Alex Chamberlain’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2024

One bold prediction for each position, in order (except there’s two each for outfield and starting pitcher). No preamble. Just go.

1) Jake Rogers is a top-12 catcher.

Rogers does not boast an especially unique skillset among catchers: he hits for power and not much else. To Rogers’ credit, however, he hits for a lot of power, definitely for catchers and even relative to non-catchers, too. With his strong pulled fly ball tendencies his path to 20-plus home runs is relatively frictionless.

Carson Kelly, a former 2nd-rounder and top-100 prospect, watched his blue-chip prospectdom expire long ago. Aside from breaking out during 2019’s juiced-ball season and a decent showing in 2021 he has unquestionably disappointed. He figures to fulfill the shallow side of a possible platoon with Rogers, one that would net him the usual one-fourth of the available plate appearances. That leaves perhaps 450 PAs, rather than the 360 PAs he’s projected for and that he accumulated last year, to push Rogers over the top as a catching option.

Indeed, Rogers’ biggest impediment is not Kelly but the catchers being selected ahead of him on average in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) drafts this month. Of those 25-or-so catchers, I personally would feel comfortably rostering 22 of them, irrespective of their average draft positions (ADPs). Naturally there will be fallout — there always is — but it is a highly skilled crop this year on paper, one that feels deeper than most previous years. Still, the anticipation of such fallout opens a hypothetical door for Rogers to climb the ranks. And his 20-plus home runs with a .220 batting average won’t be dramatically different from half of the catchers ahead of him, either.

I also considered Shea Langeliers for this spot, but the possible emergence of Tyler Soderstrom caused me to chicken out.

2) Ryan O’Hearn is a top-20 first baseman.

If I am able to count correctly, O’Hearn is roughly the 40th first baseman off NFBC draft boards in March. Unlike the catcher landscape (which we already collectively understand to have unique circumstances and thresholds), the first base position feels significantly less reliable. Outside the top few options it is packed to the brim with aging veterans and low ceilings.

O’Hearn is already 30, but he has flashed legitimate plus power the last two seasons despite the lack of outcomes to show for it. Having played no more than 112 games in any season since his debut in 2018 — those 112 games coming just last year — O’Hearn has been held back by health and playing time opportunities.

The .340 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may not hold, but he could still hit 20 home runs with a .260 average if he could ever qualify for the batting title. It’s a big if at this point, but I am disinclined to believe the Orioles traded for O’Hearn on accident, and that his most successful season was coincidentally his first in orange. Roster Resource projects him for a platoon without a viable platoon partner. Giving Roster Resource the benefit of the doubt, however, O’Hearn would still be the strong side of that platoon, enough to crest the 20-homer threshold with a solid average in the middle of a potent lineup.

3) Luis Rengifo is a top-10 second baseman (or top-12 shortstop).

While never a marquee prospect, Rengifo always hit for high averages thanks to line drive approach paired with extremely tidy strikeout rates. He walked almost as often as he struck out, his walk rates typically sitting low double-digits. He even slugged at an impressive clip, assembling isolated power (ISO) numbers that eclipsed .200 at Triple-A. The cherry on top was his willingness to run.

Absurd minor-league stolen base tallies are always entriguing from a fantasy perspective (think Victor Scott II this year, or David Hamilton last year). They don’t always pan out, often because they lack the requisite tools to stick at the MLB level. So it’s depressing, then, that Rengifo, who evidently has those requisite tools, all but stopped running in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Rengifo is a fairly good value at his ADP, but I am speculating heavily on the Angels’ focus on the run game this spring. New Angels’ manager Ron Washington vocally committed his team to aggressive baserunning in 2024. Whereas often this kind of talk ends up being nonsense, simply a PR spin, it’s clear Washington meant what he said: the Angels rank 2nd in total stolen base attempts and 3rd on a per-PA basis as of March 19.

No Angel is better-positioned to take advantage of this philosophy than Rengifo as the team’s speediest runner and likely leadoff hitter. He has just one stolen base this spring, yes, but one in just seven times on base. If he stole at a similar clip the last two seasons, he’d have stolen 20-plus each. And his number of times on base says nothing of actual opportunities (you can’t steal with someone ahead of you on second base (unless it’s a double-steal (stop it))).

This feels so clearly telegraphed to me, I will be astonished if it doesn’t happen: a 15-20-.250 season from Rengifo, at least. Across 150 games? Are we talking 25 steals with 30-or-better upside?

This is, of course, wishful thinking. Not to mention Rengifo dealt with a hamstring strain for much of spring. Health permitting shoulders a larger burden than usual here. But isn’t that what this is all about? Wishful thinking?

4) Amed Rosario is a top-15 shortstop (or top-12 second baseman).

