At this point in the draft, you will likely have the foundations of a team with some clear strengths and weaknesses, and a need to balance those out. An outfielder like Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton or Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury can single-handedly turn the stolen base category into a team strength, so they are great target's for the middle rounds if that's where your team is lacking. But who do we prefer?
Upton has swiped at least 40 bases in each of the last three seasons, while Ellsbury had a whooping 120 over his first two full seasons before spending most of last year on the sideline with a lingering rib injury. Ellsbury should steal a few more than Upton again, given the same number of opporunities – and sure enough, RotoWire projects them to have identical .346 on-base percentages. But what Upton has is a more balanced game.
Ellsbury has never had more than nine home runs in a baseball season going all the way back to his college days at Oregon State. He has also never drove in more than 60 RBI in a season, and he will continue to lead off for the Red Sox in 2011 where his opportunities will be limited. Upton, on the other hand, hit 18 home runs last season and has a 24 home run season in his past. Scouts have long hinted that he would become a true power threat at some point, and while the odds of that developing go down each year, it's still better than Ellsbury's chances. Upton will also be hitting lower in the order, resulting in more RBI.
The problem is Upton also carries the batting average and strikeout rate of a power hitter. I'd love to put the cherry on top of my case for Upton being a clear choice over Ellsbury with a nice statistical indicator his batting average will rise, but there really isn't one. So the conclusion here is rather hazy. Ellsbury will give you 10-20 extra steals, while Upton is more balanced across the board and has some power potential, but it comes at the cost of a lower batting average.
The takeaway here is really to maintain tabs on your team needs. Remember, your draft board should be fluid. Entering the draft, you may have a slower outfielder such as Jay Bruce ranked above one of the aforementioned speedsters. But keep the current makeup of your team on the forefront of you mind when drafting - if you're lacking in steals, make the adjustment on the fly and take the asset on the base paths.
Late Round Sleeper – While on the topic, it would be prudent to mention one sleeper pick that may be able to provide the same production as Jacoby Ellsbury, but five or more rounds later in the draft and without the concern over returning from an injury. Brett Gardner has been going in the 12th round of the mock drafts run on RotoWire.com and Mock Draft Central, and he is nearly a lock for 40 steals with the potential for 50+, and maintains a decent .270's batting average. He's also going to score a lot of runs in the Yankee's lineup. He may not be a true sleeper as we don’t expect a huge performance improvement, but he's a good value at his current draft slot.