The player who led the champion St. Louis Cardinals in stolen bases a year ago is going to do so again in 2012, making him an interesting sleeper for that fantasy category.
Do you know whom I'm talking about? Not Ryan Theriot, who played 132 games and stole a sad four bases in 10 attempts. Not Rafael Furcal, who is a shell of his former self and barely runs anymore. Not Nick Punto. Not Matt Holliday; he attempted three steals all year. Not Jon Jay, who was caught seven of 13 times. And not Albert Pujols.
This will be the fourth big league season for utility infielder Tyler Greene, and it will be his best. Sure, that's not saying much since the guy has a .218 career batting average in parts of three seasons and I'm not saying Greene is going to become the next Jeff Kent or anything, but the guy has some pop and certainly can run. Last season, Greene stole a team-high 11 bases despite getting barely 100 at-bats (13 Cardinals with more ABs). In fact, Greene has yet to be caught stealing in 16 attempts in the majors, and it's not a fluke.
What he has yet to earn is an opportunity to play more, but it's coming. Well past prospect status at age 28, Greene has big league stats that look nothing like what he has accomplished in the minors. Perhaps he'll never hit enough to keep a regular job, but I don't assume that based on just three seasons of fill-in work. In 2011, over a mere 66 games for Triple-A Memphis, the righty-hitting Greene swatted 14 home runs and stole 19 bases in 21 attempts. His OPS was 1.001. He totaled 31 home runs and 51 stolen bases in 2008 and '09.
Getting to repeat seasons as a Memphis Redbird helps and he doesn't draw many walks, so batting average could be a problem. But I wouldn't be shocked if Greene seizes the chance, reaches double digits in home runs and steals 20 bases this year for the Cardinals. You know who seems to agree with me? Cardinals GM John Mozeliak.
"One of the things myself, Mike [Matheny] and the major league staff thought was intriguing was giving Tyler Greene an opportunity to take this position," Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "His athleticism and what he brings to the table as far as speed and power ... it's a unique skill set. [That] set is something that traditionally we haven't had in our lineup."
While spring numbers aren't to be trusted, it is telling that Greene leads the team in at-bats. The Cardinals seem to want him playing so they can get a good look at him. Skip Schumaker is hurt, and Daniel Descalso is pretty uninspiring. Greene has five extra-base hits, one of them a home run, and four stolen bases in five attempts. He might even project as a top-of-the-lineup option thanks to his speed. I wanted Greene in my LABR NL auction a few weeks ago, but when the bidding hit $5 -- that's a lot in an NL-only format for a player who wasn't guaranteed playing time -- I had to drop out. I now wish I had kept going.
I wouldn't draft Greene in a 10-team mixed standard league, but watch him in deeper formats or if you're desperate for stolen bases. Below is a list of 20 other players not among the top 260 in ESPN average live drafts and owned in fewer than 5 percent of leagues who are capable of stealing 20-plus bases:
Eric Young Jr., Colorado Rockies: Yes, he's on this list seemingly every year. He's the NL version of Davis, not really a good player but very fast and not needing a ton of at-bats to steal 20 bases. Note that he does not have second-base eligibility in most league setups.
Collin Cowgill, Oakland Athletics: Monster numbers at Triple-A Reno last season, though you can disregard his .354 batting average. The speed is legit, however, and he has a brighter future than Coco Crisp.
Gregor Blanco, San Francisco Giants: He's leading everyone with nine stolen bases this spring and is coming off an MVP season in the Venezuelan winter league. It likely will result in a roster spot, and if/when Angel Pagan gets hurt ...
Tyler Pastornicky, Braves: He'll likely beat out raw Andrelton Simmons for the shortstop job and steal 20 bases. Won't help you much elsewhere, though.
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds: This is the guy who stole 103 bases in the minors last year. He's not ready offensively or defensively for the bigs, but if Zack Cozart isn't either, Hamilton could be on the fast track.
Finally, here's a reminder that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, while starting their respective seasons in the minors, do run. Trout should run a lot. Harper is fast enough to steal 20 bases as well if given enough playing time.