Dark-horse candidates to lead MLB in home runs could also offer fantasy baseball draft value

If you're looking for power beyond the obvious fantasy baseball sluggers like Matt Olson and Kyle Schwarber, Dalton Del Don put together a collection of under-the-radar hitters who could lead the major leagues in home runs in 2024.

Go here for my dark-horse Cy Young candidates.

Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves 30/1

Riley has averaged 159 games played over the last three seasons and 37.5 homers over the last two. He finished seventh in expected homers last year, yet he’s curiously not among the dozen most favored players to win the HR title in 2024. Atlanta is one of the best parks for home runs for right-handed batters, and Riley sports elite exit velocity numbers. THE BAT X projects Riley to finish with the seventh-most homers in baseball this season and well within striking distance of the leader (a currently injured Aaron Judge). The soon-to-be 27-year-old is just entering his prime and hit 21 homers over 283 at bats during the second half of last season, so Riley could approach 50 in 2024. His power makes him worth a top-20 fantasy pick despite the lack of steals.

[Join or create a Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for the 2024 MLB season]

Julio Rodríguez, Seattle Mariners 55/1

Rodríguez hit 19 homers over just 289 at bats after the All-Star break as a 22-year-old last season. Only inner-circle Hall of Famers average 30 homers over two seasons at his age. T-Mobile is one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball, but it thankfully plays neutral to homers for right-handed batters. Rodríguez is obviously a fantasy star and consensus top-5 pick, but he’s also a dark horse to finish with the most home runs in 2024.

Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers 66/1

Torkelson is a No. 1 overall MLB draft pick who was one of the best college hitters ever. It appears he’s figuring out major league pitching after a slow start to his pro career; Torkelson clubbed 19 homers over just 273 at-bats after the All-Star break last season. He was also unlucky, sporting the fifth-biggest difference among all hitters in expected homers (35.2) and actual dingers (31). Torkelson is just entering his prime at 24 years old and possesses “70” grade power. He finished with a Hard-Hit% in the top 6% of the league last season despite struggling throughout the first half, and there’s no reason why Torkelson can’t approach 40 homers this year. His power potential makes him a fantasy steal with a Yahoo ADP outside the top 115.

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

Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Cincinnati Reds 125/1

Encarnacion-Strand swatted 20 homers over just 278 at bats in Triple-A last season before more than holding his own (112 wRC+) in Cincinnati. He sports “70” grade power and is now locked into an everyday role with the Reds thanks in part to Noelvi Marte’s suspension (and Joey Votto leaving). CES gets to call home to the most HR-friendly venue in baseball, as Great American Ballpark has increased long balls for right-handed batters an MLB-high 26% over the last three seasons. Using Steamer’s per 600 plate appearances projections, Encarnacion-Strand finishes with the 11th most home runs in 2024, so he’s a dark horse for the title. CES also looks like one of the most affordable (131.9 ADP) power sources in fantasy drafts.

Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins 150/1

We all know Buxton’s extensive injury history, which is why he’s such a long shot here at a whopping 150/1 – Salvador Perez, who has topped 27 homers once during his 13-year career, has better odds. Buxton’s stats from 2023 can be thrown out, as he was badly compromised and probably shouldn’t have been playing. He feels 100% entering 2024 and good enough to play center field and to aim for 30 stolen bases. Buxton clobbered the most home runs per at bat (11.75) among all hitters in baseball from 2020-2022 before playing on one leg last year, when he still hit 17 long balls over just 304 ABs (and finished with a Barrel% in the top 10% of the league).

Especially with Aaron Judge entering the year banged up and also with a recurring toe injury, the home run leader race should be wide open this season. His health needs to cooperate, but Buxton is still just 30 years old and hopefully his knee injury is behind him. He’s a dark horse to win the HR crown and a fantasy steal with an ADP outside the top 225.