be dubbed "rapide." Arguably the most durable base stealer on this list, Pierre amazingly has not missed a game in four seasons. Now in Tinsel Town, a steep drop-off in production is highly unlikely even in the two-spot behind Rafael Furcal – Grady Little ranked second in the NL in steal attempts in '06. Don't let him slip to the sixth round.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 47 SBs
7 Corey Patterson Bal OF 87.09 $13.29
Outlook: It was only natural "Peppermint" Patterson would shed his Cubby blue and have a breakout season. In '06, CP honed his already great theft skills, stealing a career-high 45 bags at an astonishing 83 percent success rate. Still a youthful 27 years old and entering his prime power years, if Patterson's OBP numbers could miraculously creep over .330, a 25-homer, 45-50 stolen base season is reachable. Considering you can acquire him some 40 picks after Pierre, he's a minty-fresh deal.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 44 SBs
8 Chris Duffy Pit OF 287.49 $1.23
Outlook: After a tumultuous start to his '06 season, Duffy swashbuckled his way back into fantasy interests totaling a stellar 23 steals over the season's final two months. A dark horse for 50 thefts, he needs to carry over a discernable eye to fully utilize his speed assets. Selected on average in Round 22 of 12-team mixed drafts, his profit potential is bigger than South Park counselor Mr. Mackey's head. Mmmm, K!
Speed-O-Meter Says: 41 SBs
9 Rafael Furcal LAD SS 42.56 $20.17
Outlook: Running Raffy saw a sharp 21-point leap in OBP totals last year, but inexplicably had an 11 steals decline. Like Pierre, Furcal's primary mission is to set-the-table and manufacture runs in the top-half of the Dodgers order. With upward trending walk totals in three consecutive seasons and a run-happy manager, he has rock solid odds to return to 40 steals along with a boost in power totals.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 41 SBs
10 Ichiro Suzuki Sea OF 22.83 $24.62
Outlook: By year's end, Ichiro will say "show me the Yen." Undeniably one of the game's most consistent fantasy contributors, Ichiro is about as close to a 35-40 steals guarantee as you can get. A 20-point surge in OBP last season helped him tally his highest steals total (45) in five years. Add in 110 runs and a .310 BA and he's worth the Mothra's left and right wing.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 38 SBs
11 Alfonso Soriano Chc OF 2.65 $40.94
Outlook: The Cubs shelled out the equivalent cost of 45 million Vienna hot dogs, with mustard, for the game's best stat stuffer. Only the fourth 40-40 player in Major League history, Soriano's stark jump in walks (67 BBs in '06 vs. 33 in '05) was the main reason for his 40 steals resurrection. Historically, Lou Piniella loves to run and if Soriano continues to sharpen his eye, 35-40 steals is a very conservative estimate.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 38 SBs
12 Felipe Lopez Was SS 73.96 $11.60
Outlook: Coming over along with Austin Kearns in the Reds throw-us-into-the-Ohio-River-wearing-concrete-boots deal last July, Lopez went nuts on the basepaths under Frank Robinson's loose reigns. Now with the more conservative Manny Acta in command, Lopez's stolen base totals could sag slightly this season. His keen-eyed 81 walks from a year ago and relatively young age (25) imply a minimum of 35 steals.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 37 SBs
13 Brian Roberts Bal 2B 53.45 $13.55
Outlook: Most often the second or third two-bagger to come off the board in early drafts, Roberts is a sound, steady steals producer. A dip in strikeout totals in three consecutive seasons shows B-Rob's improved plate patience and knack for getting on base. Limited by elbow woes for much of '06, the peripherals suggest a 15 HR, 35 SB year is on deck.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 36 SBs
14 Ryan Freel Cin 2B, 3B, OF 144.05 $3.21
Outlook: A card-carrying Swiss Army Knife club member, Freel is an invaluable, flexible speed source in deeper leagues. In Jerry Narron's revolving lineup door, Freel will generally play four-to-five times per week at a variety of positions. Given the aptitude of Ken Griffey Jr. for finding creative ways to land on the DL, with a strong spring, Freel could be the Reds' Opening Day center fielder as Griffey could shift to right. Although primarily a one-dimensional fantasy force, he's a tremendous bench asset to have.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 35 SBs
15 B.J. Upton TB 3B 265.32 $1.55
