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How More Stolen Bases in 2023 Should Change Your Draft Strategy

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve already heard about all the new rule changes MLB has introduced for this season: pitch clock, bigger bases, shift bans, limited pickoff attempts… do you mind if I just sum them up in one sentence? There will be more stolen bases.

How many more? The consensus among people who are good at math seems to say between 20% and 25%. That’s not just based on last year’s minor league totals – where they implemented the rules a year early – but also on the early returns of Spring Training this season.

We can’t say exactly who will benefit from what could be an embarrassment of riches – even if we are good at math – but just like wealth, we know it’s rarely distributed evenly. If you’ve been playing fantasy baseball for the last few seasons, you’ve probably noticed that it’s been in the hands (or legs in this case) of the few. If you didn’t get the lion’s share of your team’s steals in the first three or four picks, you were stuck digging through the reserve rounds of your draft for one-dimensional base stealers that offered little help in any of the other four standard categories (Jon Berti is like the poster child for this). There was a rich. There was a poor. Middle class, not so much.

We still have a nice first-tier group in rounds one through six. The first and second, especially, are loaded with five-category studs – Ronald Acuna, Trea Turner, Jose Ramirez, Julio Rodriguez, Shohei Ohtani, Bobby Witt, Fernando Tatis, even Aaron Judge and Freddie Freeman, who both set career-highs in steals and attempted steals last season.

The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

But things have changed. Unlike previous years, steals aren’t likely to fall off a cliff after the first few rounds. By my count, there are 16 players after round six who, in a more favorable running environment, should be able to help you with steals without hurting you in most other categories. In ADP order, they are:

16 Players To Target For Stolen Bases After Round 6

ONeil Cruz, SS, Pirates (current ADP 74)

OK, maybe middle class is pushing it for Oneil Cruz whose ADP is just outside the sixth round and could trend higher. Let’s call him upper middle class. But last month he talked about his desire to reach 40/40 this season and with a track record in the minors and his 98th-percentile speed, it’s at least a possibility.

Corbin Carroll, OF, Diamond Backs (Current ADP 79)

Statcast ranks Corbin Carrol as tied for the fastest player in baseball. Though that doesn’t by itself mean he’s going to steal bases, his 52 steals in 142 minor league games last year makes it likely. Add 27 HRs last season at three different levels and you have a big upside play in the 7th round of a 12-team league.

Tommy Edman, 2B/SS, Cardinals (Current ADP 80)

In addition to base stealing, Edman ought to benefit from this year’s new shift ban. He only had a .260 wOBA against the shift when batting lefty in 2022. This means he’ll likely get on base more. More times on base, means using that 86% sprint speed to improve on his already nice 30+ steal total in each of the last two seasons. He hits over 10 HRs per year too.

Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pirates (Current ADP 82)

At first glance it may look silly to expect stolen bases from a guy who only attempted 10 of them last year, a year in which he set a career-high. But Bryan Reynolds could be the exact kind of player who benefits most from the rule changes. He’s used his 75th-percentile speed to trickle in SBs for years. Perhaps this is the season the faucet finally opens. Throw in close to 30 HRs and we now have a solid, five-category contributor at a late-7th round price.

Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, Orioles (Current ADP 84)

Sprint Speed? Check. 91% last season. History of stealing in the minors? Check. 22 SBs in 112 games in 2022. He only stole 1 base during his 34-game taste of Major League competition, but hey, give the kid a break. He was only 21 years old.

Andres Gimenez, 2B/SS, Guardians (Current ADP 85)

Finishing at the cusp of 20/20 last season (17 HRs/20 SBs) was no aberration for Andres Gimenez, a 24-year-old who has already flashed high-end speed (94%) and some pop (60% exit velo) at the Major League level for three years. A few more steals this season would make his ADP a bit more attractive.

Jeremy Peña, SS, Astros (Current ADP 115)

A stellar rookie season that saw him hit 22 HRs and steal 11 bases has landed Jeremy Peña in the 9th round of most 12-team drafts. Seems like a fair price for a guy ranked 95% percent in sprint speed and a better-than-average max exit velocity. Can he go 20/20 with the new rules? We sure hope so.

