It’s that time of year. With just a couple of weeks until rosters expand in September, it’s time for players in re-draft leagues to start considering prospect call-ups. Billy Hamilton is by far the best bet for a steals impact in the final month of the season. Entering the weekend, he had 70 stolen bases in just 110 games. Check out what Razzball’s prospect whisperer Scott Evans had to say about him recently: “Need to make a late push in steals before year’s end? Billy Hamilton will soon help in that regard, and he won’t need regular plate appearances to do so.” And Evans knows his shizz. Billy Hamilton is fast. He could enter games as a pinch runner on first base and be on third base before you swallow that sip of stadium suds. In addition to holding the MiLB steals record and posting sick times from base to base, Hamilton chugs through Mountain Dews like Dusty Baker chews through toothpicks. He’s one of the players I’m most excited about watching if he gets the call this September. The fly in the ointment continues to be the Reds’ reluctance to place him on the 40-man roster. As of Friday they were still undecided, and that’s important information to keep an eye on. To be honest, the Reds would be foolish not to use him as a weapon, but I’m not running any major league teams last time I checked. As we’ve done all year long, let’s look at who is out there and ready to contribute now in the steals category:

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B.J. Upton is having one hell of a bad year and he recently hit bottom with an adductor injury that sidelined him through the All Star Break. There were some whispers during the first half of the season that the Braves were going to send him down to figure things out, but it never happened. The injury may have been a blessing in disguise, though. Maybe it gave him the time and the means to work on issues that he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to if he had stayed healthy. His ownership dropped to around 40% at one point, but it’s recently surged back up due to a handful of multi -hit efforts since his return and 3 steals. For our purposes here, the steals are what I want to focus on. There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that the three stolen bases since his return came against the Phillies and Nationals, two of the worst teams in baseball at controlling the running game. So, before we get too excited and decide that BJ is going to rattle off 20 steals over the last 6 weeks of the season, just keep that in mind. Ready for the good news? He gets the Phillies and Nationals again this week! I wouldn’t be surprised to see him swipe a couple more with those match-ups. Here are some other speedsters I think might help your stolen base numbers this week:

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Your regular Creeper columnist, Sky, is taking the week off as things start to heat up over on the football side of things here at Razzball. I know, I miss him too. Turn that frown upside down, though, because I’ve got a nice Creeper for you this week in Will Venable. When I went to write this post, I looked for four things: nice matchup(s), a player who is widely available, somebody who’s actually hitting right now, and a player who can contribute in multiple categories for your fantasy team. Venable fits the bill this week. He’s always been the poor man’s power/speed combo player, but he’s frustrating to own long term due to a crowded San Diego outfield cutting into his playing time and an inability to really hit for average. Even so, I think he’s a good bet this week for some power and speed. As an added bonus, he’s one of a handful of players that wasn’t accused of taking PED’s by Jack Clark…so there’s that.

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Through the first three months of the 2013 season, Nate McLouth was running the bases like a man possessed. 8 stolen bases in April. 9 stolen bases in May. Another 7 steals in June. Heading into July, he had already eclipsed his full season career high! Then it all came to a screeching halt. During the month of July, McLouth stole 1 base in 2 attempts. That’s insane. How do we go from a guy who looks like he will easily steal over 40 bags to a guy that we’re praying will get to 30 steals for the season. His average was just as good in July as it was in the previous months, so it’s not like he didn’t have any opportunities. So what gives? Why do some guys just suddenly stop stealing? If you think it’s that he was running a little over his head given his previous steals totals, you’d be right. If you think that it’s more an issue of opposing teams handling him differently, you’re also right. It’s both.

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Last night, one of the most talented young arms in baseball followed up a career high in strikeouts with yet another career high in strikeouts. Jose Fernandez cooled off the Cleveland Indians with 8 shutout innings and 14 Ks. The Tribe entered Crayola Canyon on an 8-game winning streak, but left the game wondering if they should have even bothered to pack their bats for the trip. J-Fer, as the kids call him, has most likely been one of your league’s best waiver pickups since his surprise call-up and is currently sporting a two-fitty ERA and a WHIP around 1.00. Oh, and then there are the strikeouts. 27 Ks over his last 16 innings and now 138 on the year is pretty impressive considering the kid couldn’t even have a drink in the Clevelander until this past Wednesday. Like most rookie pitchers, the dreaded innings cap is looming (word on the street is 170), but for now let’s enjoy the ride and appreciate nights like these when we get to see a future ace show his best stuff. Here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:

