Over the last few seasons the familiar names atop the stolen base leaders category include Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and Jose Reyes. One can be almost certain that these names will lead the league once again assuming these speedsters remain healthy. Nevertheless, several surprise names have warranted the attention of the fantasy baseball community. It is too early to determine whether these newcomers will be a consistent source of swipes for the entire season or merely a short-term supply for savvy fantasy owners to use. Let’s take a glance at these new thieves of the base paths to see whether they are worthy of a trade or pickup.
Sam Fuld – Former Rays’ superstar Carl Crawford has only earned double-digit stolen bases once in April. With one week still remaining in the first month of the season, Fuld, the Rays’ left fielder, leads all of major league baseball with 10. At the ripe old age of 29, Fuld arrived in Tampa Bay in the trade that sent Matt Garza to Chicago. With his opportunity finally knocking, he has taken full advantage of his playing time and is currently ranked in the Top 15 in most fantasy leagues. Fuld’s skills were fully displayed on April 11 when he fell a single short of the cycle. Until he slows down, look for him to shine as the Rays’ offense will continue to improve, especially with the return of Evan Longoria. Desmond Jennings, currently in Triple-A and previously slated as Crawford’s replacement, is expected to be called up in early summer and may threaten Fuld’s playing time. However, the Rays will likely find a way to keep Fuld in the lineup if this success continues.
Willie Bloomquist – On his fourth team since 2008, this well-traveled utility player landed in Arizona as Stephen Drew’s backup. With Drew injured early in the season, Bloomquist made an immediate blip on the fantasy radar as the DiamondBacks starting shortstop with seven stolen bases and multi-position eligibility. After tweaking his hamstring and with Drew back in the starting lineup, Bloomquist may return to the dugout as a reserve. However, his value may peak again with injuries or slumps to Drew, Ryan Roberts or Arizona’s outfield. Keep him on your watch list if you do not have an extra spot on your roster.
Jose Tabata – At only 22 years old, many experts picked Tabata to become a fantasy stud in 2011 due to his speed displays in the minors and the tail end of the majors last season. With nine steals in ten attempts, Tabata’s legs and even his bat have already made a statement in Pittsburgh. Although his streakiness may be an issue, Tabata can provide value to fantasy teams in need of stolen bases and has high upside.
Aaron Hill – In 2009, Toronto’s second baseman exploded from waiver wire pickup to fantasy phenomenon by astonishing the fantasy baseball world with 36 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Hill’s numbers did experience a sizable dip in 2010, but he appears to be adding a new weapon to his artillery this season. Hill has already stolen six bases to match his career high. Unfortunately for Toronto, and his fantasy owners, he is headed to the disabled list after straining his hamstring on a stolen base attempt earlier in the week. Although Hill is yet to find his power stroke, he can be a dangerous player when he is healthy with this combination of power and speed. If another manager drops Hill or offers him cheap in your league, he may be worth a look with his high ceiling.
Matt Kemp – There is no need to spend more time analyzing Kemp’s 2010 campaign of struggles. Whether it was due to his high profile relationship with hip-hop starlet Rihanna or his team’s ownership soap opera, Kemp is currently one of the hottest hitters in baseball with a .402 batting average, five home runs and eight stolen bases. With a poor success rate of 19 steals in 34 attempts in 2010, Kemp has proven that his arsenal of speed and power are bona fide, which may propel him to the iconic mark of 30 home runs-30 stolen bases this season. The Dodgers’ outfielder was chosen in the second and third rounds in most drafts, but has already shown he possesses Top 10 talent.
Speed is coveted by many fantasy owners as it can often be difficult to predict. Although I expect the usual suspects of Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn to finish Top 10 in steals by season’s end, uncovering a gem late in drafts or by surfing the waiver wire can help your team land that extra steal to help you defeat your opponent or jump a spot in a rotisserie league.