Blink and you'll miss 'em: NL West speedsters
When it comes to baseball’s five tools, none is more electric than speed.
Few things are more exciting than watching an outfielder quickly cover a large expanse of ground to make a catch. An above-average home-to-first sprint time can turn what would normally be a routine out into a bang-bang play. And although today’s game puts less emphasis on stolen bases, the ability to swipe that key extra bag to get into scoring position can alter momentum instantaneously.
Put simply, elite speed has the capability to change the game.
Here’s a look at the most talented speedster on each team in the National League West.
D-backs: Tim Locastro
Although Tim Locastro has developed the reputation throughout his pro career of having an uncanny knack for getting hit by a pitch (once every 11.52 plate appearances in his career), the truly remarkable tool he has is his speed. Not only is Locastro the fastest player on the D-backs, he was the fastest in all of baseball last year using Statcast’s sprint speed metric, which is a measurement of a player's top running speed, expressed in feet per second in a player's fastest one-second window. Locastro’s sprint speed of 30.8 was better than the Nats’ Trea Turner (30.4) and the Twins’ Byron Buxton (30.3). Locastro’s speed is one of the reasons D-backs manager Torey Lovullo liked to start him on day games after night games, citing his energy and ability to make things happen on the basepaths. -- Steve Gilbert
Dodgers: Cody Bellinger
According to Statcast, from home to first, he was at 3.97 seconds in 2019, and his sprint speed is 28.8. Cody Bellinger’s numbers are even better than Mookie Betts’. Bellinger can do it all, and he probably doesn’t get enough credit for his running speed because he hits so many home runs. But speed is today’s focus. He stole 15 bases in 2019, one fewer than Betts, but led the Dodgers and had nearly twice as many as the next-closest teammate. Bellinger’s outfield ground covered also reflects his running speed, and he likes to take advantage of it with all-out hustle on offense and defense. -- Ken Gurnick
Giants: Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton has long been one of the fastest players in baseball and stole more than 50 bases in four consecutive seasons during his tenure with the Reds. His 29.5 ft./sec. sprint speed ranked near the top of the Statcast leaderboard last year, allowing him to wreak havoc on the basepaths as well as deliver elite defense in center field. Despite hitting .218 with a .289 on-base percentage in 2019, Hamilton stole 22 bases in 28 attempts and was worth seven defensive runs saved as a fielder. The 29-year-old veteran joined the Giants on a Minor League deal earlier this year, but expanded rosters could allow the club to use him as a pinch-runner or late-inning defensive replacement once play resumes. -- Maria Guardado
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr.
By the numbers, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s speed is excellent -- but not quite elite. His 29.3 ft./sec. sprint speed ranked 33rd among qualifying baserunners last season. That puts him around the same mark as fellow Padres speedster Franchy Cordero. But there aren’t many players who know how to use their speed quite like Tatis. He scores from third base on infield popups and grounders to the pitcher. He turns on the jets to escape routine rundowns. In short: Tatis is both very fast and very instinctive. That’s why, at age 21, he’s already one of the best baserunners in the sport. -- AJ Cassavell
Rockies: Garrett Hampson
Utility man Garrett Hampson has a desirable combination of elite speed and the opportunity to use it. On the Statcast sprint speed leaderboard, Hampson ranked fourth in the Majors with an average of 30.1 ft./sec. last season. Trained as a middle infielder, Hampson has learned to play center field, where his speed is of greater use defensively. Hampson went 15-for-18 on stolen-base attempts last season, and while his offense steadily improved, he will look to be more of a force in that category. -- Thomas Harding