While the juiced ball has raised home run totals across the board, stolen bases are becoming an increasingly rare commodity. In 2016, there were 14 players who finished with 30 or more steals, while 28 players robbed at least 20 bases. By contrast, 10 years ago there were 19 players who stole 30+ bases and 42 with 20+ steals. Back then, nabbing a player like Jose Reyes or Jacoby Ellsbury (seriously!) could get you as many as 70 steals in a season.
The value of the top base-stealers will vary wildly, depending on what else they bring to the table, but for our purposes we will look solely at who should dominate this elusive category in 2017.
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2017 Predictions: Top 10 Base Stealers
10. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels - Last season, Trout experienced a bit of a flashback to 2013 when he finished with very similar numbers across the board. He sacrificed speed for power the next two years, but came back to his base-stealing ways in 2016 with 30 thefts. The Angels will have a tough time competing in the AL West and may need to generate offense however they can. This could mean Trout will have the green light more often. Are you going to be the one to doubt him?
9. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros - The way Altuve has started to hit the ball, he may be too busy trotting around the bases to think about stealing. Altuve's power has started to surge, while his steal totals waned last year. Since leading the AL with 56 steals in 2014, that total dropped to 38 in 2015 and 30 last year. This should temper your expectations for another 50-steal season, but keep in mind Altuve is just 26 years old and has never finished under 30 steals in a full season. He is a safe bet for another 30-35 SB.
8. Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates - Now the center fielder in Pittsburgh, Marte is officially the resident speed demon. After back-to-back 30 steal seasons, Marte jumped up to 47 SB in 2016. He never flashed that much thievery in the minors, posting a high of 26 in the lower levels, so it's hard to imagine him topping that number. Nonetheless, he is a top-15 outfield target because you won't sacrifice average or run production by drafting him.
7. Rajai Davis, Oakland Athletics - If it seems that Davis pops up on the SB leaderboard with a different team each year, it's mostly true. Last season, he finished fourth with 43 steals as a member of the Tribe en route to swatting an unexpected, memorable post-season home run. He also finished sixth in stolen bases with Detroit in 2014, third in 2013, second in 2012 and 13th in 2011 while with Toronto, and was third in 2010 and 13th in 2009 in his first run with the A's. He returns to Oakland as the regular center fielder and a safe bet for 40 steals. Oakland doesn't run quite as much as other teams, which is the only reason Davis drops to number seven on this list, but they didn't bring him in for his power...
6. Keon Broxton, Milwaukee Brewers - If the Oakland Raiders' motto is "Just Win Baby," then the Brewers should adopt "Just Run Baby" as their's. Milwaukee led the league in stolen base attempts and it wasn't even close (you could say it was a runaway...) Broxton accounted for 27 of the team's 237 attempts and was successful on 23. This came in less than half a season's work, as he saw just 207 AB. If Broxton can hit close to the way he did in the second half (.294/.399/.538), he could even battle Villar for the top spot on his team.
5. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals - He may not finish with the highest SB total of the players on this list, but definitely wins the contest for highest overall ceiling. Turner is being taken as high as the first round in some fantasy drafts due to his tremendous skill set which includes 33 steals over half a season as a rookie. He may not be asked to steal as much as some of the players on lesser teams because of the run-producers behind him in the lineup, which somewhat limits his potential in this category. That just means he may "only" steal 45 bases, as opposed to 60.
4. Jose Peraza, Cincinnati Reds - Hearing that Brandon Phillips was being dealt to Atlanta was all I needed to propel Peraza into this list. In limited time as a rookie, Peraza swiped 21 bags over 256 plate appearances. Truth be told, it should have been more had he not been caught 10 times. As the everyday second baseman, Peraza could easily reach 50 steals or more. He reached the 60-steal mark twice in the minors while hitting .299. Don't fool yourself into thinking his hot streak late last year was a fluke.
3. Jonathan Villar, Milwaukee Brewers - We'll have to take a small step back from Villar, even though he has a good shot to replicate last year's numbers. Many are calling for a regression from his .373 BABIP, but that figure isn't much higher than two of his previous seasons as a utility man in Houston. In his first year as a full-time starter, Villar struck out way too much to be at the top of the order (174 K), but he also increased his walk rate (11.6 percent) and posted a .369 OBP. On a different team, this might be a different story, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if Villar swipes 50 or more again.
2. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds - If there's one thing the man can do, it's steal bases. Hamilton has gone over 50 SB in each of his three full Major League seasons. He cut down greatly on his caught-stealing percentage since his rookie year and has posted an 88 percent SB success rate each of the last two seasons. One can only imagine how many steals Hamilton could get if he hit over .260. While he is a great bet to lead the league in steals, you can throw every other counting stat out the window by putting him in your outfield, so draft accordingly.
1. Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins - Those expecting a stolen base crown by picking Gordon early last year were treated to a half-season of bitter disappointment when his 80-game suspension was announced. He somewhat acquitted himself with 24 steals in the second half, but many are still wondering if he can be the same player who led the league in both steals and batting average in 2015. That seems like a stretch, but even as a .270 hitter at the top of Miami's lineup, he will have ample opportunity to log 650+ plate appearances and run at will. His playing time and productivity is far more secure than Hamilton, so he gets the nod as the top projected base stealer in 2017.
Travis Jankowski, San Diego Padres - If Jankowski were assured of being the everyday starter as he was in the second half of 2016, he would surely make the cut. Jankowski swiped 30 bags across 383 PA last season, but will be competing with Alex Dickerson and top prospects Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe for playing time. If one of those three struggles or gets injured, Jankowski could again make for a nice waiver wire add for those desperate for steals.