To be completely honest, I think Chris Towers nailed the biggest 2024 breakout hopefuls in his Breakouts 1.0. If you haven’t read it yet, please do! While I can double down on many of the names he wrote up, I’m going to take a slightly different approach. There are many definitions of a breakout but one of them includes, “suddenly and extremely popular or successful.” I’m opting to focus on the suddenly successful, players who will show something we haven’t seen before over a full season.
One of the things I love most about Fantasy Baseball is how much the player pool changes year over year. Last year a lot of my favorite breakout candidates were inside of the top 175 picks, including four inside the top 100. For whatever reason, the names I’m gravitating towards this year are going a little bit further down the draft board. I thought about including hitters like Matt McLain and Nolan Jones but technically they already broke out. Below I have 12 names I believe are ready to make a huge splash in 2024.
BOBBY MILLER, SP, DODGERS
Similar to Grayson Rodriguez and Eury Perez, there’s a lot of hype around Bobby Miller entering 2024. In fact, I like him even more than those other two. Miller just feels a little more polished and plays on the best team of the three. But why is there so much hype around Miller? He pitched well in his debut season, putting up a 3.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. While the strikeout rate was a little underwhelming at 23.6%, Miller has a nasty arsenal and I think those strikeouts could be on the rise. He averages 99.1 MPH on the fastball with three swing-and-miss secondaries in his curveball, slider and changeup.
According to Eno Sarris’ Stuff metric, which measures the physical characteristics of pitches, Miller ranked fifth among starting pitchers with at least 120 innings pitched. He got better in the second half, too, and it came in conjunction with a pitch-mix change. Miller dropped his slider usage and opted for more curveballs, which was a smart move. His curve looks like an elite pitch, posting a .184 batting average against, 13.3% swinging strike rate and 89th percentile spin rate. Considering Miller got up to 138.2 innings last year between the majors and minors, I don’t see any reason why he can’t push 175 innings in 2024. Miller’s going to cost you a top-100 pick but I think he’s worth it and should be drafted as a top-24 starting pitcher.
JACKSON CHOURIO, OF, BREWERS & WYATT LANGFORD, OF, RANGERS
Apologies, Scott White, but I had to borrow two names from your Sleepers 1.0. Let’s start with Chourio who is considered one of, if not the top prospect in all baseball. We saw that work out pretty well for Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson last year. Chourio made history this offseason, signing an eight-year, $82 million extension, the largest for a player yet to debut. Why, you ask? Well, Chourio does things other 19 year olds shouldn’t be able to do. Last year he hit .282 with 22 home runs and 44 steals across 128 games (122 at Double-A and six at Triple-A). He also made massive improvement in his plate discipline, lowering his strikeout rate from 27% in 2022 to 18% in 2023. Unless Chourio falls flat on his face during spring training, he will be on the Brewers’ Opening Day roster. Obviously there’s risk with any player this young but if it works out, we’re looking at league-winning potential.
That’s right. The Texas Rangers just won the World Series and now they’re adding one of the top prospects to their already stacked lineup. Wyatt Langford was the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft and, although it was a small sample, he tore up the minor leagues. In 44 games across four different levels, Langford hit .360 with 10 home runs, 12 steals, a 1.157 OPS and more walks than strikeouts (36 to 34). I’m not usually this aggressive on prospects with this little of a track record but everything just makes sense for him to be ready. Langford was one of the best college bats in the country at the University of Florida, his body is Major League ready and the Rangers have an opening at their DH spot. Oh, and we got this report just the other day.
MICHAEL KING, SP/RP, PADRES
As a Yankees fan it sucked that Michael King was traded to the Padres but it was for Juan freakin’ Soto after all. I can’t be too upset. King has all the potential in the world and he flashed it down the stretch last season. His final eight appearances were all starts and during that stretch, King posted a 1.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP with 48 strikeouts over 38.1 innings pitched. For anybody who had King on their Fantasy team, I’m sure you remember that 13-strikeout masterpiece against the Toronto Blue Jays. That’s the kind of upside we’re talking about here.
As we take a closer look at the arsenal, King has a four-pitch mix, which features a four-seam fastball, sinker, sweeper and changeup. Both the four-seam and sinker sit 94-95 MPH. His sweeper is one of the most visually-appealing in the game and produced a 16% swinging strike rate last year. On top of all that, the changeup had a .104 batting average against and a massive 22.5% swinging strike rate, a legit weapon against left-handed hitters. Everything is there for King to have a massive season in San Diego. The only question is the innings. King suffered a fractured elbow in 2022 but did manage 104.2 innings last year. I think he can push 150 innings in 2024 with great ratios and big strikeout upside. King is worth targeting as your SP3 or SP4 on draft day.
