2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: This year's Ronald Acuna, Spencer Strider, and more



In all likelihood, there won’t be a “This Year’s Ronald Acuña” in 2024, so I’ll admit right off the top, this hook is a bit misleading. Acuña just had one of the best Fantasy seasons ever – according to Razzball.com’s historical player rater, his $71.5 value in 2023 was the highest mark any player has ever managed, topping Honus Wagner’s 1908 campaign. 

So, yeah, it would be unfair to say anyone will be this year’s Ronald Acuña … but I’m gonna do it. I’m not saying anyone is going to be as good as Acuña was last season, but I think we can look at what Acuña did, where he was being drafted, and how he got there, and identify at least one other player who might be able to pull off a similar trick.

This column is about finding 2024’s versions of last year’s superlative players – both good and bad. Acuña is where we’re starting, but I’ve got six other player comps here for you to consider. 

The first-rounder who becomes the No. 1 pick next season. 

Fernando Tatis, OF, Padres

The comp to Acuña isn’t perfect, but the similarities here are noteworthy, starting with the fact that these are both players who looked like they were on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory as soon as they got to the majors in their early 20s – Tatis hit .293/.369/.596 in his age-20 through 22 seasons – before dealing with injuries that cost them a season and had them looking like much diminished versions of themselves entering the season. 

That’s where the comp starts, though it’s worth noting that Tatis is facing quite a few more hurdles than Acuna was. Acuna missed about a year between 2021 and 2022 after tearing his ACL, while Tatis missed the entirety of the 2022 season recovering from wrist surgery, then underwent shoulder surgery toward the end of 2022, two significant injuries to come back from – arguably even more significant than a torn ACL. And then, of course, there’s the PED suspension that also wiped out Tatis’ comeback plans in 2022 and cost him part of the start of last season. We have no reason to think Tatis was taking steroids prior to his failed test, but there will always be skepticism attached to any player who fails a test, fairly or unfairly.

And the fact that Tatis’ quality of contact was by far the worst of his career in 2023 certainly didn’t help calm the skeptics down. I’m willing to chalk that up to missing a year recovering from two significant injuries – and I’m sure whatever weird malaise seemed to befall the entire Padres team last year didn’t help. Tatis looked like a shell of himself, but I think it can be easy to get bogged down too much in the details and miss that he still went 25-25 with 169 combined runs and RBI in 141 games. In a down season.

I don’t want to oversimplify things, but it’s worth taking a step back and appreciating some context. In the entirety of MLB history, there have been six players with an OPS better than Tatis’ .965 mark before their age-23 season with a minimum of 1,100 plate appearances. Of those six, four are in the Hall of Fame (Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Dimaggio, and Mel Ott); one will be inducted on the first ballot in 2028 (Albert Pujols); and one is Juan Soto, who bounced back in a big way in 2023 after a down 2022 of his own. In short: There is no track record of a player being as good as Tatis was as young as he was not ending up as a Hall of Famer. Bet on that profile. 

The first-rounder who falls well short.

Shohei Ohtani, DH, Dodgers

It’s still not entirely clear what kind of ligament repair operation Ohtani underwent, so maybe it isn’t fair to compare him to other hitters who have had Tommy John surgery. He apparently didn’t have a fully Tommy John surgery like he did back in 2018, so the assumption is he had some kind of internal brace procedure, similar to Trevor Story’s last year. Story has told reporters he felt like he “was basically just trying to survive at the plate,” though it’s worth noting that he also was on a very different timeline than Ohtani – he had surgery in January of last year, while Ohtani had his surgery back in September. 

Still, we’ve had a few high-profile instances of hitters undergoing ligament replacement or repair and struggling in their returns. Story is one of the most obvious comps, but let’s not forget that, for much of last season, Bryce Harper was a shell of himself. He still hit the ball hard and had his typically excellent plate discipline, but he lost a bit of quality of contact and struggled to elevate the ball, especially early in the year. Ohtani’s 2019 season saw similar trends, as he maintained elite 92.8 mph average exit velocity, but saw his launch angle drop from 12.4 degrees to 6.8; Story also had the lowest average launch angle of his career last season, for what it’s worth.

