As spring training camps opened and the first drafts got underway for 2019 fantasy baseball, it was a good time to take stock of the game as a whole in terms of themes and where certain positions stand. In the not to recent past we have had the steroid home run era, followed by a pitching dominant run, followed now by a more recent long ball comeback. Through most of that era, stolen bases remained pretty much unchanged in terms of this being a potent part of the game and thus, a solid number of players were key contributors there. Alas, 2019 has brought about change on that front and none of it good as the stolen base all of a sudden is becoming endangered right before our eyes. Where at one time 60-steal seasons were a yearly occurrence, we now have the Kansas City Royals' Whit Merrifield leading the majors in 2018 with only 45. While 45 is a tremendous number on the surface, the fact this total led the league tells you all you need to know about how the stat is becoming quite scarce. As a result, guys like Merrifield and the increasingly few who steal bases in high numbers are commanding a very high price at the draft table and changing strategies on how to handle the category.
Now in terms of Merrifield the player, speed is clearly the name of the game here as last season's 45 years followed 34 the year prior when he first put his name on the map. Having cemented his status as a top-of-the-order guy for the Royals where the steals play very well, Merrifield also has shown an ability to hit for average (.280 or better each of the last three seasons) and also knock a few homers as well. While the 19 homers Merrifield hit in 2017 seemed to be a bit of an outlier, the 12 he smacked a year ago are still a decent total for someone who helps everywhere else. Then there is the eligibility as Merrifield qualifies both at second base and the outfield to begin the season. With the Royals being arguably the most aggressive baserunning team in the game, count on Merrifield once again going north of 40 steals and also scoring 80-plus runs with his average coming in around .300. While the cost will be high, Merrifield is someone you should feel comfortable with targeting as early as the third round this spring in your draft as the durability and dependable numbers make him well worth the investment.
2019 PROJECTION: .294 14 HR 65 RBI 88 R 44 SB