Scouting The Stat Line: Early MiLB Stolen Base Leaders
Many fantasy owners erroneously believe that home runs are the scarcest of the five traditional fantasy categories. The well-publicized league-wide power outage – the total number of home runs decreased by an astonishing 17 percent in the five seasons since 2009 – only reinforces that false premise.
Stolen bases are down seven percent over that same time frame but they are more rare to begin with. Consider that there were 1,422 more home runs than steals in 2014. Further, the top ten home run totals accounted for 8.5 percent of the league total while the top ten base stealers accounted for 15.6 percent. This concentration is what leads to all manner of interesting discussion and varying opinion about the value of high-volume base stealers like Billy Hamilton, who may offer little else to your box score.
I’m not suggesting that stolen bases are more valuable than homers, of course. A big fly is a positive for your run and RBI totals as well as your batting average while a stolen base is a one-category event (unless you count the increased expectancy of scoring a run). Nevertheless, the relative scarcity of the statistic means you should always be looking for players who can keep you catgeory-competitive on their own. With that in mind, let’s take an early look at the minor league leaders.
Eury Perez, Atlanta Braves
Perez is a 24-year-old center fielder with plus defensive skills and double plus speed who spent most of the early 2010s ranked among the top prospects in the Nationals organization. He hit .311/.372/.406 and stole 20 bases in 57 games last season but missed more than half the year with a broken toe. Perez has hasn’t hit below .299 since his 2011 season in high-A and has always been age appropriate for his level.
It’s not the kind of profile that typically gets designated for assignment twice at age 24, but here we are. The Nationals did it to make room for Pedro Florimon at the end of last season. They had outfield depth to spare but Florimon is terrible and never played a game for them, so Mike Rizzo essentially just threw Perez away. He played in four major league games for the Yankees after Cashman claimed him, but was DFA’d again this offseason after the Yanks decided their farm system already had enough outfield prospects that were highly regarded in 2011. They needed the roster spot for Stephen Drew. When you have a chance to get Stephen Drew, you do whatever it takes.
Perez landed with the Braves, where he would be able to get on the field were they not content to rebuild while wasting at-bats on Eric Young Jr. and Jonny Gomes. Perez’s chance of seeing time in the majors declined further when the Braves received Cameron Maybin in the Kimbrel trade but the chances of Maybin playing a full, healthy season are remote. Meanwhile, Perez is off to a solid start at Triple-A Gwinnett, slashing .281/.395/.281 and leading all of Triple-A with seven steals in eight games.
That slash line tells you that he has no power; we’re talking about a guy with seven homers in more than 2,600 minor league plate appearances. The on-base percentage is misleading, though. His approach is lacking and his walk rate has hovered around five percent his entire minor league career. Even more than the lack of pop, the poor plate discipline is what keeps Perez from profiling as anything more than a fourth outfielder long-term.
That said, the Braves should see what they have in Perez. He’s still relatively young and the alternatives are uninspiring and certainly not part of their long-term plan. It may take an injury or an extended slump for the Braves to come around but if that happens and Perez gets the call, be quick to add him if you need some short-term speed.
Roman Quinn, Philadelphia Phillies
Quinn’s seven steals leads Double-A and I can’t cover Quinn as well as fellow TDG writer and Phillies prospect guru Matt Winkelman did earlier this week, so just go read his profile here.
Champ Stuart, New York Mets
I wrote up Stuart, who leads high-A with seven steals, recently (link). Given his limited history against advanced competition, I was surprised the Mets assigned him to high-A St. Lucie instead of having him repeat low-A Savannah. The same things I wrote a few weeks ago are true through the first few games of 2015; Stuart strikes out in bunches but walks enough to make his top-of-the-scale speed a weapon. Despite the fact that he’s 22 years old, he remains a long way off but I’m intrigued and the (very) early returns are encouraging.
Wes Rogers, Colorado Rockies
Jorge Mateo (Yankees) actually leads low-A in steals but there’s been enough ink spilled on him and if you play in a competitive dynasty league he’s probably unavailable, so let’s discuss Wes Rogers, who trails Mateo by one steal.
Rogers was the Rockies’ fourth round draft pick in 2014 after playing two junior college seasons at Spartanburg Methodist in his home state of South Carolina. He signed with Colorado instead of transferring to UNC-Wilmington and held his own in the Pioneer League, hitting .283/.362/.425 and tying for eighth in the league in steals despite playing in only 30 of 76 regular season games.
The Rockies assigned Rogers to low-A Asheville and he’s red hot to open the year. In the first nine games he has as many walks as strikeouts and has stolen 11 bases against only one caught stealing. Rogers is an athletic player with a sound approach and solid-average bat speed, so his stock will rise quickly if he remains unphased by the level of competition. Factor in the Asheville bump to his numbers and he could become quite a fantasy darling.