MLB players most likely to define the 2024 fantasy baseball season

Fantasy baseball goes deeper into the player pool than contests in other sports. In a typical 12-team roto league, over 300 players are rostered at any given time, and roughly 500 men will populate a roster at some point in the season. For this reason, depth is definitely a key component of winning baseball leagues. But at the same time, there are a few players each year who define the fantasy campaign, either by posting eye-popping numbers, dramatically exceeding expectations — or falling flat on their faces.

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Here are the players who are the most likely to leave a mark, one way or another.

Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves)

Let’s start with the most obvious candidate. Rostering Acuña in 2024 offers an enormous advantage that we have not seen since most of us started playing in these contests. The 26-year-old could lead the majors in runs, homers, steals and batting average. If Acuña delivers on expectations, his managers will only need to hold serve with their other picks to walk away with a championship.

Spencer Strider (SP, Atlanta Braves)

Like his teammate Acuña, Strider is the only man at his position with a real chance to destroy the competition. Typically going off the board in the middle of the first round, the right-hander could be as valuable as any player by combining his 2023 wins and strikeout totals (20, 281) with his '22 ratios (2.67 ERA, 0.99 WHIP).

Elly De La Cruz (3B/SS, Cincinnati Reds)

One of the most discussed players this offseason, De La Cruz is perhaps the only player who could provide totals in both home runs and steals that rival those from Acuña. Of course, the major difference between the two is that De La Cruz has not yet proven to be a good major leaguer, having hit .191 with a .626 OPS after the All-Star break in his rookie year. Most of us are sitting on the fence when projecting the 22-year-old for 2024, but he will likely swing wildly in one direction or another.

Royce Lewis (SS, Minnesota Twins)

A healthy version of Lewis could be spectacular this year. The 24-year-old is already a career .307 hitter who needed just 217 at-bats last year to produce 15 homers, 52 RBI and six steals. But Lewis has had trouble staying healthy to the point where he has played in just 131 games between the majors and minors across the past three seasons. The range of outcomes for Lewis covers anything from 35 homers to 35 games played, and he is likely to finish at one extreme or the other.

Lane Thomas (OF, Washington Nationals)

Just six players topped Thomas in both homers and steals last season. All of those men are coming off the board within the top 30 picks of drafts, while Thomas is typically available past pick 100. Managers aren’t making a huge mistake in failing to invest an early pick in someone who hit .223 with a .705 OPS after the All-Star break, and the odds are good that Thomas is either much better or much worse than indicated by his current ADP.

Wyatt Langford (OF, Texas Rangers)

[2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP]

The fourth overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, Langford is already showing signs of being a truly special talent. He needed just 44 games of minor league action to post incredible numbers (1.157 OPS, 10 HR, 12 SB) and earn an opportunity to make the Opening Day roster. And he smashed the ceiling on lofty expectations during spring training by being arguably the best hitter in baseball during March.

There is a real chance that Langford "pulls a Corbin Carroll” and is so good as a rookie that he ascends to first-round status in 2025 drafts.

Gerrit Cole (SP, New York Yankees)

The second pitcher off the board in early drafts, Cole is now being selected in the middle rounds following news that he will not throw a baseball until the middle of April. There is a sunny scenario where Cole returns by the middle of May and gives his managers an enormous boost to their pitching staff. And of course, there is a scenario where he endures further delays, and his 2024 season is essentially washed out.

Tyler Glasnow (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Let’s resist the urge to overreact to Glasnow’s solid but unspectacular Dodgers debut. The right-hander remains this season’s biggest boom-or-bust hurler, as he could turn 32 starts into a strikeout total that would rival that of Strider. But as a 30-year-old with a career-best innings total of just 120, he could also be this year’s most disappointing ace.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto (SP, Los Angeles Dodgers)

Thanks to an early series in Korea, Yamamoto got a head start on his colleagues in being one of the top stories of the 2024 season. There is simply no place to hide for someone who signed a $325 million contract in the offseason ... before allowing five runs in one inning of work during his MLB debut.

Drafted as a fantasy ace prior to March 21, Yamamoto’s fantasy value is now trending downward. But as part of a Dodgers organization that usually gets the most out of their hurlers, he could come surging back in the coming weeks and prove that his Korean appearance was nothing more than opening night jitters.