None of those situations are perfectly comparable to what Ohtani is going through, and he’s a walking outlier that makes it hard to bet against him. But between the recovery from the surgery, his need to begin the rehabilitation process so he can pitch in 2025, and the transition from one league to another – something that historically has led to an adjustment period, though that effect has been somewhat muted making the AL-to-NL move Ohtani is – Ohtani has a lot to overcome. He’s a singular outlier in baseball history, so it never feels good betting against him. But he’s still human, despite what he does routinely on the baseball field, and if you’re looking for ways for things to go wrong for him this season, there are an awful lot of obstacles to overcome for a first-rounder. 

The “unproven” young pitchers who establishes himself as arguably the best SP. 

Eury Perez, SP, Marlins 

I declared my love for Perez Wednesday, and I just want to reiterate that this is exactly the kind of profile you should bet on, similar to the case with Tatis. Perez just became just the eighth pitcher since 1947 to throw at least 90 innings with an ERA+ of 140 or better before his age-21 season, so we’re already talking about rarified air. Even removing the ERA+ factor, Perez was the first pitcher since 2013 to even throw 90 innings in an MLB season as a 20-year-old. The five to do it before him? Jose Fernandez, Jordan Lyles, Madison Bumgarner, Rick Porcello, and Clayton Kershaw; Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke were the last two before that group, so he’s keeping pretty good company. 

And that’s the thing I keep coming back to with Perez – he doesn’t even turn 21 until two weeks after this season begins. He’s about a year younger than Paul Skenes, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft; he’s younger than Jackson Jobe and Ricky Tiedemann, two top prospects who may make their debut this season; he’s five days older than Andrew Painter, a pitching prospect we almost certainly won’t see until 2025, at the earliest. 

So yeah, Perez is young. He’s also very, very good, posting a 29% strikeout rate and 3.15 ERA, with a 3.61 xERA as a rookie. Each of his slider, curveball, and changeup were among the top 10 in baseball in whiff rate for their pitch type, and they recorded elite quality-of-contact metrics, too. His fastball is a bit underwhelming for being a high-90s pitch – Perez is so tall that he’s probably always going to have trouble generating a ton of whiffs or keeping the ball on the ground. Still, it’s a profile that looks like an ace’s even without accounting for Perez’s extreme youth. 

When you do account for that … well, it looks like a pitcher you should bet on winning at least one Cy Young before he’s done. I wouldn’t bet on it this season, because he probably tops out around 175-180 innings, but I’m pretty confident Perez is going to pitch like an ace this season. Probably even a top-12 pitcher. 

The early-round pick who performs like a top-five pick. 

Pete Alonso, 1B, Mets

Let’s just go with Matt Olson’s carbon copy. These two have been joined at the hip for Fantasy for years, but now Alonso finds himself about a round behind Olson in ADP after a 2023 that saw them move in separate directions. With Alonso, it mostly comes down to batting average – he hit just .217 last season, thanks to a .205 BABIP, the lowest of his career by nearly 70 points in a full season. Otherwise, he was Pete Alonso – he struck out right around a league average rate and hit 46 homers and drove in 118 runs in 154 games. Remember, he led the majors in RBI in 2022, and while the Mets offense is obviously a few steps behind the Braves’, it’s still likely to be above-average, especially at the top of the lineup. With Alonso in a contract year, I think it makes sense to put down a few future’s bets if you can – one for Alonso to lead the league in homers, and another for him to do the same with RBI. 

The left-for-dead former star who turns his career around. 

