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
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
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.
Known Factors: Jason Kipnis, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Abraham Almonte, Austin Jackson
Upside Plays: Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, Bradley Zimmer
Now here's a team with some stolen base threats. Kipnis is currently waylaid by a shoulder injury. He'll begin the season on the disabled list. While he's no longer the 30 steal threat he was from 2012-2013, Kipnis regularly takes around 10 to 20 bases. Another injured Indian, Brantley, is less certain. Possessed of only league average speed, Brantley's ability to pick his spots is among the best in the league. Assuming he's healthy, stealing may be the last portion of his skill set to return. He's only a threat for 10 to 20 swipes.
Nobody is entirely certain Ramirez can replicate his excellent 2016 campaign. He slashed .312/.363/.462 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases. His contact profile and plate discipline were both sterling. While we may see some regression in his batting average, I expect similar success this year. He wasn't the most efficient base runner – 22-for-29. We may see him fall into the 10 to 20 range with Kipnis and Brantley.
Speaking of 10 to 20 steal threats, say hello to Lindor. The star shortstop has a similar profile to Ramirez at the plate. He has enough pop to be dangerous and a high batting average. He took 19 bases in 24 attempts last season.
Almonte and Jackson aren't penciled in as starters. Both have the ability to steal anywhere between 10 and 30 bases if fully healthy and playing every day. The latter condition is unlikely to be met. Naquin has also shown a willingness to run, although his upside is around 10 steals.
If the Indians reach to their high quality outfield prospects, both Zimmer and Allen are best known for their speed. They both stole over 45 bases while in the minors last season.
Kansas City Royals
Known Factors: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Paulo Orlando
Upside Plays: Raul Mondesi, Billy Burns, Whit Merrifield
Base running is part of the Royals identity, and that should continue to be the case in the near future. Escobar has stolen just 17 bases in each of the last two seasons, a big drop in value from his 30 steal prime. Since he offers very little production in the other four categories, he's not a useful fantasy shortstop. However, as an injury patch, you could do much worse.
Cain struggled through injuries and stole only 14 bags after taking 28 in 2014 and another 28 in 2015. The 31-year-old should return to the heart of the Royals lineup where he'll score and drive in plenty of runs. A healthy Cain probably will swipe between 15 and 20 bases. Orlando is a platoon outfielder whose speed is his best asset. Look to use him as a streaming target against particularly bad starting pitchers. He stole 14 bases in 17 attempts (484 plate appearances).
A few lesser known players offer big stolen base upside in KC. Mondesi may not make enough contact to contribute regularly. The 21-year-old has a bright future, but his horrid plate discipline at Triple-A and in the majors won't translate to many opportunities. Even with a miserable .231 OBP, Mondesi still managed nine steals in only 149 plate appearances.
Merrifield will compete with Mondesi for playing time. His bat is a much better fit for the majors, although his fantasy potential is limited. He'll steal at a pace of 10 to 20 bases per full season. However, he'll probably fill a part time role. Burns is an old friend of the “steals” portion of the column. He may be a useful streamer, but only if he makes the roster and recaptures the high batting average he posted in 2015.
Known Factors: Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton
Upside Plays: Mikie Mahtook, JaCoby Jones
Despite exploring a possible rebuild over the winter, the Tigers hung onto their experienced lineup. Kinsler has a long track record of reaching mid-teens stolen base totals. The veteran rediscovered his power stroke in 2016. It's worth noting that he's entering his age 35 season. Eventually, the wheels will fall off even if the bat remains potent.
Upton has the following stolen base totals over the last four seasons: 8, 8, 19, and 9. Clearly, it's possible he'll surprise on the bases like in 2015, but we should generally expect fewer than 10 steals. Mahtook and Jones, both contenders for the center field job, like to run. They've also both had their share of issues reaching base – especially Jones. If whoever wins the job reaches base enough, 10 to 20 stolen bases are within reach. Other stat categories could be ugly.
Known Factors: Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton
Upside Plays: Zack Granite, Jorge Polanco
The Twins have plenty of athletic youngsters, many of whom will push around 10 stolen bases. Of those, Polanco is the most likely to receive enough playing time to reach that potential. Dozier is the reliable source, although you'll likely be rostering him for his power and run production. The 10 to 20 steals are just the icing on the cake. Of course, what is cake without icing?
Buxton was supposed to be something like the next Alfonso Soriano with 40/40 upside. It's looking more and more like a 20/20 season is the best we can hope to get. The physical talent remains. Unfortunately, the bat just doesn't make enough contact. At least not yet. After all, he is just 23.
Granite is a high contact rabbit who will begin the season in Triple-A. With Buxton's many struggles and uncertainty surrounding the other two outfield spots, Granite could easily work his way into a regular role. He stole 56 bases in 70 attempts last season (584 plate appearances).
Chicago White Sox
Known Factors: Todd Frazier, Tyler Saladino, Tim Anderson
Upside Plays: Yoan Moncada, Rymer Liriano, Charlie Tilson, Adam Engel
Like Dozier, you buy Frazier for the 40 home run potential. You stay for the mid-teens stolen base total. Frazier is mid-season trade bait which could radically affect his value. Until then, he'll bat in the heart of a mediocre White Sox offense. He'll contribute to everything but batting average.
Now that Brett Lawrie has been ousted, Saladino has an unimpaired path to playing time. Last season, he stole 11 bags in 16 attempts (319 plate appearances). That's a pace of over 20 in a full season. His success rate was bad, but it's not as if the White Sox are a quality team. They'll let him work on improving his reads on the bases.
