The following five players are my must-have hitters for 2024. I am willing to reach for them ahead of their ADP for various reasons detailed below. I have divided the group into Early-, Mid-, and Late-round targets.
5 Must-Have Hitters for 2024 Fantasy Baseball
Freddie Freeman – LAD 1B
Even though Freddie Freeman is in his age 34 season, he has shown no signs of slowing down. On top of that, he has arguably been getting even better.
Freddie Freeman has hit .300 or better in 7 of the last 8 seasons. Over those 8 years he owns a .312/.402/.545 slash with an average of 29 HR per season(excluding 2020). Has 100 R/RBI both of the last two years. He just keeps getting better with age. pic.twitter.com/vAjY6MX4rp
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) January 16, 2024
Freeman has finished each of the last three seasons with an AVG above .300. He has finished a season with an AVG under .295 just five times since his 2010 debut season.
Freeman has been remarkably healthy, as well, something that is difficult to find in fantasy baseball. Not counting 2020, he has appeared in 158 games or more in six of the last seven full seasons.
Last season, Freeman finished with some of the best roto numbers of his career. His home run total was the fourth-highest of his career. He had a career-high in runs scored. His RBI total was the third-highest of his career. And his stolen base total was the most of his career by 10. Last season, just four players went 20/20/.300, and Freeman was one of them.
Freeman also made improvements in other areas, which is important to see, even for a veteran. He outperformed his career averages in a number of areas, which led to his standout season. His 30% chase rate and 81% contact rate last season were both improvements over his career norms. He also struck out at a lower rate than his career average, proving that those contact numbers were not flukes.
Freeman is extremely consistent when it comes to hitting the ball hard. Over the last four full seasons, he has hovered between a 10-11% barrel rate and a 41-48% hard hit rate.
Freeman’s consistency, improvements, and ability to stay healthy make him a must-have hitter in the early rounds. He is arguably worth a first-round pick and is an excellent player to build around, especially with my second must-have hitter.
Gunnar Henderson – BAL 3B/SS
Gunnar Henderson has an outside shot of being the American League MVP this season, considering his 2023 performance and the expectations he carries from his prospect days.
Henderson struggled early last season, tallying a .189 AVG in March and April, and just a .213 AVG in May. But from June on, he had a .276 AVG with 23 home runs, 72 runs, 68 RBI, and eight steals. A major factor in this success was making adjustments to perform better against breaking and offspeed pitches.
Henderson also showed positive trends from his 2022 debut to his extended stay in the lineup last season. He improved his K%, barrel%, line drive%, and pull%, as well as his contact on pitches in and out of the zone, and overall.
In particular, his ability to hit the ball hard should allow him to outproduce his 25-27 home run projections. Among qualified third basemen, he was ninth best in barrel rate and third best in HardHit rate. Among shortstops, he was fourth and second best respectively.
In addition to his ability to hit the ball hard, he drove and pulled the ball well last season. That should help him maintain an AVG above the .260 AVG that his projections suggest. He has room to improve his K%, LD%, and Pull% even more, all of which should help improve his BABIP and AVG. This is something fantasy managers can reasonably expect for Henderson, considering his improvement over last season and from year to year already.
He also will hit near the top of one of the best lineups in baseball. This could potentially be a 30/100/100/20/.280 season for Henderson, which could put him in the MVP conversation.
These sorts of numbers would also make him worthy of reaching for in the early rounds, which is why he is one of my must-have hitters this season.
Luis Rengifo – LAA 2B/3B/SS/OF
Part of Luis Rengifo’s allure is his multi-position eligibility. That flexibility alone makes him enticing for fantasy managers. Aside from that, though, many other factors make Rengifo worth a potential reach in the middle rounds to ensure you draft him this season.
Rengifo significantly improved his approach at the plate last season, cutting down on his aggressiveness from 2022. That change in approach led to an improved chase rate and more walks. In OBP leagues this season, he is even more valuable.
Rengifo’s approach change also led to a decrease in ground balls and an increase in both fly balls and HR/FB rate. He also pulled the ball more last season than any other season, aside from 2020.
In particular, Rengifo is extremely effective as a right-handed batter against lefty pitchers. He hit .324 within those parameters last season. Angel Stadium is one of the top overall hitters’ parks according to Statcast Park factors. It is also one of the best hitters’ parks for righty batters specifically, and the fifth best in baseball for righty home runs.
While Rengifo’s season-high homer total is 17, he has the potential to tally more this season, especially if he continues to improve his LD/GB/FB rates. He also made improvements to his barrel and HardHit rates, posting career bests. Continued improvements there could also lead to more counting stats.
Taking all of those factors into account, we could potentially see a career year from a player who is available to play at nearly every slot in fantasy lineups. This all makes Rengifo a mid-round must-have hitter.
Isaac Paredes – TB 1B/2B/3B
Isaac Paredes burst onto the scene last season, launching 31 homers and scoring 71 runs and 98 RBI while picking up one steal and batting .250. Those totals were all improvements on his 2022 season, his first with significant playing time.
2023 wRC+ leaders among current 3B (min. 300 PA):
— MLB Now (@MLBNow) February 1, 2024
Similar to Rengifo, Paredes is available to play at multiple positions. This makes him an excellent mid-round option to fill in at your corner infield, middle infield, or utility spot.
For someone who does not hit the ball very hard – 5.9% barrel and 28% hard hit rates last season – he drives and pulls the ball well, and hits a ton of fly balls. His 21% LD rate, 47% FB rate, and 54% pull rates were career bests. If he can improve his hard contact even to league average, he could surpass his homer and RBI totals from last season.
Additionally, Tropicana Field in Tampa was the eighth-best park for righty home runs last season according to Statcast park factors.
Paredes also is an excellent contact hitter despite the average. He is tied for the 23rd-best contact rate in baseball among qualified hitters since 2020.
The floor for Paredes is likely somewhere around 25 homers, 65 runs, 75 RBI, and a .235 AVG. But the ceiling is much higher. Things are trending the right way for Paredes in a number of important areas that make him a must-have mid-round hitter.
Nelson Velazquez – KC OF
Nelson Velazquez made his debut in 2022, hitting six homers, with 20 runs, 26 RBI, five steals, and a .205 AVG. In 2023, Velazquez made significant improvements, resulting in an impressive statistical year.
In just 53 games last season for the Royals (24 fewer than in 2022), Velazquez hit 17 homers, with 35 runs, 34 RBI, and a .235 AVG. While his power numbers improved across the board, his batting average still lagged a bit, likely suppressed by a low .221 BABIP.
Throughout most of his minor league career, Velazquez’s BABIP hovered in the high .300s. He ended most stops in the minors driving the ball well and pulling the ball well. While he continued to pull the ball well for the Royals last season, at 49%, his line drive rate was a very low 14%.
Additionally, Velazquez posted a 21% barrel rate and a 48% hard hit rate. Those would have ranked first and 21st overall respectively if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
The hard contact and pull rate suggest that if he can get his LD% up to his minor league levels, he could make huge jumps in batting average. While that may come at the expense of some homers, he could still put up close to 30 if he was given around 500 PAs. Between the majors and the minors last season, he had 509 PAs and totaled 33 home runs.
While his contact issues from 2023 – 32% chase, 68% contact, 28% K rates – may keep him from achieving a high AVG, he should be able to surpass his mid-.230 AVG projections. He should also be able to surpass his 17-23 home run projections as long as the Royals can get him in the lineup regularly.
Velazquez is a hugely undervalued fantasy asset, going late in drafts, and should be one of your must-have hitters this draft season.
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