Byron Buxton, OF, Twins

The best-laid plans of mice, men, and Twins, and all that. I know. But the fact is, the Twins have spent the entire offseason talking about how much better this offseason has gone for Buxton, who is slated to play center field on something like a full-time basis after having knee surgery in October. He didn’t play the outfield at all last season, so I’m taking this as a good sign. 

Buxton really struggled last season even when he was on the field, posting an OPS below .825 for the first time since 2018. Say what you want about Buxton and his inability to stay on the field, but it was legitimately surprising to see him struggle like that – between 2019 and 2022, he had hit .258/.316/.558 with a 41-homer, 18-steal pace per-162 games. I obviously don’t expect Buxton to play 162 games at this point, but hopefully the fact that he’s at least healthy this preseason bodes well for his chances of at last staying on the field more often in 2024. If he does, I’m expecting a bounce-back performance, and there’s still legitimate 35-homer upside here if he manages to play even 120 games. The nice thing about this bet? Buxton’s ADP is just 272.0 in FantasyPros’ consensus right now, so it’s basically a free bet. Draft him for your bench at first, and slot him into your fifth-outfielder slot once he gains eligibility and enjoy the profit for as long as he’s on the field. 

The expected ace who doesn’t perform like one. 

Freddy Peralta, SP, Brewers

I think Peralta is probably going to be pretty good, but there’s definitely some Cease in his profile. His command isn’t quite as iffy as Cease’s, but you only have to go back to last year’s All-Star break to see a version of Peralta that wasn’t particularly appetizing for Fantasy purposes – he had a 4.70 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, and a 9.6% walk rate in the first half last season. He bounced back in a massive way in the second half, posting a 2.81 ERA and the next K:BB ratio of any starter, so the Fantasy community is buying back in on him as an ace.

And I mostly get it. But not entirely. Among the top 20 starters in ADP, Peralta has to be one of the worst bets to get to 170 innings, something he’s never done at any level in his career. His elite strikeout rates should make him a decent bet for 200-ish strikeouts despite that, but certainly not a guarantee – he’s only pulled that trick off once, too. 

Peralta is a good pitcher. Occasionally even a very, very good one. But he rarely does everything well at the same time – sometimes he’s one of the elite strikeout pitchers in the game, but sometimes, as in 2022, he’s just pretty good; sometime, as with last season, he struggles with walks, or keeping the ball in the yard. When he’s right, Peralta looks like a frontline starter, but what he shares with Cease is that he’s not quite right often enough to actually justify the price. 

The much-hyped rookie who gets sent back to the minors.

Noelvi Marte, SS, Reds

I’ve got Matt McLain as a bust for 2024, but I think Marte is the most likely of the Reds talented young top prospects to wind up in the minors at some point in 2024. In fact, it might happen at the start of the season, despite Marte producing throughout his minor-league career and more than holding his own in the majors, hitting .316/.366/.456 in 35 games at the end of last season. I don’t have much concern about whether Marte is going to hit and be a very good Fantasy option in the majors at some point, but as he has progressed, his long-term defensive home has come into question – he has the athleticism for a middle infield spot, but it doesn’t seem to show up enough when he’s in the field, to the point where he’s probably just a long-term third baseman. The problem is, he’s relatively new to that position and probably isn’t an MLB-caliber defender yet. 

That might not be a problem on some other teams, but with (deep breath) Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain and Spencer Steer and Jonathan India and Jaimer Candelario and Christian Encarnacion-Strand also on the roster for the Reds, it creates some real complications. They have seven players for maybe five lineup spots, and someone is going to end up the odd-man out. Marte might be the most talented of the crew besides De La Cruz, but he’s also younger than everyone else, and that might give the Reds room to be more patient with him. 

I do think there’s real demotion risk for basically all of the Reds big name prospects, and De La Cruz and McLain cost considerably more in drafts, which makes the risk even more acute. They all have to hit to keep their jobs, is how I’m looking at it. But Marte might be the most likely to earn a demotion, so he lands here. 





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