Every draft I take place in, I seem to find myself contemplating the same decision during the early-middle rounds. The proposition I seem to be debating is whether or not I want to stake an early claim to the top spot of the Steals category, or would I rather wait around and make a late move on a pure-speed play. Sometimes I want to grab the last elite base stealer who can contribute in multiple categories, so that the remainder of my draft I can focus on adding overall team depth instead of trying to find a guy who can keep me competitive in the SB category. It's important to me in my early mock drafts to understand when this decision needs to be made. So far in 2013, it's looking like somewhere around picks 65-75.
I took place in a 12-team Yahoo mock draft today and was faced with an interesting decision in Round 7 when I was on the clock and wanted to pull the trigger on a top-flight SB contributor. The decision was between Desmond Jennings and Michael Bourn. Neither would likely be around for my next pick so I felt the need to grab one, but couldn't make a compelling case for one over the other in the 90 seconds allotted for each pick.
Roster construction comes in to play a bit with this decision, because if you have yet to take a player who can contribute in the SB department, than Bourn is probably the better pick. But if you are lucky enough to grab a Trout, Braun, CarGo, Kemp, Reyes, Castro early on, than the decision is pretty wide open. I grabbed Bourn because the additional SBs he is likely to provide seemed move valuable given the construct of my current roster, but I felt as though a further comparison of the two players would prove wise if I were to face the same situation come draft day.
Case for Michael Bourn:
Bourn is a more proven commodity and a sure bet to swipe 40+ bags in 2013. 5 straight years of 40+ SBs, 90+ Rs in 3 of the last 4 years, and an AVG that plays up with the extra ABs Bourn receives as a leadoff hitter. Bourn's future home of Cleveland does not have a significant impact on his fantasy value. Speed plays everywhere. The Cleveland offense looks pretty good on paper with Kipnis, Swisher, and Santana projected to bat 3,4,5. A 90, 5, 45, 40, .265 season should be the floor for a guy who has remained healthy for the last 4 seasons.
Bourn is the play if you are comfortable with his floor and not willing to risk it on Desmond Jennings who does not have the track record to project much of a floor or a ceiling. Bourn also hit a career-high 9 HRs in 2012, which was helped by an extreme HR/FB rate of 8.0% (his previous high was 5.2%). I'm not sure the power is repeatable in Cleveland, and Bourn could chip in 5-7 HR's this year. 2013 projections for Bourn seem pretty consistent with SBs ranging from 40-49 and AVG from .273-.277.
Case for Desmond Jennings:
DJ is all about upside. He can easily double and might even triple Bourn's Home Run total in 2013 while providing comparable numbers in steals and runs. Jennings falls a little short of Bourn in AVG but makes up for it with the additional RBIs that his power provides. The K/BB ratios are identical for both players, which leaves me optimistic on Jennings' chances to improve his AVG to a respectable .270 level. If he can sustain that sort of production, I think Jennings steals 40+ bases and makes it a wash in that category in comparison to Bourn. If that's the case, Jennings is the slam-dunk pick with the additional 10 HRs and 10-20 RBIs he will likely produce in 2013.
Desmond Jennings should also benefit from hitting atop an improved (or at least healthier) lineup in Tampa Bay. With a near full-season now under his belt, Jennings should only improve on his 2012 season and could end up providing 3rd or 4th Round value out of the 7th or 8th Round. DJ is also getting picked around 12 spots later than Michael Bourn according to MockDraftCentral.com.
Deeper analysis between the two players leads me to believe that Desmond Jennings is the player to covet in 2013 drafts. I prefer Jennings to Bourn at any pick in the draft, but considering I should be able to wait an additional round to grab Jennings, I think scooping him up before the SBs dry up is a great move. Following the Bourn and Jennings picks in Round 8, the next selections of players expected to contribute heavily in steals were: Jose Altuve (Round 9), Shane Victorino (Round 10), and Ben Revere (Round 12). A terrible lineup, an aging veteran, and an awful OBP are all big flaws in this next tier of SB threats. I love the move of pulling the trigger on Jennings in Round 7 or 8 and using the rest of the draft to lock down a rotation and add all around depth on offense, instead of spending one or two picks on speculative SB players.
If you have any in-depth comparisons you'd like to see for this series, please make a note in the comments or tweet me (@BrianCreagh) and I'll be sure to get to it.