Scouts and front-office executives love speed.
It’s one of their favorite tools.
An above-average runner is considered a “plus runner.” A player with a “plus, plus run tool” is a game-changer. A player’s speed can obviously help him rack up stolen bases, and sometimes it’s what immediately comes to mind, but good speed also comes into play in situations like advancing from first to third base, second base to home and covering ground in the outfield. It’s very likely that your favorite team has a few plus runners on its roster and, if you’re lucky, a couple of plus, plus runners, too. That’s by design.
Speed can be the difference between winning and losing.
For our American League West notebook this week, our beat writers identified the player on the clubs they cover with the best speed. This is what the experts said:
Angels: Mike Trout
Mike Trout's speed is one of the more underrated parts of his game, and he again led the Angels in average sprint speed in 2019. According to Statcast, Trout had an average sprint speed of 29.2 feet per second, edging Michael Hermosillo (28.6) and Shohei Ohtani (28.2). Trout has stolen at least 10 bases in each of his eight full seasons, including 11 last season.
Trout also became the youngest player ever to reach 200 homers and 200 stolen bases. He has never won an AL Gold Glove Award in center field, but his speed and improved arm strength make him an above-average defender.
Top prospect Jo Adell also has elite speed but wasn't expected to make the roster out of Spring Training. -- Rhett Bollinger
Astros: Myles Straw
Myles Straw was tied for fourth last year in the Majors in top average sprint speed at 30.1 feet per second, per Statcast. Only Arizona's Tim Locastro (30.8), Washington’s Trea Turner (30.4) and Minnesota’s Byron Buxton (30.3) were faster than Straw, who figures to take a bigger role with the Astros this year following the trade of Jake Marisnick to the Mets.
Straw, 25, played in 56 games as a utility player for the Astros last season, going 8-for-9 in stolen bases. He stole 70 bases in the Minor Leagues in 2018. Astros third-base coach Gary Pettis, who had 354 stolen bases in 11 years in the big leagues, said Straw has what it takes to be an elite basestealer, and that’s beyond speed. Pettis said Straw has the right mentality and willingness for his body to take the extra pounding that comes with stealing bases and sliding. -- Brian McTaggart
Athletics: Ramón Laureano
If Jorge Mateo had a more secure roster spot with the A’s, he easily would be the selection here. Oakland’s No. 7 prospect is considered to be one of the fastest players in baseball with 80-grade speed, but we’ll stay away from Mateo here, given his uncertain status on the roster bubble and go with Ramón Laureano.
The A’s offensive philosophy has strayed away from stealing bases in recent years, but Laureano made the most of his opportunities on the basepaths last season with a team-leading 13 swiped bags while getting caught only twice. The A's believe Laureano can be a five-tool player and, having stolen 43 bases in the Astros' Minor League system in 2016, that ability is clearly there. He also utilizes that speed to track down fly balls in the outfield, with a majority of his several highlight-reel plays over the past two seasons made possible because of it. This tool is especially useful playing most of his games in the spacious Oakland Coliseum. -- Martin Gallegos
Mariners: Mallex Smith
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Mallex Smith had a disappointing season offensively while posting a .227/.300/.335 slash line in 134 games last year, but speed doesn’t slump, and the center fielder still managed to lead the Majors with 46 stolen bases in 55 attempts. Smith was an impressive 19-for-19 in stolen-base attempts against left-handers and pulled off the cycle of stolen bases on May 27 against the Rangers when he walked, then stole second, third and home in the same inning in a 6-2 victory.
Smith has some competition on the Mariners in Dee Gordon, who ranked eighth in the Majors in Statcast’s average home-plate-to-first-base time at 4.01 seconds among players with 50 or more competitive opportunities. Smith ranked ninth, one spot behind Gordon, at 4.03. But Smith’s 29.4 feet per second average sprint speed (which also includes runs of two or more bases on non-home runs) was well ahead of Gordon’s 28.5.
It would be an interesting race if the two speedsters matched up on a track, but at this point the 27-year-old Smith appears a slight favorite over the 32-year-old Gordon, who led MLB in stolen bases in 2014, ’15 and ’17. -- Greg Johns
Rangers: Danny Santana
Center fielder Danny Santana inherited the title of fastest Rangers player after Delino DeShields was traded to the Indians. Santana gets the edge over Nick Solak, who also can run. Santana was a breakout player for the Rangers last season after coming to camp on a Minor League contract. His speed was a main attraction, and he stole 21 bases in 130 games. He also had six triples. He had seven triples and 20 stolen bases over 130 games for the Twins in 2014, his best season in the big leagues until his comeback year in '19.
Santana had 2.54 putouts per nine innings in center field last season, eighth-best in the AL among players with 25 games there. That's why the Rangers feel comfortable with him hitting at the top of their order and playing every day in center. -- T.R. Sullivan