Slow clap for all the folks who drafted Jean Segura last year and his 44 steals. Now a slower, even more appreciative clap for Grey, who tagged him as a fantasy sleeper heading into 2013. The following list is not meant to find you the 2014 version of Jean Segura, but rather identify the middle infielders who are the essence of SAGNOF (Steals Ain’t Got NO Face). These players will be cheap at the draft or may go undrafted entirely. You probably won’t want any of them as your starting shortstop or second baseman, but you’ll want to stash them away in the dark corners of your mind for when you are desperate for steals and there is a vacancy in your middle infidel slot. How cheaply you can acquire these players has a lot to do with the depth of your league and since not all fantasy leagues are created equal (thank God), you’ll have to take that into consideration when weighing the value of their steals. And hey, you never know, maybe the next Jean Segura is in here somewhere…
Jonathan Villar – 2013: 18 SB in 241 PA
If there is one guy on this list I would take a chance on in 2014, it would be Villar. He stole at least 30 bases in each of the last three seasons in the minors before getting the call last summer in Houston. In fact, if you combine his 2013 Triple-A numbers with his MLB total, we’re looking at 49 stolen bases last year. He’s also hit at least eight home runs in each of his last three pro-seasons. Villar has some blemishes, however, that will keep his overall value suppressed. He’s never struck out less than 23% of the time at any level, and that’s just not very good. Another thing to watch out for is his tendency to be caught. He was 18-for-26 in the big leagues, which is a success rate of 69%. We’d like to see him closer to 75% for the big steals numbers. While Dexter Fowler will most likely lead-off and push Villar to the bottom of the order, there is still a lot to like about the young shortstop considering how little you should have to pay for his speed.
Alcides Escobar – 2013: 22 SB in 642 PA
Escobar disappointed fantasy owners in 2013 and that should bring his value down a few pegs in 2014. After stealing 35 bags and hitting .293 in 2012, he managed only 22 steals and a lousy .234 batting average in 2013. One of the biggest differences between the two seasons was his BABIP, which went from .344 in 2012 to .264 in 2013. If that stabilizes in 2014, he could be back to a healthier average and that could mean more steals as well, perhaps closer to 30 SB again than 20. A problem for Escobar is that he is still afraid to walk. A 3.0% walk rate last year was the second lowest in the major leagues, so the man is going to have to hit his way on in order to steal bases.
Dee Gordon - 2013: 10 SB in 106 PA
It feels like we’ve been bouncing Dee’s name around for a long time, but he’s still just 25 years old. He hasn’t been able to hit north of .240 in the majors over the past two years, but he did steal a combined 59 bases in Triple-A and the bigs last season. It’s not clear what his path to playing time will be, but given the recent injuries of Hanley Ramirez and the fact that Alexander Guerrero is still unproven, Dee could get his chances over the course of the year. He is a player that could be acquired on the cheap and even with ~250 PA he could net you 20 steals from your MI slot.
Emilio Bonifacio – 2013: 28 SB in 461 PA
Bonifacio caught fire after being traded to the Royals last summer. He stole 17 bases and hit .285 in the second half, and he was caught only 8 times in 36 attempts for the year (77%). The Royals signed Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante, so Bonifacio will likely be relegated to the bench for the Royals. Fantasy players will still like the dual-eligibility he provides as an infielder/outfielder, and if he can accumulate another 400 PA, he should be able to steal 20 bases again this year. You just won’t be able to count on him starting in your lineup every day.
DJ LeMahieu – 18 SB in 434 PA
The second base job in Colorado is going to come down to LeMahieu and Josh Rutledge once again in 2014. Early rumors have LeMahieu as the favorite to win the job, despite Rutledge being the better bat. The Rockies seem to like LeMahieu for his glove, and if his glove can buy him playing time, he has shown that he can steal a base or two. Obviously, a lot depends on how much he plays, but a full season of at-bats could yield somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 steals, and that’s really valuable from a fantasy second baseman.
Jemile Weeks – 2013 (AAA): 17 SB in 614 PA
Weeks is the biggest wild card of the group, but he’s also got a lot to prove after seeing only 8 games in the major leagues last season. He’ll likely end up being a utility infielder a la Alexi Casilla, so you’re really looking at deeper leagues or AL-only leagues here. Weeks’ best year in terms of steals was his 2011 season with the A’s in which he swiped 22 bags in 437 plate appearances.