Christian Yelich, OF, Brewers (Current ADP 120)

If it feels like Christian Yelich has been in the league for ten years already, it’s because he has. He’s still just 31 years-old, though, and still ranks 70% in sprint speed, 98% in max exit velocity, and 90% in hard-hit rate. Couple that with 19 steals last season, 14 HRs (a bit less than we’re used to, granted), and a full 154 games, and I think we might be overlooking the value here at the end of round ten.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets (Current ADP 155)

Historically an asset in leagues that count walks and OBP, Brandon Nimmo has recently stated he’d like to triple his output in stolen bases this season. That wouldn’t be too difficult. He only had three a year ago. But he’s exceptionally fast (84% sprint speed) and his max exit velo (80%) shows he’s pretty strong too. Maybe this year he starts adding up the counting stats and becomes a roto asset.

Vaughn Grissom, 2B, Braves (Current ADP 170)

Steals are more than just sprint speed. Many players are able to put up decent SB totals despite not being the fleetest of foot. Though not entirely slow (59% sprint speed), Vaughn Grissom seems to be the kind of guy who knows how to swipe a bag. He did that 43 times in the last two minor league seasons, plus five times last year during his 41 games in the bigs. It looks like he’s got a starting job in Atlanta this summer so if you need 14th-round steals, we’ve got another nice option here.

Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs (Current ADP 184)

The talent has always been there for Nico Hoerner, who ranks close to the top of the league in K rate, Whiff rate, and sprint speed. Last year, though, he got to display that talent over mostly a full season for the first time. His 10 HRs and 20 SBs over 135 games have pushed him to the top of a steal-happy Cubs lineup. Seems like a perfect recipe for a late-round bargain. Oh, and 2B eligibility will be coming soon.

Josh Rojas, 2B/3B, Diamond Backs (Current ADP 206)

Another name that won’t wow you on Statcast, Josh Rojas showed last season that he has the knack and the will to run. His 23 SBs last year was a career-high in the majors. If he uses the new rules to his advantage, he could be a nice late-round injection of stolen bases.

Miguel Vargas, 1B, Dodgers (Current ADP 250)

A great sleeper pick without even considering the increased steals this season, Miguel Vargas comes in at the 94th percentile in sprint speed, had 16 steals in 113 minor league games last year, and pretty much has the starting 2B job as of this moment. Oh, and that recent fracture in his pinky has progressed well enough for him to start swinging the bat in games by this Wednesday according to Dave Roberts, the Dodgers manager.

Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Rockies (Current ADP 258)

Penciled in for the starting shortstop job in Colorado, Ezequiel Tovar is coming off a minor league season in which he hit 13 HRs and stole 17 bases in just 66 games in Double-A. Limited Statcast numbers suggest he might be middle-of-the-road as far as speed is concerned, but in this climate and at that price, definitely worth a shot whether you need steals or not.

Elvis Andrus, SS, White Sox (Current ADP 353)

OK, Elvis Andrus is old (34) and slow (22% sprint speed), but last year he put up 17 HRs and 18 SBs. He is competing for a starting 2B job with the White Sox, a fairly thin position. If you’re not sure about your starting 2B by the end of your draft, or you need to fill the middle-infield slot of a roto league, you could do worse with your last pick. It costs you nothing.

Oswald Peraza, SS, Yankees (Current ADP 298) + Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees (Current ADP 360)

I’m lumping them together again. I did that in an article last week. I keep doing it because one is likely to win the starting SS job and whoever that one is, I would sure like to have him on my fantasy team. They both have power and speed. They both have the potential to go 20/20 this season, especially with the new rules. To get that so late in the draft just illustrates how much potential is available to you in the later rounds.

Stolen Bases and Your Draft Strategy

OK, so what does this extensive list mean for your redraft strategy?

I, for one, am not going to sweat early-round steals. I’m not going to avoid the five-category contributors I mentioned earlier, but if I don’t end up with one of them, I won’t panic. With steals trending up and power down, I’m going to prioritize home runs in the early rounds. If I can get it at thin positions like 3B or OF, even better. Yordan Alvarez (if he’s healthy), Raphael Devers, Austin Riley, Pete Alonso, Nolan Arenado, and Kyle Schwarber are guys I might have avoided in past years because of a lack of steals. Not anymore. Now they seem like much more attractive targets.

This will allow me to focus on a pretty deep mid-round pitcher pool, and also to fill my roster out with at least a few of these middle-class base stealers. If the goal of a 5×5 categories or roto draft is to be competitive in all 10 categories, I think this strategy makes you most likely to achieve that. Good luck and have at it.

Has your strategy changed because of the new rules encouraging stolen bases? Share your thoughts in the comments below. For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!

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1 Comment
  1. Ryan Kozlowski says

    Great article. Very well written.

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