Tyler Austin: Sure he stole just four bases last season but it was an injury-marred year for the slugger. Despite being an average runner overall speed-wise he has proven to be an elite runner where it counts. His stolen base success rate is 96 percent in his career now and return to health should get him back up to the 20-plus stolen base seasons he is capable of posting.
Cito Culver: Like Austin, the 2010 first round pick is more of an average runner overall but he can be an impact runner when he picks up his aggressiveness. He's not nearly as polished as Austin in the nuances of reading pitchers, but he stole 13 bases last year after stealing 22 the season prior. He'll get caught a little too often but he should get back to being a 20-plus stolen base threat the more he consistently gets on base.
Anderson Feliz: This Dominican speedster is entering a make or break season in 2014. He simply hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to not only have a true impact in the running game but to even further hone his overall baseball skills. A plus runner, he is naturally quick enough to rank higher here but he is running out of opportunities to prove it on the field.
Ramon Flores: The Venezuelan native is still very much in the development phase of his game, especially in the running department. He stole just seven bases last season [and was caught six times] but he is quicker than that total would suggest. With his ability to get on base at a high rate and with average speed overall, he should get back to being the 15-20 stolen base guy he was the two seasons prior to last year.
Dustin Fowler: Last year's 18th round pick out of high school often gets compared to Cave as an athletic player with above average speed. And like Cave he's a better runner once he's in motion so he needs to work on his first burst jumps and learn to read pitchers' moves better to become a better base stealer, but the talent is there to do so.
Aaron Judge: Last year's first round pick has yet to make his official professional debut and, more noted for his slugging ways, he does bring a good deal of athleticism to the table. He's quite quick for somebody standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 270 pounds so even though a good number of his hits should go for extra bases he does have enough wheels to chip in with 15-plus stolen bases each year too.
Jorge Mateo: We mentioned a year ago that his modest four stolen bases in the Dominican Summer League in 2012 disguised the fact that this Dominican native was a plus runner and he proved exactly that last season in the Dominican Summer League, stealing a farm system-leading 49 bases, nearly double that of the States-side leader. He'll shoot up to the top of these rankings once he's a permanent fixture in the States.
Jose Pirela: This Venezuelan native's 19 stolen bases ranked him fourth in stolen bases in the farm system last year [not including Mateo]. He has had alternating years of success on the base paths after stealing just nine bases the year before but he really is more of the 20-plus stolen base threat he was last season despite being an average runner overall.
Derek Toadvine: Like Mateo, when it comes to pure natural speed Toadvine would rank near the top of these rankings. Unlike Mateo, however, Toadvine still has a lot to learn in the running game itself to make optimal use of his great speed. Easily a 70-runner on the traditional scouting scale, he stole just seven bases in Staten Island last season [and was caught six times]. He is very raw and there are some questions about his long-term potential as a hitter, but should that area of his game come around and he make the tweaks to his running game he could have a major impact.
Top Ten Speed Prospects
10) Jake Cave: The 2011 sixth round pick finally made his long awaited debut last season and didn't disappoint. A slightly above average runner overall, his running game plays a level higher because of his all-out hustle and aggressive style of play. He is still a little raw reading pitchers' moves and he'll have his fair share of mistakes, but he is a solid 20-plus stolen base threat already.
9) Ben Gamel: There are faster natural runners in the farm system but few offer quite the blend of above average speed, good instincts on the base paths, the right combination of aggressiveness and awareness, and solid on base skills to have a number of running opportunities like Gamel. He ranked third in the farm system in stolen bases with 22 last season and if he ever becomes a big league starting outfielder he should be an annual 20-plus stolen base threat.
8) Angelo Gumbs: A gifted athlete with above average, borderline plus speed, Gumbs struggled mightily getting on base last season and it affected his stolen base totals too. He still stole 16 bases in a down year, however, thanks in large part to his ultra-aggressive running style. He will make his fair share of running gaffes but he has the speed and determination to even turn miscues into positive results.
|BANKABLE: Refsnyder is a consistent player, including in the running game. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
6) Claudio Custodio: While he hasn't been hurt nearly as much as Feliz, Custodio, another Dominican native, is entering a make or break year of sorts. He too has the natural speed to rank much higher on this list but with Culver in front of him and Avelino hard-charging right behind him among shortstops he is at a career crossroads. He needs a breakout season in the worst way to remain a starting prospect candidate -- if he can do that he has the wheels to be a 40-50 stolen base threat each year, maybe even more. The bat has to come around quickly though.
5) Tyler Wade: It might not be long before last year's fourth round pick headlines this list someday. While he isn't a true plus runner, he is a borderline one who is easily above average. Throw in an ability to get on base at a high clip, natural baseball instincts and a high base acumen, as well as brimming confidence, he could be a major impact base stealer someday. He already easily projects to be 30-plus stolen base threat -- the question is how much extra is in the tank.
|GET AGGRESSIVE Katoh needs to make running more a big priority. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
3) Abiatal Avelino: Avelino actually led the farm system last year [in the United States] in stolen bases with 28 and mentally he is exactly what Katoh [and others] should strive to be. More of an above average runner than a plus one, Avelino is super aggressive in the running game and uses his natural instincts to be an impact runner. He would rank higher on this list if he were either quicker or if his body wasn't projected to potentially get a lot bigger in the coming years. Either way though, he is a lot of fun to watch in the running game.
2) Slade Heathcott: There's a wild Mustang just waiting to be unleashed with Heathcott. A true plus runner, health has been and remains his biggest issue. Easily as fast as Brett Garder, Heathcott hasn't had nearly the same impact in the running game because he hasn't been consistent enough to get on base at high clip and he's a little gun shy in the running game. He screams plus running potential, however, should his health [he is coming off of another knee surgery] and confidence ever reach acceptable levels.
1) Mason Williams: Like Heathcott, Williams is still a wildly untapped talent whose running potential hasn't come close to being realized. He battled weight issues a year ago and it was one of the reasons he ended up with just 15 stolen bases in what many would deem a very down year for the natural plus runner. He is still a little raw reading pitchers' moves too but he still projects to be a high impact base stealer someday. Expect a big turnaround in 2014.