2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers – Middle Infielders

by Mike Schneider
2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Middle Infielders

Today I am going highlight my favorite 2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers, focusing on Middle Infielders. Those second base and shortstops that are being undervalued in drafts this season.

Having multiple position eligibility is always nice and a lot of middle infielders are eligible at other positions. Mookie Betts is eligible at second base and the outfield. If you draft Betts in the first round, it allows plenty of flexibility. I had a draft earlier this year, where I drafted Betts first and assumed I would use him at second. However, I ended up drafting several quality second basemen and I am a little light in the outfield.  In this league, I will likely end up using Betts in the outfield.

Elly De La Cruz and Gunnar Henderson are a couple of early picks that give you middle and corner infield eligibility which also allows you to go in different directions later in the draft.  Nico Hoerner and Matt McLain are going around pick 60 and are eligible at both second and short. As you get later in a draft and your roster is more filled, you have an idea of where multi-eligible players will play initially but things can change throughout the season and it is nice to have options.

2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers - Middle Infielders

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Oneil Cruz, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates, ADP 80.07

In 2023 Oneil Cruz broke his ankle on April 9th and missed the remainder of the year.  The Pirates have said he will enter spring training fully healthy.

Cruz is a great athlete with elite power potential. In 89 major league games before 2023, Cruz had a strikeout rate of 35.1% and a walk rate of 8.7%.  It was just nine games in 2023, but Cruz has a 20% strikeout rate with a 17.5% walk rate.

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For 2023 Cruz had an average draft position (ADP) of around 65 despite the high strikeout rate. He was a sexy high-upside pick. It was a small sample size but Cruz shows signs of improvement in 2023. The injury seems to have caused the shine to wear off on Cruz.  At age 25 I do not think anything has changed with Cruz's upside and he has a chance to win a lot of leagues for people that draft him in 2024.

Trevor Story, SS, Boston Red Sox, ADP 176.63

In the first two years as a Red Sox, it has been a struggle for Trevor Story to settle in the Red Sox lineup. He signed with the Red Sox in March of 2022 after spring training had already started.  Story then missed part of the remaining spring training after the birth of his child. He got sick in April, missed time after getting hit by a pitch, and then a heel injury ended his season.

In 2023, Story underwent elbow surgery before the season and did not return until August. In his two years with the Red Sox, story has played 137 games and only hit .227.  However, he still hit 19 homers and stole 23 bases.,

Story will finally enter spring training fully healthy and settled in as the Red Sox shortstop. Even if the average is nothing special, Story is a solid bet to have 25 homers and 25 steals which would be nice production for where he is going in 2024 drafts. The Red Sox should have a decent offense and Story will likely be near the top of the lineup so he has a good chance to have a good number of runs and RBIs.

Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Colorado, ADP 195.34

Despite only 71 games of experience in the upper minors, the Rockies made Ezequiel Tovar their regular shortstop to begin 2023.  Tovar started slow with a 55 wRC+ through May 27th.  However, in the remaining 104 games, Tovar was better with a .264 batting average, 56 runs, 53 RBIs, 12 homers, and nine steals.

Tover just turned 22 in August so improvement is likely in his second full year in the majors.  He does need to improve his plate discipline but his defense is very good and will help to keep him in the lineup. Tovar had just a 3.7% walk rate in 2023. However, his outs above average (OAA) of +16  was tied for second at shortstop and tied for sixth for any position.

The Rockies do not have a  great lineup but Tovar started 74 games either leading off or batting second in the Rockies lineup.  Of course, Coors Field is a great place to hit.

Edouard Julien, 2B, Minesota Twins, ADP 212.34

When doing early drafts, being able to anticipate moves major league teams are going to make is important. The Twin's depth chart looked crowded with Jorge Polanco. at the end of January, Polanco was traded to Seattle.  This means that Edouard Julien should be the Twins' regular second basemen and his ADP will increase.

The left-handed hitting Canadian-born Julien was an overslot 18th-round pick in 2019 out of Auburn. His calling card is outstanding plate discipline. As a pro, he has never had a walk rate below 15% including a 15.7% walk rate in 109 major league games in 2023.

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Julien may not steal a lot of bases but his on-base percentage makes him an ideal leadoff hitter. Julien did hit 16 homers in the majors last year. He is not great defensively but is good enough to stay at second for now.

Runs are a category that is often overlooked in fantasy baseball. Julien is a good bet to score 100 runs in 2024.

Brendan Donovan, 2B/OF, St. Louis Cardinals, ADP  290.48

In 2022 Brendan Donovan emerged as a valuable super utility player for the Cardinals.  He was a better real-life player than a fantasy option because Donovan did not offer much power or speed.

Donovan bulked up in the off-season before last year. In the first 60 games of 2023, Donovan was similar to his 2022 season. Donovan injured his arm in June and was limited to DH but he was outstanding beginning in the middle of June.  In 34 games beginning on June 13th, Donovan hit five homers with a .326 batting average, 20 runs 18 RBIs, a 14.1% strikeout rate, and a .171 ISO. Donovan underwent surgery to repair the flexor strain in his arm and did not play after July 29th.

Reports are that Donivan should be at full strength to begin spring training. Donovan should be locked in as the Cardinals leadoff hitter mostly at second base.  The outfield eligibility is a bonus. I look for Donovan to continue to get better and firmly establish himself as a solid regular in 2024.

Zach Neto, SS, Los Angeles Angels, ADP 293.74

Zach Neto was the first player from the 2022 draft to reach the majors. He was called up to the majors on April 15th. Neto only played 48 games in the minors after being the 13th overall pick out of Campbell University where he had two years in a row with an OPS above 1.200.

After being called up, Neto was the Angels' regular shortstop but had two stretches of about a month on the injured list with a back issue. Neto played 84 games in the majors and only hit .225 . He did hit nine homers and stole five bases.

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Neto should be fully healthy entering spring training and I expect him to build upon his rookie year. Neto may begin the year at the bottom of the order, but if you believe in his skills he could move up to the top of the order quickly. I think a .260 batting average with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases is a reasonable projection for Neto.

Javier Báez, SS, Detroit, ADP 510.65

How low is too low? Javier Báez had an ADP of about 170 in 2023.  He had a bad year in 2023.  Báez is on the wrong side of 30 and his free-swinging style does not typically age well.

In 2021 Báez hit 31 homers and stole 18 bases. After the season the Tigers signed him to a six-year 140 million dollar contract. Báez was not great in 2022 but he hit 17 homers. Last year,  Báez only hit nine homers with a 104 ISO. Interestingly Báez's strikeout rate of 22.9% in 2023 was a career-best. Báez was very close with his grandfather who passed away after a long illness in August.

Given the amount that the Tigers are paying him, Detroit will allow Báez every chance before taking him out of the lineup.  He may never come close to his 2021 numbers again, but I  expect Báez to be more focused in 2024. I  also think that a focused Báez can take advantage of the new baserunning rules put into place before 2023.  A mini rebound season of 20 homers and 15 steals with a .235 average would be great value based on his price.

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