Image credit: Tennessee 2B Max Ferguson (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications)
Having looked at potential home run and strikeout kings each of the last two weeks, we now turn our attention to college baseball’s speed demons and the top contenders to lead the nation in stolen bases.
While many of the top stolen base threats in recent seasons have now moved on to pro ball, like Army’s Jacob Hurtubise or Wright State’s JD Orr, several of last season’s top speedsters return to college baseball in 2020. Notre Dame’s Spencer Myers was off to a fast start with 15 stolen bases in 12 games to lead the nation, but several players were right on his tail.
Will Myers be able to repeat that performance in 2021 or will one of the other contenders chase him down for the top spot? We break down the top 25 candidates.
1. Luke Brown, OF, Louisville
Part of being able to lead the country in stolen bases is being part of an offense that annually puts an emphasis on being aggressive on the bases, and Louisville certainly qualifies. Brown has the excellent speed to steal bases by the bunch under any circumstances, but it helps that he’ll have the green light quite a bit in that offense.
2. Jess Davis, OF, Alabama-Birmingham
Davis made a big impact on the bases as a freshman in 2019, stealing 48 bags for a UAB team that swiped 147 as a group. In a shortened 2020 season, he had six more. With a career batting average of .295 and an on-base percentage of .380 across two seasons, he projects to have tons of chances to steal many more in 2021.
3. Alvin Melendez, OF, Fordham
Melendez is a lock to end up somewhere near the top of the stolen base leaders in college baseball. In his four years at Fordham, he’s stolen a total of 73 bases, including individual season totals of 26 in 2018 and 35 in 2019, and the Rams annually stack up stolen bases by the dozen.
4. Spencer Myers, OF, Notre Dame
One year after leading Notre Dame with 22 stolen bases, Myers led the entire country in the statistic with 15, which included a six-steal game against Presbyterian on March 1. At the time the season ended, he was also hitting .431 with a .492 on-base percentage, and when you get on base at that kind of clip, you will have lots of chances to steal bases.
5. Levi Usher, OF, Louisville
Like Brown, Usher is a speedster whose stolen base totals will be helped by being part of a Louisville lineup that sets a goal of stealing 100 bases as a team every year. Last season, he stole 11, which tied him with Brown for the 10th-highest total in the country.
6. Braiden Ward, OF, Washington
One of the fastest players in the country, Ward has collected 55 stolen bases in three seasons at Washington. In 2020, he had 10 in just 15 games, setting a scorching-hot pace that he’ll look to continue throughout the 2021 season.
7. Myles Nicholson, SS, Mount St. Mary’s
Nicholson started stealing bases as soon as he arrived at Mount St. Mary’s and he hasn’t stopped. As a freshman in 2018, he swiped 22. The next year, he had 37, which was good for a tie for 11th nationally, despite playing just 44 games. As long as he is able to play as many games as most of the rest of the nation, Nicholson is a good bet to appear high on the leaderboard.
8. Gephry Pena, OF, Central Florida
Pena finished second nationally in stolen bases in 2020 with 13, behind only Myers, and then swiped 12 more this summer in 24 games in the Coastal Plain League despite struggling at the plate. With a return to his 2020 form, when he started the season hitting .314 with a .415 on-base percentage, Pena will have plenty of opportunities with UCF in 2021.
9. Mike Antico, OF, Texas
Antico was a consistent threat on the bases during his years at St. John’s, stealing 44 bases in his four seasons there, including 10 in just 13 games in 2020, suggesting that he was prepared to pick up the pace in that category. Texas, a team not shy about letting its burners run, might be the right place to allow him to rack up a big stolen bases total in 2021.
10. Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt
Bradfield was one of the fastest players in the 2020 high school class, and rather than begin his pro career, he’s on campus at Vanderbilt. If he can take to Division I baseball well and find his way on base with regularity, he has more than enough speed to find himself near the top of the stolen base leaderboards.
11. Damon Dues, SS, Wright State
Dues checks the boxes you want to have checked when looking for potential stolen base leaders. He’s put up big numbers before, like when he swiped 28 bases in 2019, and he plays for a program known for being aggressive on the bases. In 2019, the Raiders stole 169 bases and had four different players with 21 or more.
