Predicting the top 10 for stolen bases

I can't say I'm surprised by anything Carlos Gomez or Michael Bourn did in their first few games with new teams. They are fast. They will get on base occasionally. They will run. None of this is breaking news. When it came to their place in pre-season fantasy drafts, Bourn was being selected earlier than Gomez, but a little too high, even though I think fantasy owners were well aware of what they were potentially getting.

The thing is, of all the one-dimensional stolen base guys in drafts, and there are plenty of them, Juan Pierre is the one who went first. We've seen over the past week that this situation is unlikely to turn out well for Pierre or his owners, unless they're pleased with a huge decrease in playing time and maybe, if they're lucky, half the steals normally projected for him.

I got to thinking, aren't the Jerry Owens types of the fantasy world a bit like Joe Borowski? You know you shouldn't draft relief pitching early because closers are generally one-category fantasy helpers, especially the ones who don't pile on the strikeouts and share nice peripherals. One of the things Matthew Berry has repeatedly drummed into my head -- certainly not the only thing, by the way -- is you shouldn't pay for saves. They always come into the league, so don't worry if you leave the draft table with Brandon Lyon and nothing else. It's a long season, and after your figure out who the low-level helpers in saves are, go get them.

Doesn't the same hold true for stolen bases then? Gomez and Bourn, who showed off their terrific speed and potential with multi-steal games already, but I'd argue not a whole lot else, just needed opportunity. This is the same as Borowski, Todd Jones and Kevin Gregg. There is no value for them pitching in the seventh inning. When it comes to potential stolen base studs who don't offer a balanced fantasy menu, it's no different.

I think White Sox non-slugger Jerry Owens can swipe 50 bases if he wants to. In reality, it's not about what Owens wants, but what manager Ozzie Guillen will let him do.

Maybe this is why I not only avoid top closers early in drafts, but I also avoid one-dimensional speedsters in the middle rounds. It's risky to take too great a chance on these players, whether with too much auction money or in a big-name trade. Sure, I took Arizona's Lyon on a team or two late in drafts, and will never fault someone for drafting Dave Roberts for a token dollar or in Round 23. But even if Joe Torre were to foolishly announce Juan Pierre was an everyday player, I wouldn't have wanted him in the top 50.

Starting pitchers drive the bus in fantasy, and you need a few save guys of some level of success helping out. With the hitters, I think the lure of Brandon Phillips types is so great because if your power hitters don't run, then you're depending on Willy Taveras for all your speed, and nobody wants that. When fantasy owners check their teams post-draft, and players start to drop or underperform with some regularity, that's when guys like C.J. Wilson and Rajai Davis get to be in demand. There's really very little in common when it comes to preseason player value and what happens in-season.

So, how much will Gomez and Bourn run? One week ago, I wrote the 20/20 blog and it created much debate. I thank you for that. Now let's really focus on the big stolen base options, even if they are far from 20/20, but more like 3/40. Because every stolen base counts.

Here are my updated projections on the top 10 pure stolen base leaders for 2008. You should know who they are, but now you see a number next to their names.

1. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets: One might expect he'd run more if he gets on base more, and his walk rate does improve every season. Still, I project "only" 60 steals ... which is still enough to lead the majors.

2. Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: I think a number of last season's top basestealers will run less. Certainly Pierre won't have the chance, at least as it appears right now. I'll give Crawford 49 steals. A year ago six players reached 50 or more steals, which was a lot. In 2004, for example, only Scott Podsednik and Crawford swiped that many. By the way, neither Reyes nor Crawford will hit as many as 15 home runs this season, I say.

3. Jerry Owens, OF, White Sox: Yeah, I kinda believe. I really do. Guillen is waiting for his leadoff hitter's hamstring to heal, and then he'll stick him in the lineup's top spot, and in center field, and let him motor. Owens doesn't need more than 150 games to approach 50 steals. He ends up with 47.

4. Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: Stole "only" 41 bases a season ago but also missed 47 games and endured a brutal slump. I think he hits in the .290 range and swipes 46 bases. In a way, because outfield is so shallow this season, I think he might actually have more value if he qualified there, rather than at third base.

5. Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins: I think he's a bit further along than Bourn is developmentally, which is to say Gomez brings more to the table. He's just a better prospect, plain and simple. Gomez won't be platooned, while Bourn sat Thursday against left-hander Randy Wolf. Gomez has some pop. I think he's safer in the leadoff spot. The price to acquire him was certainly worth more than one season of an injured Brad Lidge. Gomez might struggle at times, but I see at least 45 steals coming.

6. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins: ESPN fantasy owners made him the No. 2 overall pick despite a few potential road blocks to him achieving his 2007 stats again. Would the loss of Miguel Cabrera hurt him? Is his shoulder a problem? Buried in there was Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez casually suggesting Ramirez will run less in the future in order to save on wear and tear on the shortstop's body. Nobody ever said stealing bases was safe. Rickey Henderson's durability was a very underrated trait. I still think Ramirez gets into the 40s for steals, though, ending up at 44.

7. Michael Bourn, OF, Astros: The Phillies were wise to move Bourn this offseason, knowing he wasn't needed to start and because his value was high thanks to how well he ran when healthy down the stretch. He might ultimately be a fourth outfielder, but one always capable of 40 steals. I cautiously give Bourn 450 at-bats, but even there he should be able to steal 42 bases.

8. Brian Roberts, 2B, Cubs, um, I mean Orioles: Yes, he stole 50 bases a season ago and is capable of doing so again. But the three seasons before that, his steals totals were 36, 27 and 29, respectively. It's not uncommon for players to have a spike year or two, especially when it's a category in which they control the output. Roberts can do only so much when it comes to being successful, but he decides how often he wants to steal. I give him 40 successful steals, no matter who he plays for. At this point, I doubt he leaves the Orioles this season.

9. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies: I was at the game Thursday when J-Roll single-handedly won it in the 10th inning by running from first to third on an otherwise ordinary Shane Victorino sacrifice bunt attempt. With a runner on third and one out, the Nationals were forced to intentionally walk Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, for the second time in the game. Then Jesus Colome couldn't find the plate, walking Jayson Werth to force Rollins home. Rollins could probably steal 50 bases if he wanted to. Or he could finish with "just" 30 steals, considering the power behind him in the order, as well as the fact he gets so many extra-base hits (he's not on first base as much as Baltimore's Roberts, for example). I say Rollins goes from 41 steals to 38.

10. Colorado center fielder: OK, this is a bit of weird one, but I do think Willy Taveras is capable of a career best in steals. He's gone for 34, 33 and 33, respectively, in his three seasons. Last year he played in only 97 games -- and still reached 33 steals. There are no guarantees with his health, though, and one of the biggest stolen base guys is lurking in case Taveras gets hurt again. Scott Podsednik runs in bunches. The year he swiped 70 bases, 19 of them came in September alone. So, if I give Taveras 130 games or so, at best, that means Podsednik will have his chances as well. For now I give Taveras the No. 10 total of 35 steals, and leave Podsednik with 22 steals, but we could easily adjust those numbers.

Who missed: Ultimately, I believe the Dodgers will find a new home for Pierre. There's a sucker born every minute, after all. Pierre steals only 12 bases in the first half of the season, then 20 after the trade to team moneybags. Maybe Pierre becomes what Dave Roberts was to Boston's first World Series winner. Ichiro Suzuki is missing from my list because he has stolen in the 30s five of the past six years, and I don't think he gets more than 35. He just misses the cut. I pegged Eric Byrnes and Corey Patterson for 34 steals in last week's 20/20 blog, and Alfonso Soriano and Nate McLouth for 32, and for now I will stick with that.

The big wild card for stolen bases is Ray Durham. Not Durham himself; he's not much of a runner anymore. But if he gets hurt, Eugenio Velez is ready to play second base and run like Jerry Owens. Velez profiles more as a utility guy, and it's possible the Giants will figure this out and play him sparingly. They also have Roberts and Rajai Davis. If it looks like Velez is about to get serious playing time, though, so don't wait to sign him. He's capable of 50 steals.

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