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Norichika Aoki is one of those guys that has come up a lot in the comments on these posts, and for good reason. After posting a really impressive 10 homer/30 steal season in 2012, his steals numbers have been pretty worrisome in 2013. Through the first half of this season, Aoki had only stolen 10 bases and had been caught 10 times. I’m no mathematician, but that’s a pretty lousy 50% CS% and not what you want to see from a guy you drafted for wheels. I had begun to think that Aoki’s first MLB season may have been a blip on the radar when I looked back on his numbers from Japan. Starting with his 2011 season, his steals numbers from his last five years there were 8, 19, 18, 31, and 17. Hence my thinking that last year’s 30 may have been just another blip. Well, Aoki changed some of that thinking this past week with a 9-game hit streak and 4 steals. More importantly, he wasn’t caught in any of those attempts. He’s not somebody that is readily available to pick up of course, but he may have found his way to your bench before his recent hot streak. Get him starting for the coming week because he gets two fantastic match-ups against the Cubs and Nationals, two teams that are terrible against the stolen base this year, and Aoki is looking like he’s ready to run.

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When I went hunting for players to write about this week, I had trouble finding somebody for the lede. Most of the tried and true speedsters are owned everywhere, and I wasn’t liking the match-ups I saw for the borderline guys. Then, as the fantasy writer gods often do, they dropped a pair of rookies in my lap. A couple of fresh faces have arrived on the scene in Junior Lake and Jonathan Villar. Lake, a speedy infielder turned outfielder, was called up by the Cubs. While I was mildly interested in his solid debut performance Friday night, I became even more interested when I started to look into his minor league numbers. Like “cyclops with a monocle” interested as they say here in Razzball land. Even more exciting was the Villar call-up that was announced yesterday. The young Houston shortstop also showed above average speed in the minor leagues. We’ll take a closer look at both and set the mood for a little ‘rookie nookie’. Meanwhile, at the adult table, Eric Young continues to rack up the steals and should do some major damage against the Nationals later this week.

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Looking back on the unofficial first half of the fantasy baseball season can be a lot of fun, unless of course you are in dead last, in which case it’s about as much fun as watching your auntie’s cat play with its new Cat’s Meow toy while you eat stale Circus Peanuts. In any event, the gods of SAGNOF have not been as kind to us thus far in 2013, and it shows in the numbers. The total number of steals in the league, 1524, is the lowest it’s been since 2006. In addition, there are only 21 players with 15 or more steals at this point in the season. That’s also the lowest it’s been since 2006. It feels even lower given that just last year there were 28 players with 15+ steals at the break and 30 the year before that. This all means that players who steal 30 bags or more are a little harder to come by, and it’s no sure thing that each fantasy team will have one or two guys that can carry them in steals like in years past. It also means that having a guy like Ben Revere break his foot and lose his season is a much bigger blow to our fantasy squads (mine included) than it used to be. So what do we do if we lost a guy like Revere or missed out on a Jacoby Ellsbury or Everth Cabrera type? If you read my column regularly, you know I’m a big fan of playing the match-ups when it comes to steals, and seizing the opportunity to eke them out whenever possible against teams that are weak against the run. After all, just because steals are down in general, it doesn’t change the fact that they still make up 20% of our offensive points in most leagues.

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Let’s say you’re looking for the player with the best stolen base per plate appearances ratio. You might think of recent SAGNOF heart-throb Rajai Davis, who basically has a steal for every 8 plate appearances. Davis has recently soared to 80% ownership thanks to his outburst of 7 steals in 4 days and an absolute monster day at the dish yesterday. You’d be close, but the answer is actually Jarrod Dyson at 1:7, and who is owned in 79% less leagues. But Mike, isn’t Jarrod Dyson just a platoon player, part of a four-man outfield in Kansas City? Of course he is, but so was Davis before Melky Cabrera went down, and unfortunately that’s where I’d suspect Davis will be headed once again when the Blue Jays’ $8 million dollar man returns from the DL in the next week or so.

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It may have been hard to catch Grey’s BUY post last Friday, because it was littered with SAGNOF outfielders. We’ll take a look at some of those guys today, with a special focus on Rajai Davis of the Blue Jays, who recently found himself some steady playing time in left field while Melky Cabrera is on the DL. As you’re reading this, I’m on the road to the Jersey Shore with my family for the Fourth of July, so I apologize in advance if I’m not as quick as usual with the comments. Speaking of Grey and Jersey, the main man talked about how New Jersey, my home state, looks like the profile of Kid from Kid ‘n’ Play. I have to say I was impressed. I like that image better than the American Indian profile they taught us in school. It’s probably more politically correct, too. Hats off to you, Grey! If only you had been my third grade teacher…

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