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10 Must-Have Hitters to Draft (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

10 Must-Have Hitters to Draft (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

Gamers shouldn’t have absolutes when drafting fantasy baseball teams. Reaching too far for a player will sap any upside they can provide. Still, identifying players to target at or slightly ahead of their average draft position (ADP) because they’re fairly valued or undervalued is prudent. The following 10 hitters are excellent targets, making them must-have selections near their ADPs.

Must-Have Hitters

Bryce Harper (PHI – 1B)28.8 ADP

According to ESPN, Harper’s return to MLB in 160 days after Tommy John surgery was a major league player’s fastest return on record. The speedy return had an apparent impact on his power. Harper had only three homers in his first 246 plate appearances last year.

Still, per FanGraphs, Harper had a .290 batting average, .386 OBP, 33 runs, 23 RBIs, five stolen bases, 13.4 BB%, 22.4 K%, 24.4 LD% and 35.7 Hard%. The two-time National League MVP was rock-solid, other than his diminished pop.

Fortunately, Harper regained his power down the stretch. In his final 300 plate appearances in the regular season, Harper swatted 18 homers with a .296 batting average, .413 OBP, 51 runs, 49 RBIs, six stolen bases, 15.7 BB%, 21.3 K%, 25.3 LD% and 44.9 Hard%. Furthermore, Harper blasted five bombs with a .286 batting average, .455 OBP, 14 runs, eight RBIs and three stolen bases in 55 plate appearances in the playoffs. Harper is precisely the high-floor and high-ceiling player gamers should be ecstatic to select in the top 25.

Nolan Jones (COL – 1B/OF) – 67.5 ADP

Jones ripped the cover off the ball in Triple-A before making a nearly seamless transition to the majors in his second stint in the bigs. In 424 plate appearances, he stuffed the stat sheet with 20 home runs, a .297 batting average, .389 OBP, 60 runs, 62 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.

Obviously, Jones’s offensive production gets a lift from playing in MLB’s most hitter-friendly ballpark, Coors Field. He wasn’t the classic Coors-field mirage, though. Instead, he hit 10 homers with a .288 batting average, .380 OBP, 25 runs, 29 RBIs, eight stolen bases, a 12.2 BB% and 35.7 K% in 213 plate appearances on the road. Jones is a five-category asset.

Oneil Cruz (PIT – SS) – 73.5 ADP

Cruz says he’s 100% healthy after a nearly entirely lost 2023 campaign after injuring his ankle and requiring surgery. The toolsy youngster was a Statcast whiz in 2022. According to Baseball Savant, Cruz was tied for the 16th-highest flyball/line drive exit velocity (97.2 mph) and had the highest maximum exit velocity (122.4 mph) among players with at least 50 batted-ball events in 2022. He’s also tied for the 18th-fastest sprint speed (29.8 ft/sec) among players with at least 10 opportunities since 2022.

The power/speed dynamo had 17 homers and 10 stolen bases for the Pirates in 87 games and 361 plate appearances in 2022. He also had a grotesque 34.9 K%, leading to a .233 batting average. However, his strikeout rate was due for regression since he had an acceptable 82.6 Z-Contact% (85.3 Z-Contact% was the league average in 2022). Cruz also had a palatable 22.7 K% in 247 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2022.

He had only 40 plate appearances before hurting his ankle last season. Nevertheless, the regression was on display. Cruz had a 20.0 K%. Cruz was less passive on pitches in the strike zone and curtailed his bloated strikeout rate. He should find a happy medium between last year’s tiny-sample strikeout rate and the unsustainably high one from 2022. Cruz is an appealing shortstop or middle infield power and speed source.

Teoscar Hernandez (LAD – OF) – 112.5 ADP

Hernandez didn’t have an ideal one-year stop in Seattle last season. Instead, he had his highest strikeout rate (31.1 K%) and lowest batting average (.258) since 2019. The veteran slugger hit 26 homers but needed 678 plate appearances after mashing 25 taters in only 535 plate appearances for the Blue Jays in 2022.

The Dodgers were unconcerned and inked Hernandez to a sizable one-year deal. Hernandez’s .435 slugging was notably lower than his .471 xSLG. Hernandez still has top-shelf power. He should benefit from a change of scenery for two reasons.

First, LA’s loaded lineup will provide him opportunities for runs and RBIs no matter where he slots. Second, Hernandez had just 12 homers and a .217 batting average in 323 plate appearances at pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park in 2023. Hernandez bashed 14 homers with a .295 batting average in 355 plate appearances on the road last season and will have more favorable park factors at Dodger Stadium this season.

Bryson Stott (PHI – 2B) – 134.3 ADP

Stott is an ideal glue guy and can be paired with the following player at the keystone position as a cheap duo. After an underwhelming rookie season in 2022, Stott’s 31 stolen bases were the eye-catching stat in his profile. However, his 15 homers, 78 runs, 62 RBIs and .280 batting average were also useful. Nothing was outrageously flukey in his profile, and gamers should confidently draft him this year.

