Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton hit the disabled list Thursday with a wrist injury, and while this is no longer a big deal in fantasy because he's not productive and is owned in less than 1 percent of ESPN standard mixed leagues, I'm a bit surprised the player most likely to benefit is no more popular. The Rockies have been using Eric Young Jr. to lead off recently and he's been up to the task, and for those needing stolen base aid, the best is surely yet to come.
Young, 27 and in his fifth big league season, has disappointed fantasy owners before, even when he was given opportunity to seize a regular role, so let's be a bit careful in setting expectations too high. Young's issues over the years have been numerous, from struggling to hit, to struggling to defend (he's no longer a regular option at second base), to struggling to stay healthy. Of course, he's always been able to run. Young stole 27 bases in 31 attempts in only 77 games in 2011, and last year he hit .316 with 14 steals in fewer than 200 at-bats.
The switch-hitting Young has been used in combination with the scorching Dexter Fowler at the top of the lineup and he's hitting .297 with a few stolen bases. On Thursday night he singled, doubled and scored a run, but most importantly he's playing. Last season when Young finally got a chance to play regularly in August he took major advantage, batting .406 with three home runs, three stolen bases and 13 runs scored in 18 games, until an oblique strain ended his season. Still, the Rockies seem interested in seeing what he can do, because he's probably running out of time to prove it. The team could have promoted Tyler Colvin, who hit .290 with 18 home runs for them last season, from Triple-A Colorado Springs, but the likely arrangement will be outfielder Michael Cuddyer handling first base regularly and Young in right field.
The reason to watch Young is for the opportunity he is getting to play, and the potential for stolen bases; he has 665 career at-bats over parts of five seasons and has swiped 64 bases. In addition, look at the team he plays for. Young possesses little power, but is a .310 hitter at Coors Field with 40 of his stolen bases, while he hits .215 on the road. I'd be comfortable using Young in home games initially in daily formats and see if he finally emerges, but also be wary that he's merely a utility player or fourth outfielder who can't handle the daily grind. That's possible, as well.
As for Helton, well, fantasy owners should simply thank him for his contributions over the years but not consider him unless it's an NL-only format, and even then, don't expect much.
Here are other players who, like Young, are owned in fewer than 5 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but feature some level of stolen base upside for those in deeper leagues.
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners: He hit 19 home runs and stole 21 bases a year ago, and is expected to come off the DL from his shoulder injury early next week. He had already stolen three bases in nine games and should be more popular.
Rajai Davis, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: He's 5-for-5 in steals, and certainly seems to be playing enough to keep this up, especially with Emilio Bonifacio playing himself out of at-bats. Davis could pretty easily swipe 35 bases even as a part-timer.
Nate McLouth, OF, Baltimore Orioles: Laugh if you must, but he's leading off against right-handed pitching and running, with seven steals already. Plus, for those in OBP formats, he's drawn 14 walks, against eight strikeouts. He could steal 25 bases.
Will Venable, OF, San Diego Padres: Also a lineup fixture against right-handed pitching and generally ignored in fantasy for what he can't do (hit for average), he's averaged 26 stolen bases the past three seasons.
Eduardo Nunez, SS, New York Yankees: He's struggling to hit .200, but he has to play regularly with Derek Jeter out until after the All-Star break, and he stole 11 bases with the big club in only 38 games last year.
Stephen Lombardozzi, 2B/OF, Washington Nationals: Manager Davey Johnson told reporters Wednesday he intended to get Lombardozzi in the lineup more regularly, and there's upside for double-digit steals.
Gregor Blanco, OF, San Francisco Giants: He's playing, and a year ago he stole 26 bases, so he's shown the speed and aggressiveness. And if you don't like Blanco, his teammate Andres Torres is his platoon partner in left field, and he has a pair of stolen bases in the past week and stole 26 a few seasons ago.
Jordan Schafer, OF, Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward shouldn't be out for more than a few weeks, but Schafer figures to get regular at-bats against right-handed pitching, and he did steal 27 bases in only 106 games last year.