Speed never goes into a slump, at least according to the old baseball aphorism. Yet young players who put speed out front on their scouting reports tend to be undervalued by the prospect community—often for justifiable reasons.
However, the rate of stolen-base attempts has been decreasing at the major league level, and for that reason, speed-oriented players could be viewed as being more valuable than ever to major league organizations and fantasy teams alike. Think about it this way: Big league baserunners attempted nearly 5,000 stolen bases in 1999. That total could dip below 3,500 in 2016. (See table below.) All the stolen bases that have disappeared from the game serve to make each steal still in circulation all the more valuable.
What’s more, baserunners attempted steals in just south of two percent of (non-home run) plate appearances in 2015, and that’s the lowest rate of attempts in the past 45 seasons. Not since the early 1970s has the game seen a lower rate of stolen-base attempts per PA.
So for those who play in deep dynasty leagues, take note of the following 12 prospects with plus wheels. Only players without major league experience were considered. The SB/140 category is the rate of each player’s stolen bases scaled to 140 games (the equivalent of a minor league season) and SB% is career stolen-base success rate.
1. Jorge Mateo, ss, Yankees
Age: 20. SB/140: 97. SB%: 83%. Highest Level: high Class A Tampa.
The Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, Mateo led the minors with 82 steals last season, which he spent predominately at low Class A Charleston. He hit just two home runs but showed above-average power on contact, a solid walk rate (8.6 percent) and a park-adjusted OPS+ of 121.
2. Mallex Smith, of, Braves
Age: 22. SB/140: 81. SB%: 79%. Highest Level: Triple-A Gwinnett.
Smith topped the minors with 88 steals as a Padres farmhand in 2014, drawing the interest of a Braves organization seeking to remake its image with position players who possess speed and/or bat-to-ball skills. Atlanta acquired Smith as part of the return for Justin Upton, and he hit .303 with 56 steals in the high minors last season.
3. Roman Quinn, of, Phillies
Age: 22. SB/140: 62. SB%: 77%. Highest Level: Double-A Reading.
Quinn has missed significant time in each of the past four seasons, yet that hasn’t prevented the 2011 second-rounder from running at will when healthy. The switch-hitter has well below-average power but enough range in center field and contact ability to fill a major league role. And, oh, that speed!
4. Yoan Moncada, 2b, Red Sox
Age: 20. SB/140: 85. SB%: 94%. Highest Level: low Class A Greenville.
The switch-hitting Cuban showed explosive ability in a truncated debut last season, particularly after the South Atlantic League all-star break, when Moncada recorded a .915 OPS with 45 steals in 56 games. That finish propelled him to the No. 1 ranking in a talented Red Sox system and a No. 3 overall showing in the game.
5. Tim Anderson, ss, White Sox
Age: 22. SB/140: 42. SB%: 79%. Highest Level: Double-A Birmingham.
Anderson outpaced Birmingham teammate Jacob May to lead the Southern League with 49 stolen bases last season, a true breakout campaign for the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Scouts love Anderson’s simple, powerful, righthanded swing, though he still must shrink the gap between his strikeout and walk rates.
6. Manuel Margot, of, Padres
Age: 21. SB/140: 54. SB%: 75%. Highest Level: Double-A Portland.
Margot may not turn in the best stopwatch times for players on this list, but his above-average wheels and baseball smarts make him a basestealing threat and a strong defensive center fielder. The Padres acquired him from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade last November.
7. Adam Engel, of, White Sox
Age: 24. SB/140: 64. SB%: 81%. Highest Level: high Class A Winston-Salem.
Engel won MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, but at sea level, he’s more of a .260 hitter with blazing speed and plus defensive ability in center field. He led the Carolina League with 64 steals last season and excels in small-ball tactics, i.e. bunting for hits, running the bases, stealing at a high success rate.
8. Alen Hanson, 2b, Pirates
Age: 23. SB/140: 39. SB%: 70%. Highest Level: Triple-A Indianapolis.
Hanson tied for the International League with 35 steals last season and legged out 12 triples to rank second, so the switch-hitter is a better speed prospect than is generally acknowledged. Following the Pirates’ trade of Neil Walker, Hanson could be on track to take over the keystone at PNC Park.
9. Wes Rogers, of, Rockies
Age: 22. SB/140: 81. SB%: 93%. Highest Level: low Class A Asheville.