Luis Arraez (MIA – 2B) – 158.3 ADP

Batting average isn’t a sexy category, partly because it’s volatile. Arraez is about as sure of a thing as it comes to producing batting average, though. He won the batting title last year with a .354 batting average. Yet, Arraez has a .326 batting average in his career and reached at least .316 in four of five seasons in The Show.

Batting average is Arraez’s calling card. He can chip in runs, and his power has emerged as more than non-existent, too. After hitting only six homers in his first 966 plate appearances in the majors, Arraez has hit eight and 10 in his past two seasons, tallying 603 and 617 plate appearances in those campaigns.

So, he’s slightly better than a one-trick pony. Furthermore, that one trick was the primary reason why Arraez was the 36th most valuable hitter by our value-based ranking (VBR) metric in 2023. Arraez can’t be expected to repeat his .354 batting average in 2024. Still, he’s a perfect target for gamers attempting to elevate their squad’s batting average.

Jake Burger (MIA – 3B) – 172.5 ADP

Burger was the 11th pick in the 2017 MLB Amateur Draft but had only 225 plate appearances in the majors before last season. Finally, he played a full season in the bigs and delivered massive power numbers. He had 25 homers in 323 plate appearances for the White Sox before slugging nine in 217 for the Marlins after he was traded to Miami.

Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago has a right-handed-batter park factor of 1.132 for homers, and loanDepot park’s is 0.908. The drop in homers wasn’t just a product of downgrading his home ballpark. Instead, Burger drastically reduced his strikeout rate from 31.6% to 21.7%. As a result, his batting average surged from .214 on the White Sox to .303 on the Marlins in 2023.

Burger isn’t a true-talent .300-plus hitter. However, he was more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone and increased his Z-Contact% from 80.8% to 85.2% after the trade. A .250 batting average, give or take a few points based on his BABIP, is a reasonable expectation.

Yet, Burger’s over-the-fence power and RBI potential — if he hits in the heart of Miami’s order — is exciting to snag for this cheap. Among qualified batters last season, Burger had the seventh-highest barrels per plate appearance percentage (10.7 Brls/PA%) and was sixth in maximum exit velocity (118.2 mph) and sixth in flyball/line drive (97.8 mph) exit velocity. His power is legitimate.

Marcell Ozuna (ATL – OF) – 176.5 ADP

Ozuna was the 21st-ranked hitter by VBR last season. Even if he were exceptionally lucky, his ADP would be grossly out of whack with his performance last season. Yet, Ozuna actually underperformed his expected stats. According to FanGraphs, he had a .274 batting average, .284 xBA, .558 slugging and .583 xSLG.

Ozuna had an excellent season in 2020, followed by down years in 2021 and 2022, before cranking his exit velocity and HardHit% up to 91.8 mph and 49.0% last season. The veteran slugger launched 40 homers and had 84 runs and 100 RBIs.

Ozuna has disappeared after massive fantasy seasons before. Still, his batted-ball data last season was elite. Ozuna is the rare low-risk, high-upside pick at his ADP.

Mitch Garver (SEA – C) – 222.5 ADP

The Mariners signed Garver to a two-year contract in the offseason. Seattle already has Cal Raleigh established as their starting catcher. Fortunately, that’s a good thing. Garver shouldn’t have to don the tools of ignorance. He can be Seattle’s full-time designated hitter, with Raleigh as the starting catcher and Seby Zavala as the primary backup, per Roster Resource.

Garver had 19 homers, a .270 batting average, .370 OBP, 12.8 BB%, 23.8 K%, 90.0 mph exit velocity, 20.5-degree launch angle, 12.6 Barrel% and 41.4 HardHit% in 344 plate appearances for the Rangers last season. As a designated hitter, he has an opportunity to exceed 500 plate appearances and smash over 20 homers with a better batting average than the typical 20-plus homer cheap catcher.

Vaughn Grissom (BOS – SS) – 300.3 ADP

Grissom isn’t boxed out of a starting lineup anymore. He was traded to the Red Sox, where he’ll serve as Boston’s everyday second baseman. In 236 plate appearances since reaching MLB in 2022, Grissom has hit five homers with five stolen bases, a .287 batting average, .339 OBP, 5.5 BB% and 20.8 K%.

Grissom had eight homers, 13 stolen bases, a .330 batting average, .419 OBP, 12.0 BB% and 14.1 K% in 468 plate appearances in Triple-A last season, too. He’ll enter the year with shortstop eligibility and gain second base eligibility early this season. Grissom is an arbitrage Stott who will have multi-position eligibility. That’s a rock-solid pick worth securing at least a round ahead of his ADP.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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