Outlook: "Movin' on" Upton is finally about to get a piece of the pie-hi-hi. Recently, Joe Maddon expressed interest in transforming Upton into a super-utility player to "take pressure off of his defense." Expected to workout at second, short, third and outfield in spring training, Upton could be a coveted fantasy player, carved from the same flexible wood as Chone Figgins if he notches 400 at-bats. A wee little tike at 22, throw a bone to him after Round 18 in 12-team mixed drafts.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 35 SBs
16 Wily Taveras Col OF 120.52 $4.29
Outlook: No longer looking over his shoulder in Houston, Wily is free to run wild in Colorado. Under aggressive base manager Clint Hurdle, Taveras could thrive in the thin air of Coors if his eye comes more into focus. Largely due to low walk totals (35 BB in 529 '06 at-bats), the 25-year-old outfielder has failed to achieve his 55 steals average once exuded in the minor leagues from 2002-2004. I still think he's a year or two away from a top-five steals finish, but 40-plus thefts is not out of the question.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 35 SBs
17 Dave Roberts SF OF 151.44 $12.03
Outlook: Like a fine wine, Roberts continues to get better with age. At 34, most base burglars enter the retirement home, but for a one-dimensional player like Roberts, he must continue to run to have a place in the lineup. Coming off a career-best 49 steals in 129 games last year, Roberts joins a San Francisco Giants club with a soft spot for geriatrics. Given his age and history of injury – he's averaged 24 DL days since 2003 – Roberts is lower on the list than most would have anticipated. Still, if he exceeds 550 at-bats, 40-45 swipes and 90 runs is undoubtedly in the cards.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 34 SBs
18 Nook Logan Was OF 372.24 $1.00
Outlook: If you're one who waits until the wee hours of your draft to address steals, crawl into this Nook. With virtually no competition in center, Logan, known for his mit more than his bat, should surpass 500 at-bats for the first time in his big league career. Expected to be the Nationals leadoff man heading into camp, if he totals a respectable OBP, 30 steals are definitely attainable.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 31 SBs
19 Bobby Abreu NYY OF 29.95 $23.42
Outlook: Bobby may have left his boomstick at the home run derby two years ago, but the guy knows how to steal a base. Acquired by the Yankees last July, Abreu is an intelligent baserunner who excels due to a high OBP (career .412 average). Joe Torre ranked second in the AL in stolen base attempts called, which should help Abreu inch his way back to 30 swipes in '07. No longer a first-round cornerstone, he's still a sensational multi-category contributor who's good for 20-25 steals.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 29 SBs
20 Rickie Weeks Mil 2B 96.53 $9.36
Outlook: On pace for 30-plus steals a year ago, Weeks' season was cut short by a wrist injury in late July. Fully recovered, the 24-year-old is prepared to wow fantasy followers with his all-around stat stuffer attributes. Although pinnacle production is probably two years away, growth in all areas is anticipated as long as his wrist is durable. As with most unrefined, yet gifted talents (i.e. Roberto Alomar early in his career), he'll be anxious to churn the wheels.
Speed-O-Meter: 28 SBs
21 Carlos Beltran NYM OF 9.56 $32.28
Outlook: Willie Randolph had a Brittney Spears mental moment recently when he declared Beltran would thieve "40-50 bases easy and have more steals than Jose Reyes by the end of the season." Sure, pesky injuries lingered for two consecutive years, but Beltran is now 29 and in his power prime – his job is to knock in runs, not create them with his legs. CB's career-best 95 walks a season ago and quality contact rates, if they remain consistent, will lead to more running opportunities – just don't completely buy into slick Willie's absurd hype.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 28 SBs
22 Coco Crisp Bos OF 127.63 $5.18
Outlook: Future tag-team partner of Captain Crunch, Crisp will have a nice rebound season this year. Limited greatly by an early wrist injury, to nobody's surprise Crisp saw a dramatic decline in power numbers in '06. Although his walk totals were cut in half, he managed to swipe 22 bases in only 105 games. Terry Francona has an aversion for green lights, but Crisp should be a 25-plus theft threat with 500 at-bats.
Speed-O-Meter: 27 SBs
23 Joey Gathright KC OF 331.89 $1.00
Outlook: The consummate hot-dog-on-a-stick in expert circles, even as a fourth outfielder, Gathright should be a prime thief. Buddy Bell would really like him to develop into a trustworthy leadoff man, but gopheritis and poor walk-drawing ability has to change for that to happen. Due to the brittleness of Reggie Sanders, at some point he'll get part-time play in a crowded, yet mediocre, KC outfield. For now, take him as a late-round stab-in-the-dark selection in Grand Canyon formats and pray for 350 at-bats.
