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2024 fantasy baseball cheat sheet: Who are the most likely breakout stars this MLB season?

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick (10) celebrates with second baseman Brice Turang (2) after winning the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.
Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Sal Frelick (10) celebrates with second baseman Brice Turang (2) after winning the game against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.

Almost every big name player was once a nobody waiting for their opportunity to bask in the limelight. In fantasy baseball, the ability to determine who will be the next big name to rise from the ashes of obscurity is what separates the league winners from the basement dwellers.

In 2023, it was guys like Nolan Jones, Kyle Bradish, and Justin Steele really stepped up for fantasy managers everywhere. Now, in 2024, here are our picks for the most likely breakout candidates of the MLB season.

C: Keibert Ruiz, WSH

Keibert Ruiz was a machine in the second half of 2023, slashing .300/.342/.467 post-All-Star break. With that incredible line came some decent power as well. Ruiz smoked 22 extra base hits in just 63 games (60 games started) after the All-Star break as well. If Ruiz can replicate anything close to that in 2024, he'll be an elite option at backstop.

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1B: Joey Meneses, WSH

Thirteen home runs last year for Meneses was a huge disappointment. However, we know Meneses is capable of much more. Keep in mind, Nationals manager Dave Martinez has already informed us that Meneses played the entirety of the 2023 season with a knee injury that could have held him back. At the very least, Meneses' power numbers should increase this year. Considering he still knocked in 89 runs in a down season with a bum knee, we could see a huge breakout in 2024.

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2B: Vaughn Grissom, BOS

Grissom never got the opportunity to carve himself a role in a loaded Atlanta dugout. Now, in Boston, Grissom has the chance to show us all what he's capable of. Not only is Fenway Park considerably more friendly to right-handed hitters, but Grissom should get decent time near the top of the Red Sox lineup early on.

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3B: Royce Lewis, MIN

Will Lewis keep up his impeccable .307/.364/.549 line and 39-home run pace this season? Probably not, but even if Lewis falls off a bit, he'd still be an incredible hitter. The issue with Lewis is obviously health. 2024 was Lewis' first fully healthy offseason in a long time. He's dominated at every level, and this is his best opportunity to play a full season in the bigs.

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SS: Thairo Estrada, SF

Estrada has quietly been a solid option for fantasy managers the past two years, but his presence in the very forgettable Giants' lineup turns some people away from him. You shouldn't.

Estrada played just 120 games last season and still managed 23 stolen bases and 14 home runs. He's an average hitter with an above-average ceiling for fantasy due to his prowess on the basepaths. A full season from Estrada could finally have fans start paying attention.

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OF: Sal Frelick, MIL

Let me list the cons in Frelick's game.

  • Lacks power

That's it. Frelick is a stud everywhere else. His biggest plus is that he makes a ton of contact, striking out in only 16.6% of at-bats during his time in the majors last season, and that could seriously improve. Frelick should see ample opportunity at the top of the Brewers' lineup, and we could see 30 stolen bases as well as 90 runs out of him. If he can bat around .280, which is well in the realm of possibility, he'll be an excellent addition for fantasy managers.

OF: Riley Greene, DET

Greene's Statcast metrics are absolutely insane. It's only a matter of whether or not he can play. Greene has suffered three pretty serious injuries in the last two seasons, but when he has played, he's been great. In fact, he could be even better given his expected slugging percentage (.499) was more than 50 points higher than his actual slugging.

OF: Josh Lowe, TB

Depending on who you ask, Lowe might have already had his breakout season last year when he slashed .292/.335/.500. However, his ADP would suggest otherwise. The Rays also did not show immense confidence in Lowe as an everyday player. He had only 67 plate appearances against lefties last season.

Lowe was actually pretty good in those situations though, posting a 105 OPS+ against southpaws. It certainly was a step back from his devastating figures against right-handers, but he was still good enough to warrant more play time. Here's to hoping the Rays see it that way too.

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SP: Tarik Skubal, DET

An elbow injury halted Skubal's ascent to superstardom in 2023, but he is primed for a monster 2024 campaign. FanGraphs projects Skubal to be a top-10 pitcher this year and it's hard to argue against them.

Skubal has seen his average exit velo against drop each of the last three seasons, and in 2023, he held batters to a practically irrelevant 4.2 barrel percentage. When hitters are having that kind of trouble getting the best part of the bat against someone, that pitcher is an elite talent. Skubal could absolutely finish top-three in AL Cy Young voting this year under the right circumstances.

RP: Orion Kerkering, PHI

Strikeouts is the name of the game for Kerkering and we could certainly be seeing a lot of K's in his future. It's clear the Phillies like this guy. After all, he appeared in seven postseason games after appearing in only three regular season games. When the Phillies needed strong pitching in their most pivotal games, they turned to Kerkering often.

With Craig Kimbrel out of town, the closing role could be open for Kerkering. While it's likely that Phillies manager Rob Thomson will rely on vets like Jose Alvarado and/or Gregory Soto for that role, at least early on, Kerkering's name should be thrown around often enough for him to get a few save opportunities. And who knows what that could turn into by the end of the season.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB fantasy cheat sheet: Breakout stars for the 2024 fantasy season