Anderson was surprisingly restrained in his major league debut. He stole only 10 bases in 12 attempts (431 plate appearances) after taking 49 at Double-A in 2015 (550 plate appearances). He also stole 11 in 256 Triple-A plate appearances. Anderson will probably be friskier this season. Anywhere from 15 to 30 swipes is a reasonable expectation.
Depending on who you talk too, Moncada might reach the majors at any point during the 2017 season. He'll probably choose his own adventure based on minor league success. When he does reach the bigs, he has massive five category upside. There's a risk he'll pull a Joey Gallo too.
Chicago is trying a whole slew of outfielders, all with plus speed. Whoever starts among Liriano, Tilson, and Engel is likely to provide the bulk of their fantasy value via stolen bases. Engel has the most raw speed of the bunch while Liriano and Tilson are more refined as hitters.
Los Angeles Angels
Known Factors: Mike Trout, Danny Espinosa, Cameron Maybin, Ben Revere
I refuse to spend time explaining why Trout is good at baseball. Like with Dozier and Frazier, the stolen bases are an afterthought. The Angels other base thieves are considerably less impressive. Espinosa hasn't reached 10 steals since 2012 – partly due to inconsistent playing time. Perhaps he'll get his groove back in 2017.
Maybin and Revere are set to share a corner outfield job. Revere is coming off his worst season. He still ran at a 30 steal pace despite an uncharacteristic .260 OBP. A rebound could put him back above 30 steals with no power. Maybin is seemingly always hurt. He was great in 2016 thanks to a fluky looking .383 BABIP. Nothing in his batted ball profile suggests he will return to that level. He did steal 15 bases in 391 plate appearances.
Known Factors: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Nori Aoki
Upside Plays: Tony Kemp, Alex Bregman, Jake Marisnick, Teoscar Hernandez
Altuve's the only true threat in Houston. The rest of the roster is extremely athletic which can translate to some steals. Nobody else has Altuve's ability to blow through 30 to 50 swipes. His adjustments last season led to a boost in power and run production.
Correa and Springer are mashers who happen to steal a few bases. Expect in the range of 10 to 15 swipes. Back in 2015, Aoki stole 14 in 392 plate appearances with the Giants. He slumped his way through 2016. Aoki has a nose for contact and reaching base, giving him plenty of stolen base opportunities if he happens to be healthy.
Bregman was originally billed as a speed-first contact hitter with a hint of power. Scouts have flipped that report after Bregman made immediate adjustments. He's now a 20 home run threat with unknown stolen base prowess. Nobody should be shocked if he takes over 15 bases, although it's safer to bet on fewer than 10 steals.
Kemp, Marisnick, and Hernandez are all backup outfielders with speed. They won't play often without an injury to clear the way.
Known Factors: Rajai Davis, Marcus Semien
Upside Plays: Franklin Barreto, Joey Wendle
If Davis had debuted in 2014, it's possible he'd be among the most celebrated outfielders. His skill set was less appreciated back in 2006. He's made a career out of being a frequently used fourth outfielder. The 2016 season was his fifth with over 40 steals despite only once reaching the 500 plate appearance plateau. Davis, 36, has shown no signs of age-related decline. He's a cheap one-trick pony for fantasy owners.
Semien isn't a major stolen base threat. He'll probably steal another 10 bases. Wendle could snag a similar total if Jed Lowrie gets out of his way. Barreto is the big name in the A's farm system. The 21-year-old has a super star ceiling built on speed, quality contact, and modest power. At Triple-A, he stole 30 bases in 45 attempts (507 plate appearances).
Known Factors: Jean Segura, Leonys Martin, Jarrod Dyson
Upside Plays: Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel
Seattle's front office has put an emphasis on athleticism. The acquisition of Segura this offseason along with their new look outfield has pumped their lineup full of stolen bases. Even in his bad years, Segura stole 20 or more bases. You can bank at least that many with an upside around 40. We'll see if he can maintain the power he showed in Arizona. I have my doubts mostly because over half his contact is on the ground.
Martin's lost half a step over the last few seasons. He's no longer a reliable 30 steal threat. However, his bat has improved due to a change in approach. Although Martin is still a ground ball hitter, he's traded some of those worm burners for flies. He could repeat his 15 home run total while stealing over 20 bags.
Dyson may finally receive a chance to play everyday. He typically steals a base every 10 plate appearances. Last season, he posted a career high 337 plate appearances. Seattle has given every indication of starting Dyson, leading to 60 steal potential. His lack of power hurts his fantasy production.
Haniger and Gamel both have the raw speed to contribute on the base paths. It all comes down to playing time. Haniger is the more likely of the pair to regularly start – he's definitely a big part of Seattle's plans this year. However, he only stole about 12 bag per year in the minors.
Known Factors: Rougned Odor, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Gomez
Upside Plays: Delino DeShields, Shin-Soo Choo
Part of Odor's allure is that he looks the part of a speedster and stole 14 bases last season. However, that took 21 attempts, nor is it the first time he's produced a bad success rate. Aggression is a part of his game so he'll probably continue to run. I recommend buying him for the power and run production rather than speed.
Andrus tweaked his approach at the plate enough to look like a new man. He had a career best season with the bat despite missing time. It's easy to overlook the slight uptick in his power numbers. More relevant to this column is that he stole over 20 bases for an eighth straight season. He's only 28.
After switching from Houston to Arlington, Gomez came back to life. His resurgence at the plate was complemented by a doubling of his steal attempts. He ran at a 40 attempt pace, nearly matching his prime seasons. A healthy Gomez could exceed 20 steals for the first time since 2014.
Choo likes to run when he's healthy enough. The last such opportunity for him was 2013. He did take six bases in nine attempts last season (only 210 plate appearances) all while battling leg issues. DeShield, if ever in the every day lineup, is a solid fourth outfielder. He'll run at a 20 to 40 steal pace.