Speed-O-Meter: 26 SBs
24 Scott Podsednik Chw OF 178.78 $3.18
Outlook: Permitted by team doctors to workout lightly after hernia surgery in mid-January, Podsednik is not the dependable high-steals threat he once was. Motor-mouth Ozzie Guillen was discouraged by Pods' efforts against lefties last year (.216 BA), which, without improvement, could force a platoon in left with up-and-comer Josh Fields. His dwindling OBP and possible injury setback conjures a pessimistic feeling.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 25 SBs
25 Julio Lugo Bos 2B, SS, 3B 74.96 $7.81
Outlook: To all the owners who loved Julio before: Lugo is not the 39 stolen base speed demon he once was. Back in the AL after a brief stint with the Dodgers, Lugo is ready to return full-time to his natural position at short. Although a rise in power numbers is likely in hitter-happy Fenway, Terry Francona's conservative nature on the bases should limit him to 20-25 swipes. With an ADP of 77.3, he's a quality buy-low player with 15-homer pop eligible at a couple tough-to-fill positions.
Speed-O-Meter: 24 SBs
26 Johnny Damon NYY OF 48.97 $17.32
Outlook: See what happens when you shave your beard? You become more aerodynamic. In an environment more conducive for steals, baby-faced Damon notched his highest steals total in three years (25) last season. As the leadoff man, he will still again attempt 30-plus steals, but at 33, he's at a watermark age for speed. Because of his superior athleticism and overall grit, house odds say he's good for one more year of 20-plus thefts.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 23 SBs
27 Orlando Cabrera LAA SS 127.47 $8.66
Outlook: If you want a cheap version of Edgar Renteria capable of 7-10 more steals, hail the O-Cab. In '06, Cabrera's acute increase in walks helped lead him to his best season since 2003. If his walk totals remain stable in the 45-55 range, a repeat is likely. He's an absolute bargain buy in Round 10 of 12-team mixed drafts.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 23 SBs
28 Kenny Lofton Tex OF 235.17 $6.07
Outlook: Willie Mays Hayes impersonator Lofton continues to nail batting gloves to the wall at the ancient age of 39. Brought in to replace Gary Matthews Jr. in center, Lofton stole 32 bases in 129 games last season, the most swipes he's had since 1998. The possibility of injury and the uncertainty of Ron Washington's managerial style are concerns, but he is the Rangers best run creator.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 22 SBs
29 Alex Rios Tor OF 82.99 $11.74
Outlook: Rios' upside has caused me to drool a Lake Superior-sized pool in my backyard. In his third full season in the bigs in '06, Rios was destined for a banner year until a bizarre infection in his leg cost him a large chunk of July. Now back to full strength, he's slated to pick up where he left off and have the breakout campaign we were banking on. Call me an optimist; Rios goes for .300-20-100-90-20 with ease.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 22 SBs
30 Mike Cameron SD OF 123.11 $9.59
Outlook: The possibility of a sub-.270 average is always a difficult pill to swallow, but Cameron is a perennial 20-20 player. On the backside of his peak at 34, last year he posted his best full-season OBP since 2001. A player that has seen a three-year surge in contact percentages and who still possesses go-go-gadget wheels, Cameron is poised for another 20-20 run. He's a very valuable commodity available in or around Round 10.
Speed-O-Meter Says: 22 SBs

POS=Position played at 10 or more games in '06
ADP=Average Draft Position for 5x5 mixed leagues from Mock Draft Central
AAV=Average Auction Value for 5x5 mixed leagues from Fantasy Auctioneer

Next in Line: Derek Jeter, NYY (21), Luis Castillo, Min (21), Grady Sizemore, Cle (21), Delmon Young, TB (20), Josh Barfield, Cle (20), Chris B. Young, Ari, (20), David Wright, NYM (19), Shane Victorino, Phi (19), Brandon Phillips, Cin (18), Eric Byrnes, Ari (18), Ryan Theriot, Chc (18), Rocco Baldelli, TB (17), Howie Kendrick, LAA (17)

Other threats for 15-20 SBs: Alfredo Amezaga, Fla, Jason Bartlett, Min, Jason Bay, Pit, Chris Burke, Hou, Shin-Soo Choo, Cle, Craig Counsell, Mil, Esteban German, KC, Josh Fields, Chw, Alex Gordon, KC, Vlad Guerrero, LAA, Carlos Guillen, Det, Corey Hart, Mil, Torii Hunter, Min, Adam Kennedy, StL, Ian Kinsler, Tex, Derek Lee, Chc, Jerry Owens, Chw, Chase Utley, Phi, Omar Vizquel, SF