A 2014 fourth-rounder out of junior college, Rogers sports a lanky, 6-foot-3 frame and long-striding, gliding actions. He went 46-for-50 on steal attempts in 77 games last season, and the righthanded batter shows a patient approach (9 percent walks) at the plate, but power is absent from his tool set.
10. Derek Hill, of, Tigers
Age: 20. SB/140: 50. SB%: 80%. Highest Level: low Class A West Michigan.
The 23rd overall pick in the 2014 draft out of high school in Elk Grove, Calif., Hill made three trips to the disabled list in a truncated full-season debut in 2015. Despite the quadriceps injury, he showed off double-plus wheels with 25 steals in 53 games and Gold Glove potential in center field.
11. Oscar Mercado, ss, Cardinals
Age: 21. SB/140: 56. SB%: 75%. Highest Level: low Class A Peoria.
Born in Colombia, Mercado moved with his family to the Tampa area while young and played his way into second-round status in the 2013 draft. He hit just .254 last season but led the Midwest League with 50 steals and struck out less than 12 percent of the time. He can run and make contact, but his bat requires significant growth.
12. Greg Allen, of, Indians
Age: 23. SB/140: 58. SB%: 78%. Highest Level: high Class A Lynchburg.
Allen reached the Carolina League only briefly last season, meaning that the San Diego State product inflicted most of his damage against low Class A competition. Still, the switch-hitter has plus speed, strong strike-zone awareness and a small ball-oriented hitting approach that plays to his greatest strength.
Looking for more potential basestealers? Here are 30 prospects—10 from the high minors and 10 from each Class A level—to consider stashing on your keeper roster in deeper dynasty leagues. These players all scored well on a basic speed formula that weights stolen base attempts, triples and runs scored during the 2015 season.
|Triple-A Speed Targets
|Mallex Smith, of||ATL||L||125||56||13||8||82||.371|
|Alen Hanson, 2b||PIT||B||117||35||12||12||66||.313|
|Andrew Aplin, of||HOU||L||106||32||10||6||64||.413|
|Tony Kemp, 2b/of||HOU||L||121||35||14||4||78||.388|
|Kyle Wren, of||MIL||L||136||36||13||3||59||.330|
|Double-A Speed Targets
|Roman Quinn, of||PHI||B||58||29||10||6||44||.356|
|Tim Anderson, ss||CWS||R||125||49||13||12||79||.350|
|Manuel Margot, of||BOS||R||110||39||13||9||73||.324|
|David Dahl, of||COL||L||73||22||7||3||46||.304|
|Jacob May, of||CWS||B||98||37||17||1||47||.329|
|Charlie Tilson, of||STL||L||134||46||19||9||85||.351|
|High Class A Speed Targets
|Adam Engel, of||CWS||R||136||64||11||9||90||.335|
|Rafael Bautista, of||WAS||R||52||23||4||2||23||.318|
|Eddy Alvarez, ss/2b||CWS||B||123||53||15||7||88||.409|
|Derek Fisher, of||HOU||L||123||31||7||8||106||.364|
|Phillip Ervin, of||CIN||R||126||34||10||0||75||.346|
|Dustin Fowler, of||NYY||L||123||30||13||6||64||.394|
|Anthony Alford, of||TOR||R||107||27||7||7||91||.421|
|Mauricio Dubon, 2b/ss||BOS||R||120||30||7||3||70||.349|
|Raimel Tapia, of||COL||L||131||26||10||9||74||.333|
|Engelb Vielma, ss||MIN||B||120||35||12||2||49||.321|
|Low Class A Speed Targets
|Jorge Mateo, ss||NYY||R||117||82||17||11||66||.345|
|Yoan Moncada, 2b||BOS||B||81||49||3||3||61||.380|
|Wes Rogers, of||COL||R||77||46||4||5||43||.358|
|Derek Hill, of||DET||R||53||25||7||5||33||.305|
|Oscar Mercado, ss||STL||R||117||50||19||3||70||.297|
|Greg Allen, of||CLE||B||126||46||16||2||85||.367|
|Cole Tucker, ss||PIT||B||73||25||6||3||46||.322|
|Ozzie Albies, ss||ATL||B||98||29||8||8||64||.368|
|Forrest Wall, 2b||COL||L||99||23||9||10||57||.355|
|Osvaldo Abreu, ss||WAS||R||123||30||11||4||74||.357|