Fantasy Baseball: Ji Hwan Bae leads stolen base parade on MLB Opening Day

Fantasy Baseball: Ji Hwan Bae leads stolen base parade on MLB Opening Day

You might have heard that the stolen base is making a comeback in MLB this year. With new bases and new pickoff rules, the runners were ready on Opening Day.

A whopping 21 bags were swiped Thursday — it took three days to get to that number at the beginning of 2022 — and only two would-be thieves were caught. Sorry about that, Matt Chapman and Stuart Fairchild. It wasn’t your day. Everybody else made it.

If the stolen base upswell is real and spectacular, it means we’ll have to pay closer attention to that category and attack it more proactively with waiver-wire pickups and trades. Maybe this puts Pittsburgh’s Ji Hwan Bae on your radar.

Ji Hwan Bae could be the first stolen-base-specific waiver-wire pickup of 2023

Don’t fret if you didn’t know much about Bae. Join the club — he’s rostered in just 4% of Yahoo leagues. He started Thursday’s game at second base and in the No. 8 slot; when you bat eighth for a team such as the Pirates, it’s justifiable that fantasy managers ignore you. But Bae reached base twice, stole two bases and scored a couple of runs. He also saw some time in the outfield, so he’ll likely carry dual-position eligibility soon.

Ji Hwan Bae headshot
Ji Hwan Bae
2B - PIT - #3
2022 - false season

Bae posted a respectable profile at Triple-A last year, a .289/.362/.420 slash with eight homers and 30 steals over 108 games. And he looked the part in a 10-game sample with the Pirates: .333/.405/.424, with three steals and a glittering 905 sprint speed, courtesy of Statcast.

He can motor. He can get on base. He’s not punchless, either.

I’ve already grabbed one Bae share in a deeper head-to-head format, so my FOMO box is checked. Who’s with me?

• Another big part of any Opening Day is a little confirmation bias. When a player you liked all March does something in a real game, it puts a bounce in your step. So have a day, Brendan Donovan.

Brendan Donovan headshot
Brendan Donovan
LF - STL - #33
2022 - false season

Donovan’s big preseason calling card was positional flexibility — he qualifies at every field position but catcher in the Yahoo game. But he also had a snappy spring training, and he looked likely to fill the leadoff spot when the games started. So it was fun to see him penciled in first when the Cardinals met the Blue Jays on Thursday.

Donovan came through with a homer, three hits and two runs scored in six trips. The power might come as a surprise given that he hit only five taters in 126 games last year, but he did crack four homers in spring training, if that matters to you. I know it’s a bunch of practice games, and sometimes the opposing pitcher is nowhere near MLB-quality, but spring training results still make me curious about what’s possible.

Even if Donovan’s power upside is limited, let’s focus on what we know he can do. He batted .281 last year and had a juicy .394 OBP. That’s what a leadoff profile should look like. The Cardinals obviously have a deep and versatile offense, a group that should cycle through regularly. I’m interested in anyone here, especially the players who command the best lineup real estate.

It’s a little sheepish to suggest Donovan as a pickup, given that he’s rostered in 69% of Yahoo leagues. But perhaps you can consider him for the shallower formats where he’s available or target him if you have a late-running draft still to come. I love a few Legos on my roster, flexible pieces that allow me to play positionless fantasy when it comes to injury replacements.

• The 15 Opening Day games brought us eight handshakes, with eight relievers scoring their first save. Some of these stoppers are names you know by heart, proactive picks you’ve made all March. We see you, Jordan Romano, Felix Bautista and David Bednar. Keep doing what you do.

But the saves from more nebulous bullpens carry a little extra weight. David Robertson slamming the door for the Mets; that marks his territory. It was interesting to see Reynaldo Lopez close for the White Sox (working around a Yordan Alvarez moon shot) after Kendall Graveman worked the eighth. I suspect the Mariners bullpen will be fluid most of the year, but Thursday’s arrangement had Paul Sewald in the eighth (win), and Andres Muñoz grabbing the ninth (save).

Reynaldo López headshot
Reynaldo López
SP - ATL - #40
2022 - false season

All of these developments warmed my heart. I have some Robertson shares. And I’ve picked the White Sox and Mariners to win their divisions. All I need is 170 days of rain or so, and these predictions are in the bank.

Oakland might have the worst team in baseball, though it somehow found a way to beat the Angels. Neither Trevor May nor Danny Jimenez pitched well in spring training, but interestingly, Jimenez was the closer Thursday while May worked the eighth. May picked up the win for his trouble, working around two baserunners. Jimenez walked one man and needed 27 pitches, but he kept the Halos off the scoreboard.

If you want to invest in Oakland victories, both players are around 10% rostered in Yahoo. Shoot your shot.

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