For those of us who play in roto fantasy baseball leagues, stolen bases are perhaps the biggest draft-day stressor.
The total volume of steals decreased rapidly a few years ago and is showing no signs of an impending rebound. And with swipes in short supply, speedsters who also have solid plate skills are hot commodities in 2022 drafts.
Compounding the problem of finding fantasy steals is that there is a poor historical track record for mediocre hitters who have premium speed. While some of those players have had spurts of success, there are many occasions where their low batting averages or lack of power cause them to eventually lose their starting roles. For this reason, waiting until the middle rounds to wrap up most of your steals hopes on someone like Myles Straw is a risky plan.
The best plan for handling steals is to get some of them early. Sure, everyone else is doing the same thing, but this is a time when following the pack is the right thing to do. My goal in most drafts is to get at least two players in the initial five rounds whom I expect to swipe 15 (and preferably 20+) bases. And with that foundation, you can chip away at the category through the middle rounds by finding a few players who have solid plate skills and are projected for a double-digit steals total.
The final piece to the steals puzzle is to secure a couple of speedy late-round players. These players will provide category insurance if one of your speedsters gets injured or will lead you to first place in the category if everything goes according to plan.
Here are some late-round steals sources to consider, ranked in order of my personal preference.
Robbie Grossman, Detroit Tigers (OF, ADP 227)
If I could draft any player on this list, my choice would be Grossman. The outfielder is coming off a breakout season in which he produced 23 homers and 20 steals, and the seeds of that breakout were planted in the shortened 2020 season when he tallied eight homers and eight swipes in 51 games. I fully expect Grossman to post a similar stat line this year.
Akil Baddoo, Detroit Tigers (OF, ADP 248)
A Rule 5 draft pick, Baddoo came out of nowhere to tally 13 homers and 18 steals in his rookie season. Still just 23 years old, the youngster has even better things in store for fantasy managers in the future.
Still, there are a couple of reasons for me to pause on Baddoo this season. First, the Tigers now have the option to place him in the Minors. Second, Baddoo struggled against lefties last year (.523 OPS) and could be stuck in a platoon role.
Ramon Laureano, Oakland A's (OF, ADP 233)
Laureano will miss the first 27 games of this season due to a PED suspension but should be a helpful and diverse contributor after he returns. After all, the outfielder needed just 88 games to collect 14 round-trippers and 12 steals in 2022. In my opinion, Laureano is worth stashing in every five-outfielder format.
Harrison Bader, St. Louis Cardinals (OF, ADP 255)
Bader made huge strides with his strikeout rate last season, which could be a sign of a looming breakout. The outfielder contributed 16 homers and nine steals while hitting .267 in 103 games, and he could tally 20 long balls and 15 swipes if he can push past the 500 at-bat plateau this year.
Lane Thomas, Washington Nationals (OF, ADP Undrafted)
Thomas never got a real shot at establishing himself with the Cardinals before seeing his career take off as a full-time player with the Nats after the 2021 Trade Deadline. Serving as the team’s leadoff man down the stretch, the 26-year-old hit .270 with seven homers, four steals and 33 runs scored in 45 games. It’s easy to see the upside Thomas possesses as a possible six-month table-setter in 2022.
Raimel Tapia, Colorado Rockies (OF, ADP 237)
A lack of power limits Tapia’s ceiling, but his ability to collect base knocks (career .280 average) and steal bases (20 in 2021) give the outfielder a solid floor. The addition of the NL DH could open enough opportunities for Tapia to set a career-high in plate appearances this year.
Jonathan Villar, FA (2B/3B/SS, ADP 246)
Still a free agent, Villar will require no mixed-league attention if he signs into a bench role. But the 30-year-old has been impacting the steals category for many years and would be among the MLB leaders in swipes if he finds a team that can offer full-time work.
Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners (OF, ADP 240)
Those who are willing to stash a potential speedster should look no farther than Rodriguez, who is one of the best hitting prospects in baseball and could join the Mariners early in 2022. The outfielder needed just 74 games to collect 21 swipes in the Minors last season.
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers (OF, ADP 240)
Having produced eight homers and 13 steals across 78 games last season, Cain remains quite productive on a per-game basis. There is good reason for the 35-year-old’s diminished draft value — he was injured for much of last season and sat out most of the 2020 campaign — but he could at least provide a short-term steals boost at the start of this season.
Garrett Hampson, Colorado Rockies (2B/OF, ADP 254)
Like Tapia, Hampson could benefit from the addition of the NL DH. This multi-position speedster has had an inconsistent career at the plate but has enough of a power-speed combo to tally nearly 15 homers and 25 steals if everything clicks for him in 2022.
Andres Gimenez, Cleveland Guardians (2B/SS, ADP 240)
Because he may not earn a starting job in Spring Training, Gimenez is worthy only of a very late draft pick. Still, the fantasy upside is obvious for someone who has thus far produced eight homers and 19 steals in 342 career plate appearances. With the potential for double-digit long balls and 30 swipes, Gimenez is definitely someone to monitor right now.