JAKE BURGER, 3B, MARLINS
Alright, maybe I cheated with this one. Jake Burger technically broke out last season, hitting 34 home runs with an .828 OPS. But I think he can be even better. Something changed once he was traded to Miami. In 53 games with the Marlins, Burger hit .303 with nine home runs, an .860 OPS and just a 22% strikeout rate. Up until the point he was traded, Burger’s career strikeout rate was nearly 32%! He’s always been an aggressive swinger at the plate but what he improved in Miami were some of his swing decisions. Burger swung at more pitches in the zone than ever before and, as a result, made more contact on those pitches.
Burger also possesses some of the best raw power in the game. His 91.9 average exit velocity ranked in the 89th percentile while his 16.7% barrel rate was in the 98th percentile. Burger’s 118.2 max exit velocity was the sixth highest in all of baseball. If he could somehow blend this new approach with his massive power, the sky is the limit. The .303 batting average he produced with the Marlins seems unrealistic but if everything works out, could Burger hit .275 with 35-plus home runs? It’s not impossible. Worst-case scenario is he goes back to striking out a lot but still produces elite-level power. Burger is a great fallback option at third base or somebody to target for power as your corner infielder or utility bat.
LOGAN O’HOPPE, C, ANGELS
Logan O’Hoppe has transitioned from one of my sleepers last year to a breakout in 2024. O’Hoppe was limited to just 51 games due to a torn labrum in his left shoulder, which landed him on the 60-day Injured List. He looked pretty impressive, however, in said 51 games. O’Hoppe hit 14 home runs with a .796 OPS and backed everything up with strong quality of contact. Among catchers with at least 100 batted ball events, O’Hoppe’s 90.5 average exit velocity ranked seventh while his 15.6% barrel rate ranked second behind only Sean Murphy.
In case you’re worried about the shoulder injury lingering and potentially affecting O’Hoppe’s power, he posted the same exact isolated power (.264) after the injury as he did before. I think there’s some sneaky playing time upside here as well. Now that Shohei Ohtani is no longer on the Angels, that frees up the designated hitter spot for creative usage. Brandon Drury is currently penciled in as the DH but Anthony Rendon has struggled to stay on the field and Logan Schanuel is unproven. There is a world where Drury has to play the field more and O’Hoppe could earn additional playing time at DH. Target O’Hoppe as a back-end starting catcher in a one-catcher league or a high-end second catcher in a two-catcher format.
JARREN DURAN, OF, BOS
Jarren Duran has been on the Fantasy radar for a few years now as a player who’s flashed some power and speed in the minors with the Red Sox. He brought those flashes to the majors in 2023, batting .295 with eight home runs and 24 steals across 102 games. Duran made big strides in multiple areas, including plate discipline, launch angle and splits. He lowered his strikeout rate from 28% in 2022 to 25% in 2023, showing elite ability to make contact within the strike zone (91.2% zone-contact).
Duran’s launch angle took a huge turn, too, as he basically swapped out a bunch of ground balls for line drives. He lowered his ground ball rate from 51% in 2022 to 41% in 2023 while raising his line drive rate from 15% to nearly 26%. One of my favorite things in Fantasy Baseball is seeing a young lefty bat improve against left-handed pitching. While it was only 49 plate appearances, Duran hit .289 with a respectable .749 OPS against lefties in 2023. Why does that matter? If the Red Sox trust those gains, Duran could be the everyday leadoff hitter for one of the 10 best lineups in baseball. If this works out the way I think it could, we’re looking at a player who could hit .260-plus with 12-15 home runs, 30-plus steals and a boat load of runs scored.
BRYAN WOO, SP, MARINERS
On the surface, Bryan Woo was solid in his rookie season, posting a 4.21 ERA and 1.21 WHIP across 18 starts with the Mariners. You know what happens next. As we dive a little deeper, we learn that Woo was better than just solid. Among rookies with at least 80 innings, Woo’s 12.5% swinging strike rate was tied for second with Kodai Senga. Woo also did a great job limiting hard contact. According to Statcast, Woo’s expected ERA was 3.45, which ranked in the 80th percentile.
