The big-league leader in stolen bases last season was Mike Trout with 49, which was basically six weeks for Billy Hamilton. I was at the Futures Game in Kansas City, Mo., last summer, and in the clubhouse prior to the game, Hamilton was being mobbed by reporters. He had already topped 100 steals at the All-Star break. On the other side of the room, Toronto Blue Jays outfield prospect Anthony Gose, himself blessed with crazy speed, was pretty much being ignored, so I asked him about his progress.
Gose had stolen 29 bases by that point at Triple-A Las Vegas, and he ended up with a mere 34, down from 70 the season before, but that hardly means he took steps backward overall. Gose kept drawing walks at a nice rate and cut down on the strikeouts. When the Blue Jays promoted him to the big leagues, he had little trouble stealing bases, and didn't look overmatched while producing a .740 OPS in September and a few days of October.
The issue for Gose, of course, is playing time. He's already tasted the major leagues, and while he doesn't bring the ridiculous stolen base upside of Hamilton, this is a guy who certainly could lead the AL in the category, someone that could flirt with 50 steals if given the chance. Then again, the Blue Jays appear to be contenders, having added Melky Cabrera to play left field and dealing for half the Miami Marlins to shore up other areas. For now, Gose seems headed for Las Vegas, though Rajai Davis could be trade bait, and who knows what physical ailments could hold back others, like Jose Bautista and Emilio Bonifacio. Gose is a tremendous outfielder, and earned nearly the same WAR as Davis, even though Davis played three times as much.
If we found out today that Gose would play regularly, I'd predict a 40-steal season. It might not be pretty in terms of OBP, but it isn't with Davis or Colby Rasmus, either. If Gose makes the Blue Jays in a bench role, that's 20 steals, more than enough to spend a late pick or a few dollars on in an AL-only format. And that's what we're talking about here, the deeper leagues and the sleepers in this category. In standard leagues, there are enough stolen bases for all, but the likes of Hamilton, Gose and eventually Houston Astros speedster Delino DeShields Jr. (he's 20, but stole 101 bases in 2012) are each capable of major impact, and soon.
On Thursday, we took a look at Adam Eaton, a few of his Arizona Diamondbacks teammates and other sleeper stolen base options from the NL, so now we close the week looking at the AL. It's fair to say there are considerably more high-end steals options, so one might not need the sleepers as much, but let's highlight a few anyway.
Darin Mastroianni, OF, Minnesota Twins: On Thursday afternoon, I watched as Twins center field prospect Aaron Hicks smacked three home runs against three Philadelphia Phillies lefties. Hicks should win the job, and he could provide double-digit home runs and 25-plus steals. Older prospect Joe Benson could also earn the job. Mastroianni was never a big-time prospect, but he stole 21 bases for the Twins in 77 games, and is projected by ESPN Fantasy for 30, which is among the top 20. He'll play enough to matter in the category.
Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry, OF, Texas Rangers: Someone has to win the center field job in Arlington, and each of these fellows is projected for 15 steals. I think Martin is the more talented option, and he hits left-handed, so he should play more. I could see him stealing 20 bases, and let's not forget that if Martin does fail, Julio Borbon, who has had chances before, could finally cash in.
Jimmy Paredes, OF, Houston Astros: Might seem a strange choice, but Paredes, formerly a third baseman, made strides at Triple-A Oklahoma City while learning how to play outfield, delivering 48 extra-base hits and stealing 37 bases. He's still mighty allergic to drawing walks, but these are the Astros, the land of opportunity now, he has major league experience from 2011 and he can run.
Jarrod Dyson, OF, Kansas City Royals: A purveyor of 30 steals for the Royals last year, but currently going 128th among outfielders in ESPN ADP, the diminutive Dyson told reporters recently he's going to bunt more and use his speed to get on base. His 30 steals came with only 330 plate appearances, and it could happen again with Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur less than safe.
Jeff Kobernus, 2B, Detroit Tigers: Who? Sleeper Kobernus is a Rule 5 pick, meaning the Tigers have to eventually put him on the 25-man roster or offer him back to the Boston Red Sox. Kobernus, 24, isn't special statistically, but he stole 94 bases the past two minor league seasons, so watch his spring progress, because he could matter. The Tigers stole only 59 bases last year, second-fewest in baseball.
Others: And the team that stole the fewest bases was the Baltimore Orioles, but that could change if second baseman Brian Roberts stays healthy. It's been a while since Roberts mattered, but we should all root for him. His backup is Alexi Casilla, who stole 21 bases in 22 chances while healthy for the Twins last year. ... Back to the Royals at second base: Many think Johnny Giavotella deserves the job, but the team has an unhealthy infatuation with Chris Getz, and he did steal 20 bases twice in the past four seasons. ... Chris Young is a three-time 20-20 guy, and currently undrafted in ESPN standard formats. Also on the Oakland Athletics, second baseman Jemile Weeks is capable of running should he hit, and new shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima takes walks and could swipe 20 bags. ... Cleveland Indians reserve Ezequiel Carrera stole 34 bases last season, eight of them in the majors. He should make the team. ... In Tampa Bay, outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld are both high percentage base stealers, should they get the chance to play. ... Finally, Eduardo Nunez of the New York Yankees, shortstop eligible, has 38 big league steals in fewer than 500 plate appearances. And this is not a healthy team. He's definitely more than a dollar option in AL-only formats, and the case can be made for inclusion in 14-team (and deeper) mixed leagues.
Enjoy the spring training baseball and have a great weekend!