12. Noah Bridges, OF, UNC Wilmington
In terms of speed and athleticism, there are few more dynamic players in college baseball than Noah Bridges, and he has 39 stolen bases in his three seasons at UNCW. What holds him back a bit are his high strikeout totals and struggles to get on base, but he showed some improvement. If he carries that into 2021, there’s little holding him back from putting up gaudy stolen base numbers.
13. Jordan Lala, OF, Miami
Lala stole 28 bases in his debut season with the Hurricanes in 2019, and although he had just four during the 2020 season, some of that is due to the fact that he was hitting .232 at the time the season ended. If he heats up at the plate in 2021 and continues to collect walks in bunches as he always has, he stolen base total will likely follow.
14. Max Ferguson, 2B, Tennessee
Tennessee likes to run. In 2019, it had 108 stolen bases as a team, and it had 30 in 17 games in 2020, led by Ferguson’s nine. With a deep lineup full of athletic players back in the fold for next season, the Volunteers will likely do plenty of running once again, and Ferguson should be among the biggest beneficiaries.
15. Dylan Neuse, OF, Texas Tech
One of the better power-speed threats on this list, Neuse appeared to take a step forward in stolen bases in 2020. After stealing 18 over an entire season in 2019, he had 12 in just 19 games last year. A similar jump in 2021 would put him among the best base stealers in the game.
16. Blake Dunn, OF, Western Michigan
Dunn was a player who could have easily been drafted after last season given his ability, but instead, he’s back at Western Michigan for another season where he could be one of the most dynamic players in the country. He’s stolen 47 bases in three seasons at WMU, including 30 during a breakout 2019 season.
17. Zack Budzik, SS, UNC Greensboro
Budzik got off to a torrid start on the bases in 2020, stealing 12 bags in 13 attempts, putting him among the national leaders. If he can continue to get on base as well as he did a year ago, when he had a .425 on-base percentage, he’ll have a shot to keep up that pace in 2021.
18. Darren Baker, 2B, California
Baker stole 21 bases as a sophomore in 2019 and added 12 more that summer in the Cape Cod League. He has good instincts on the diamond and that, combined with his speed, makes him dangerous any time he gets on base.
19. Jonny Butler, OF, North Carolina State
With nine stolen bases in 17 games in 2020, Butler far surpassed his previous season’s output, when he had three in 61 games in 2019. He’s a good athlete with plenty of speed to pile up steals and he’s also shown a knack for running wild in the right situation, like when he swiped three bags in one game against Tennessee Tech last season.
20. Sal Frelick, OF, Boston College
One of the best position player prospects in college baseball for the 2021 draft, Frelick stole 18 bases in 2019 and followed that up with seven steals last season. Boston College expects to have a dynamic offense in 2021, and Frelick getting on base and stealing bags will be a big piece of the equation.
21. Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State
Cowser is a good runner with a solid track record of stealing bases. He had nine of them as a freshman and then five more in 14 games in 2020. His speed isn’t the most notable aspect of his game, but he’ll be the clear focal point of the SHSU offense, and that might mean that he looks to do more on the base paths in 2021.
22. Dom Johnson, OF, Oklahoma State
Johnson was one of the fastest players in the 2020 draft class and his elite speed plays well on the bases. The righthanded hitter clocks times from home to first at 4.0 seconds and will give the Cowboys’ offense a burner at the top of the order.
23. Jerrion Ealy, OF, Mississippi
You may have seen Ealy on the football field for the Rebels, breaking tackles and running away from defenses as a running back. This spring, coach Mike Bianco hopes that he’ll use that same type of skill to be a factor for the baseball program, where his speed could lead to impressive stolen base totals.
24. Maurice Hampton, OF, Louisiana State
Hampton has enough speed and athleticism to earn himself regular playing time as a safety at LSU, so it stands to reason that he also has the kind of ability that could end in big stolen base totals on the diamond. He played in a part-time role as a freshman in 2020. If he earns an increased role in 2021, the numbers will undoubtedly follow.
25. Max Marusak, OF, Texas Tech
One of the fastest players in college baseball, Marusak has the speed to steal bases at will, and at Texas Tech, he’ll have chances to do so if he plays and gets on base. The question is simply whether or not he’ll carve out enough of a role to make good on that potential. He’s played in 55 games in his two seasons in Lubbock, but just 26 of those have been starts.