Stolen bases are a dying skill in the rapid-changing landscape of Major League Baseball. This is no secret. The league-wide stolen base attempt rate has dropped from nearly one attempt per game in 2011 to a measly 0.6 attempts per game last season. Much research has supported the decline of stolen bases–unless you are extremely efficient on the base paths, the cost of being thrown out significantly overshadows the added value of moving to the next base.
For fantasy purposes, however, stolen bases still remain incredibly relevant. Although many rotisserie leagues are now favoring newer stats such as quality starts and OBP over wins and batting average, stolen bases have generally remained as a staple within the Roto format. Because of the scarcity within the statistic, many of the premier stolen base options have exploded in value simply from their elite baserunning abilities. Missing out on the top-tier guys such as Jose Ramirez or Trea Turner can seem to create an insurmountable gap in the stolen base department initially, but don’t fret! Here are five players you can find much later in drafts that can help you secure a few more stolen bases.
For more great fantasy baseball analysis, check out our links page with 1,0001+ Fantasy Baseball links to the top sites in the industry.
5 Late-Round Stolen Base Options
1. Lane Thomas, WAS, OF (NFBC ADP: 250.91)
Beyond Juan Soto, the Nationals are going to be bad in 2022. Like, really bad. This should actually help Thomas’ stolen base potential. First, he’s currently projected to bat leadoff for the Nats which should help him rack up plate appearances, and he will have little competition maintaining that role. Following the trade from the Cardinals on July 30, Thomas started 42 games, 39 of which he spent in the leadoff spot.
For the Nats, Thomas maintained the solid slash line of .270/.364/.489 while also providing 7 home runs and 4 stolen bases, which equates to season-long totals of 28 home runs and 16 stolen bases. There will likely be some regression, but 10-15 stolen bases is certainly in the realm of possibilities. He has had multiple minor league seasons with 25+ stolen base attempts, and the Nationals have recently been in the top third in the league in stolen base aggressiveness.
The main knock on Thomas’ profile is his profile against right-handed pitching. In his career, Thomas has batted only .183 vs. RHP compared to .354 vs. LHP. Although this seems pretty alarming (potential for a platoon if this does not change), he has also had his fair share of bad luck. His BABIP vs. RHP is only .205, a stark difference from his BABIP vs. LHP of .443. Neither of those values are particularly sustainable, so regression in both can be expected. But since he will likely face more right-handed pitching (platoon notwithstanding), a regression versus righties should boost his overall numbers.
Even beyond his stolen base potential, Thomas provides the upside of a solid 4-category producer (hitting in front of Juan Soto will surely get him his fair share of runs) that you don’t normally see this late in the draft.
2. Vidal Brujan, TB, OF (346.39)
Only five rookies since 2017 have reached the 20 stolen base plateau, but I truly believe Brujan can become the 6th. Dan Szymborski clearly agrees, as his ZIPs model projects Brujan to lead all of baseball in stolen bases with 38. Many of the other projection systems also support Brujan’s ability to steal bases, they just are not as confident in his ability to find playing time in the balanced Rays lineup.
Brujan’s track record (see what I did there, “track” record) as a base-stealing threat is one of the strongest in baseball. He has reached at least 40 stolen bases in each of the past three minor league seasons, including 44 in only 103 games in AAA last season.
Although the base-stealing is clearly what drives his value as a prospect, he may not kill you in other areas, unlike other elite base stealers. In Triple-A, he was able to hit 12 home runs, possibly signifying a slight power boost that could do wonders to Brujan’s value. He has proven the ability to maintain strong strikeout and walk rates which should help out his batting average and runs potential. Overall, ZIPs project his value to be a top 150 player in fantasy baseball if he can be given normal playing time. Even if his other skills do not progress like many hope they will, he will surely be able to offer enough from stolen bases to make his draft slot worth the price.
3. Jorge Mateo, BAL, 2B/OF (451.69)
There was only one player in baseball who had a 2021 sprint speed greater than 30 ft/s and a minor league stolen-base rate of at least 0.30 per game. That player? Jorge Mateo. In only 209 plate appearances last season he stole 10 bases, which is a strong sign of aggressiveness, even if the Orioles as a team are not the most aggressive. His largest issue will be finding the field consistently for the Orioles, but if given the opportunity he certainly has the skills to approach 20 stolen bases.
His primary competition for playing time at second base is recent free-agent signee Rougned Odor. The current assumption is that Odor and Mateo will act as a platoon at second base, but that still should not hinder Mateo’s opportunities too greatly. Whereas Odor is significantly stronger against right-handed pitching, Mateo is evenly balanced, so the platoon is not due to Mateo’s inability against either side.
Mateo also has the benefit of positional flexibility. In addition to playing second base, he can also play shortstop, outfield, and even the occasional third base, which further increases his opportunities to find playing time. He is one injury away from everyday playing time, and there is no denying his talents on the base paths.
4. Tyler Wade, LAA, 3B/SS/OF (467.36)
From a pure stolen-base perspective, Tyler Wade is far and away the best pick on this list. He may not provide much in any other categories, but man can he rack up those SBs. In only 147 plate appearances with the Yankees last season, Wade was somehow able to successfully steal 17 bases. Of players who got over 100 plate appearances, only 15 players had stolen more bases per plate appearance in a season this century than Wade did last year, and furthermore, Wade had a higher wRC+ than any player above him. Last season was no fluke, either. Wade has had four seasons in the minors with over 35 stolen base attempts, clearly cementing himself as a premier stolen base threat.
I am frankly surprised that many projections have Wade only receiving around 300 plate appearances. He’s currently projected to be the strong-side platoon at shortstop, but he also has the flexibility to play third base or outfield for the Angels. Anthony Rendon has suddenly become unable to stay on the field consistently, Mike Trout is returning from a calf injury that he took a suspicious amount of time recovering from, and Jo Adell and Justin Upton each have their own playing time concerns. Between the four of them, at least one will likely miss significant time, and Wade would likely benefit the most from this added playing time.
His time with New York had clearly run its course, so a change of scenery should do Tyler Wade much good for 2022. Although his hitting may take a slight step back from last season, you are not drafting him for what he can do with a bat; you only want what he can do with his legs.
5. Dylan Moore, SEA, 2B/OF (474.03)
The fact that Dylan Moore was even able to steal 21 bases last season is a miracle by itself. Nothing from his profile truly screams “base thief” like the other guys on this list, but he still found a way to steal 21 bases while only being thrown out five times. And as the great Ron Shandler says, “Once you display a skill, you own it.” I guess Moore can now happily own the “base stealer” skill.
Offensively, Moore’s 2021 season was rather underwhelming, to say the least. He set career-worsts in wRC+, wOBA, AVG, and ISO, among many others. Although it was a truly bad performance, these numbers do not reflect the whole story. Moore also set his career-low in BABIP at .229 which should surely correct itself somewhat in 2022. Nothing else about his batted-ball profile changed too significantly last season, and his barrel% was not horrible either (similar rate to guys such as Jazz Chisholm and J.T. Realmuto).
Many projections are seeing his offensive woes as a reason to lower his playing time for the upcoming season. What he lacks with the bat, however, he makes up for with his glove. Much like Mateo, he is extremely versatile and can play almost anywhere around the diamond. In terms of Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) statistic to measure defense, Moore was the 15th-best defensive player in baseball last season. Add in the fact that Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger are not the safest options in the outfield and Moore should definitely find a way into the lineup fairly regularly.