Fantasy Baseball Category Killers: Steals

Fantasy Baseball Category Killers: Steals

By Rob Steingall
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Andres Torres, Mets: On a bit of a tear on the bases, stealing five during the past week, and a total of seven the previous two weeks. His batting average stinks, as does just about everything else he does, but he deserves a shot to help you while he's on a good run.

Jon Jay, Cardinals: He's never been a burner in the minors, but did steal 20 bases back in '09, and has consistently reached double figures during his career. With six already on the season, a run at 15 seems possible, along with his steady batting average and production.
Gregor Blanco, Giants: Blanco is getting extended playing time this season, and is really making the most of it on the bases, accumulating 14 steals to this point. If he keeps his job moving forward, he could double that total during the second half. You'll suffer in batting average with him in your lineup. But if you can afford to take the hit, he's a nice cheap option.
Drew Stubbs, Reds: Stubbs returned from his stint on the disabled list and promptly stole three bases in his first week back. The batting average is still abysmal, but you're going to live with that due to his tantalizing power and speed combination. If he stays healthy, there could be another 20 steals in his legs during the second half.

Alex Presley, Pirates: Not a burner by any stretch of the imagination, but he did swipe five bags in June and a combined 31 bases in '11 between Triple-A and the majors, so the pedigree is there for him to be a category asset. His total sits at eight on the season, but could easily rise to 20 by the time the season comes to a close.

Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

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Jimmy Rollins remains confident despite slow start for White Sox

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Jimmy Rollins isn’t happy with his offensive production so far this season. But a slow start hasn’t made the veteran White Sox shortstop any less confident.

Through 142 plate appearances this season, Rollins is hitting .231/.289/.346 with 10 extra-base hits and eight RBIs. But Rollins -- who has played in 33 games -- said prior to Thursday’s rainout he feels fresh. He also doesn’t see a huge difference between how he has been pitched in his first tour of the American League after 15-plus seasons in the National League.  

“I don’t think I’ve done enough,” Rollins said. “I could be hitting .400 and I’d still be wanting to hit .500. But I’m only .200 and some change. I haven’t done enough to help the team and I’ve had plenty of opportunities. The good thing is, that will change also as the season goes along and I start catching that rhythm again.”

Rollins has a career .825 OPS in 2,232 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

This season he’s hitting at a .417 clip in 30 plate appearances with seven RBIs. Rollins also struggled with RISP in 2015, hitting .464. But he spent part of that season dealing with injuries.

Nearly 30 percent through the campaign, Rollins feels healthy.

He has appeared in 33 games as White Sox manager Robin Ventura has given him routine days off to stay sharp. Rollins likes how Ventura has employed those days off, sometimes two at a time to allow Tyler Saladino to develop a rhythm and get at-bats. So far, Rollins said his playing time is what he expected when he opted to sign with the White Sox instead of the San Francisco Giants and others.

As far as switching leagues, Rollins doesn’t know a lot of the pitchers he’s facing but he does know the hitters, which has helped him line up in good position. He thinks the defensive side is a more important component.

“I don’t think it really makes a tremendous difference (hitting),” Rollins said. “If you’re putting good swings on the ball, no matter what league you’re in, you’re going to get hits.”

He expects those hits will come shortly.

Before Thursday’s game was wiped out, Ventura dropped Rollins from second to sixth in the lineup for the second time in a week. Melky Cabrera was scheduled to start in the No. 2 hole and Jose Abreu hit there several times on the team’s last homestand.

“I’ll be able to contribute more and that’ll make the job easier on everybody,” Rollins said. “It goes down the line. One guy is doing good, hitting becomes contagious. The next guy wants to hit, the next guy wants to hit and that turns into nobody wants to make an out and then you grind out those at-bats and you find a way to execute. You might catch the ball, but I’m not making an out. And that’s the difference. Sometimes when you’re trying to get hits, it’s like pitching --- you’re trying to make the pitch. You’ll do whatever it takes, even if that means going outside your box, and when you do that you’re not going to be successful.”

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

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GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.

White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

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White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox will remain in first place for at least another day.

With the Cleveland Indians off Thursday and their own contest washed away, the White Sox will maintain their half-game lead in the American League Central.

Set to open a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox instead received an unexpected day off as Thursday’s contest was rained out.

No makeup date has been announced, but a Royals spokesperson said the game wouldn’t be made up this weekend. The White Sox make two more trips to Kansas City later this season.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he wouldn’t make any changes to his rotation, which means Chris Sale will face the New York Mets on Monday instead of the Royals on Sunday.

Miguel Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos will instead be pushed back one day, starting Friday with Gonzalez.

The Royals altered their rotation, removing Ian Kennedy from Saturday’s start. Thursday’s scheduled starter, Danny Duffy, will move back one day to Friday and Yordano Ventura will not pitch on Saturday. Edinson Volquez will start on Sunday as previously scheduled and Kennedy will start again on Monday.