It’s hard to be especially excited about Rosario. However, it’s easy to forget that he was fairly serviceable four of the five years preceding his abysmal 2023 campaign. Part of his dearth of value stemmed from his reluctance to run, which, like Rengifo, is maddening from a fantasy perspective. But Rosario never ran enough to be great, and he needed to leverage his below-average-but-non-zero power to offset his deficiencies elsewhere. He hit just six home runs in 2023 and the lights went out.

Alas, I’m hinging my prediction for Rosario entirely on his attendance of Driveline this offseason. It’s a baseball Twitter meme at this point: He Went to DrivelineTM (to the tune of He Went to Jared). But it’s true: hitters who work out at Driveline often put up real results. J.P. Crawford has finally rounded into form post-hype, even if it’s just as a roughly league-average bat. J.D. Martinez had an incredible year last year at 35 putting up elite bat speeds. Ty France will probably make us regret fading him this offseason as he allegedly recouped 3-4 mph of bat speed that poor mechanics had wiped out. Hell, Mookie Betts, one of the best to ever play the damn sport, still went to Driveline prior to the 2023 season, added 2 mph of bat speed, and posted otherworldly numbers.

Rosario is unlikely to follow in any of those guys’ footsteps (except Crawford, maybe). He’s just not a power hitter. But last I checked he has hit two home runs this spring alongside two stolen bases. If he can put together a 15-15-.270 campaign as a guy who is, at best, being drafted as bench depth in a 15-team league, that’s not nothing. How the Rays will deploy him, who can say. But if Brandon Lowe is the strong-side platoon and Jose Caballero can’t hold down the shortstop gig as what is effectively a worse version of Rosario, then Rosario should see a healthy number of reps.

5) Eugenio Suárez is a top-12 third baseman.

This feels too easy, in the sense that, over the years, Suárez routinely has been profitable and productive. But he is also at an inflection point: he’s in his early 30s, right when peaks tend to end, coming off a down power year.

What is hard for me to ignore about Suárez’s power outage is his peripherals: they are a dead ringer for his 2021-22 seasons in which he was effectively a 30-homer guy. It’s easy to look at the wide gulf between his expected slugging percentage (xSLG) and actual SLG as a harbinger of success, just as easy as it is to dismiss xSLG for being potentially not predictive. But a more-thorough investigation of Suárez’s exit velocities (EVs), launch angles (LAs), and combinations thereof suggest he was largely unchanged last year and unduly punished for it.

I’m willing to bet that 32 isn’t too old for Suárez to threaten 30 home runs again, that the peripherals will stick around for one more year and he’ll be rewarded for them. Outside the top-300 players overall, it’s hard to find better bets on flawed but fruitful middle-of-the-order power bats.

6) Nelson Velázquez is a top-35 outfielder.

If you like Christopher Morel, you’re going to love Nelson Velázquez. On St. Patrick’s Day weekend I drafted in the 15-team mixed league auction for Tout Wars. Velázquez was not drafted to active rosters; I secured him as the 14th pick of the first round of the snake draft for reserves. That says a lot to me: in a room full of sharps, no one was in on a guy who hit 17 home runs in 179 PA. I sweated those first 13 picks. I thought he was a goner for sure.

Roster Resource could be to blame. At one point this offseason — in fact, it could still be as described when this post publishes — Velázquez (1) was projected not just outside the Royals’ starting nine but off the 26-man roster entirely, but also (2) had a news blurb from a Kansas City beat reporter stating he would be the primary designated hitter. Conflicting information, certainly.

With respect to Jason Martin 마틴ez, who practically by himself has to keep tabs on 30 teams and their farm systems, I will bet on the beat. And if Velázquez nets 500 PAs — he ought to, given the lack of suitable alternatives — his plus power will produce 20 to 25 home runs to complement a stolen base total that should wind up healthily double digits. The batting average (or, in the case of Tout Wars, the on-base percentage) will hurt you but ideally won’t kill you if supplemented appropriately by the marquee counting stats. Even if he does kill you, you don’t forfeit a ton of draft capital to find out.

Velázquez is flawed, volatile. His ADP reflects that. But I think his ADP also bakes in too high an expectation of him being omitted from the Opening Day roster, benched, or optioned. The tools are loud, loud enough for to me to have a hard time ignoring them.

7) Brenton Doyle is a top-45 outfielder.

Doyle is simply not a very good hitter. But he’s also not that bad, not 60-percent-worse-than-league-average bad. He has nowhere to go but up, but I expect he improves quite a bit more than his 43 wRC+ would otherwise suggest he could. In fact, I expect upward of 15, maybe even 20, home runs to go with 20ish stolen bases and, what, a .230 batting average?