Woo’s pitch repertoire is interesting, too, one that looks like a Lance Lynn impression. For years Lynn has kept hitters off balance with different iterations of the fastball. Nearly 88% of Woo’s pitches last year were different types of fastballs, including a four-seam, sinker and cutter. Everything starts and ends with Woo’s four-seam fastball that produced a .207 batting average against with a 16.3% swinging strike rate. To put that in perspective, Spencer Strider’s four-seam fastball had a 15.6% swinging strike rate last year. I believe Woo has upside with his secondary pitches, too. Although he didn’t use either pitch that much, his slider and cutter both limited hard contact and generated whiffs. Lastly, the Mariners have done a great job with their starting pitchers. Luis Castillo has been incredibly consistent since joining them plus they’ve developed Logan Gilbert and George Kirby into fine starting pitchers. Target Woo as a late-round option with big upside across 150-plus innings pitched.
BRANDON PFAADT, SP, DIAMONDBACKS
Haven’t we learned to not write prospects off too soon? Especially when it comes to young starting pitchers. I’ll admit that things looked pretty grim early on for Brandon Pfaadt. Through his first six career starts, Pfaadt posted a 9.82 ERA, allowing 10 walks and nine home runs. Adjustments were needed and adjustments were made. First up we had renowned pitching coach Brent Strom move Pfaadt to the first-base side of the rubber. According to this article from MLB.com, the move made Pfaadt’s pitches look more likes strikes coming out of his hand, thus creating more deception.
Upon returning in late July, Pfaadt also made a pitch-mix change, adding a sinker and throwing more sweepers. Considering he had major issues with home runs, the sinker would help mitigate that by generating more ground balls. The sweeper has been Pfaadt’s best pitch, allowing just a .180 batting average against with a 19% swinging strike rate. Over his final 16 starts (postseason included), Pfaadt pitched to a 3.96 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with 93 strikeouts over 86.1 innings. He was pivotal in the postseason and legitimately part of the reason the Diamondbacks made it to the World Series. Obviously, I’m projecting Pfaadt continues to improve in 2024 but, given his prospect pedigree and the guidance of Strom, I think he’ll get there.
EMMET SHEEHAN, SP, DODGERS
Emmet Sheehan was a name to watch entering 2023 following a strong showing in the minors the year prior. He was promoted by the Dodgers in June of last year and, like Pfaadt, got off to a rocky start. Over Sheehan’s first eight games (seven starts), he posted a 5.63 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, struggling to find the plate or generate whiffs. Unsurprisingly, he got sent down to the minors where adjustments were needed. Sheehan returned in September with a new pitch-mix and massive strikeout ability.
Over his final five games (four starts), Sheehan posted a 3.68 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 34 strikeouts over 22 innings. His 19.7% swinging strike rate during that span led all pitchers with at least 20 innings in September. Sheehan opted to lower his fastball usage while throwing more sliders and changeups. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic when I say this but Sheehan’s secondary pitches have the upside to be some of the best in baseball. Last year his slider and changeup both had a batting average against under .180 while generating huge whiffs. There are already reports that the Dodgers want to use a six-man rotation this year to protect guys like Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Walker Buehler. That means Sheehan has a pretty clear opportunity if he can seize it. You should target Sheehan as a late-round option with huge strikeout potential.
NELSON VELAZQUEZ, OF, ROYALS & MATT WALLNER, OF, TWINS
These last two are pretty straight forward. They’re both mashers who displayed big skills and have a pretty clear opportunity in 2024. Let’s start with Nelson Velazquez, the former Arizona Fall League MVP back in 2021. Though he played just 53 games last year, his presence was felt. Velazquez blasted 17 home runs during that span, a 51-homer pace over a full season. The power was supported by an insane 21.4% barrel rate, which ranked second among hitters with 100 batted ball events. Velazquez is currently projected to be the starting DH for the Royals, a team that could use all the offensive firepower it can get.
Matt Wallner has consistently displayed big power in the Twins’ minor-league system and got a chance to display that in 2023. In 76 games he blasted 14 home runs with an .877 OPS. Like Velazquez, the power is backed up by huge Statcast numbers. Wallner posted an 18.8% barrel rate, which ranked sixth among hitters with 100 batted ball events. The difference between Wallner and Velazquez is that the former is a left-handed bat on a Twins team that loves to platoon their hitters. Expect Wallner to play less than Velazquez but regardless, both have 30-homer upside and are going outside the top-250 picks in early drafts.
Enjoy a mammoth home run from each of these sluggers!