Folks are often desperate to draft power-speed threats above their ADPs. It’s easy to chase these kinds of players and get burned when their bats fail to keep them in their respective lineups (or, worse, the power or speed simply disappear). Doyle is in the unique position that his team is so bad, and his glove is so good, that he will have an unusually long leash.

Again, Doyle is not good at the plate, but worse have been drafted higher. He is effectively free to draft and find out if he’ll benefit you, and the tools and playing time outlooks suggest he will.

8) Trevor Rogers is a top-40 starting pitcher.

Rogers was incredible in his first full(ish) season of work in 2021, then bombed in 2022, then put together four solid starts last year before being derailed entirely by a rash of injuries. He is now somehow Miami’s healthiest starter and has looked especially sharp in spring training, putting together a 23.5% K-BB in nearly nine innings of work with a 3.12 ERA (3.11 FIP).

But, whatever — spring is spring. A few good innings is exciting, but it wouldn’t really change my evaluation of him. Which is: his change-up is arguably elite, and the bowling-ball sinker he introduced last year brutalized opposing hitters in a small sample. His four-seamer leaves something to be desired, but the sinker helps relieve the burden from it. Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if sinker increasingly displaces the four-seamer over time.

Two outlier pitches — one for contact prevention, one for contact management — is a luxury that few pitchers actually possess, like, meaningfully possess. It’s a trait I associate with some of the game’s best pitchers, one that’s easy to recognize in elite closers who often only feature two pitches.

Rogers is not a closer, and also he got absolutely pulverized in 2022 in a down year (although his ERA estimators suggest he got unlucky, too). But it’s easy to forget that Rogers, despite his already-circuitous career, is only 26. The 2024 season could be the beginning of a long and productive career once foreshadowed three years ago. I’m betting on it.

9) Nick Martinez is a top-60 starting pitcher.

Martinez is the type of throwaway name that, if I were strapped for time, I would simply ignore. Nick Martinez? Sure, OK. But this offseason I forced myself to really pore over everyone’s profile, and Martinez stood out to me as one of my biggest offseason surprises.

His 3.45 ERA combined across the 2022 and 2023 seasons caught me by surprise at first. And, yes, a great many of those innings came in relief, where his stuff is expected to play up. But he also made 19 starts the last two years, and across those starts he compiled a combined 3.60 pFIP. Naturally it’s important to caveat this with reassurances of small samples. Nineteen starts is not a ton of starts, especially when spread across two seasons and interspersed with relief work. But the parts that comprise the whole are compelling as well: he features an(other) arguably elite change-up that he elevates as his primary offering, and his combination of sinker and curve have routinely been heavy, ground ball-inducing weapons. Control routinely evades him, but three extremely viable pitches can make for one extremely viable pitcher.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Martinez: in terms of innings, in terms of skills, in terms of outcomes. I’m banking on whatever innings he can offer will be surprisingly high-quality, and I hope he’s sufficiently stretched out to make enough five-inning starts for as long as the Reds need him to. (So far in spring: two starts, 8.2 IP, 32.4% K, 14.7% BB, 3.12 ERA, 52.9% GB, 14.6% SwStr. Just like we drew it up.)

10) Three of these non-closer relief pitchers will be top-15 closers.

I feel as though I am seeing the closer landscape with a lucidity that I haven’t felt since the 2021 season. I have strong opinions about everyone, which is good, because closers are historically over-drafted and experience significant turnover. Like, 40 to 50 percent of closers on Opening Day will not be closers in September.

I can’t settle on a specific relief pitcher here. Some may call it cheap to take a scattershot approach, I call it necessary. Here are five highly talented relievers whom I expect to carve out substantial 9th-inning roles for their teams for a robust portion of the season:

  1. Yennier Cano, because Craig Kimbrel is on his last leg
  2. Yuki Matsui, because Robert Suarez does not strike me as particularly capable or talented
  3. Robert Stephenson, because Carlos Estévez is outright bad
  4. James McArthur, because he may actually be elite
  5. Andrew Nardi, because Tanner Scott has had an abysmal spring while Nardi worked on a splitter (don’t look at Nardi’s spring training FIP, please)

I feel quite strongly about the closers with assured jobs, too, but to me it’s more interesting to bet on the longshots. These five situations strike me as the most unsettled, the most volatile, with quality arms lurking (unlike in Washington, for example). Again, maybe it’s cheap to nominate five options. But to ask for three of them to hit? I feel like that’s a fair number to make this bold enough.

Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022, 2023). Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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2 months ago

My favorite part of the runup to drafting is the bold predictions pieces. I like these – a good, solid mix . I like the Trevor Rogers one best I think.

BTW, only one “a” in McArthur, then his name will get a hyperlink.