Baseball is a-changin' ... and I don't even mean simply the baseball itself.
Oh, yes, the baseball and its impact on home runs and the enjoyment of the game has been a huge story both in fantasy and on the field, but there has been so much chatter about what's ahead that the future looks as exciting as it does occasionally scary: rule changes, including potentially robot umpires, a universal designated hitter, adjustments to extra innings, limits on relief pitcher usage and defensive shifts, and amendments to the roster structure itself; changes to the amateur draft as well as the salary structure for younger professional players; expansion and possible realignment; and (gasp) possible labor trouble upcoming in 2021. For all of our sakes, we'll hope that gets settled before it's even a serious threat.
Fueling the excitement for the future is the wave of elite young talent that has flooded the game over the past half-decade. Eleven of 2018's top 25 overall best fantasy players began said season at the age of 25 or younger, and so far this year, six of the top 25 overall but also three of the top five began 2019 at the age of 25 or younger. And that doesn't even include the outstanding seasons by under-25-year-olds Pete Alonso, Walker Buehler, Francisco Lindor, Mike Soroka or Fernando Tatis Jr.
It's a great time to look ahead -- and isn't that all we really do when playing fantasy baseball, anyway? -- with today being my opportunity to guess the future. Let's turn the clock forward five years, to the summer of 2024, and predict who will be the greats of the game in that particular season. Presenting: My "All-2024 Team."
As with past editions, the "All-2024 Team" uses the following guidelines:
A full, 23-man, old-school Rotisserie roster: Two catchers; one apiece at first base, second base, third base and shortstop; one corner infielder and one middle infielder (listed on the team at their respective positions); five outfielders; a designated hitter (for these purposes, the DH is an actual projected 2024 DH); and nine pitchers, broken down as seven starters and two closers.
Players are listed only at the position I project they'll play in 2024. For example, Cody Bellinger has made 100 starts in right field compared to only 17 at first base, but for 2024, I've projected him as a regular first baseman.
Players are selected based only upon how much fantasy value I believe they will have in the 2024 season alone. In other words, this team projects the positional leaders on the 2024 ESPN Player Rater. This is by design, as it distinguishes players with the highest distant-future, single-year ceilings. For those seeking players projected to have the greatest overall value for the next five seasons combined, see my midseason Dynasty 300 rankings.
Only fantasy potential is considered. Defense is irrelevant, outside of how it impacts teams' decisions regarding roles and playing time.
You can react to this team however you wish: Identifying dynasty-league trade targets if you're out of contention this year and seek a future franchise chip; engaging in fantasy baseball-related debates with friends and league-mates; or, if you choose, clipping and saving the list so that you can remind me in five years how horribly, horribly wrong I was with a particular pick. As I always write, it's all good.
Selections are listed in ranked order, as in the order in which I project they'll appear on our 2024 Player Rater, at each individual position. That means that my two catchers are projected Nos. 1 and 2, and so on, and the "Best of the rest" picks (effectively the "B" team) begin with No. 3 and so on. Players' ages are as of April 1, 2024, listed in parentheses. All statistics are through the games of Aug. 20.
Catchers: Adley Rutschman (26) and Francisco Mejia (28).
It'd be understandable if any dynasty-league managers fear investing in Rutschman as the 2024 class of the position, considering he's a Baltimore Orioles switch-hitting catcher prospect selected in the first round of the amateur draft -- bad memories of Matt Wieters' far-shy-of-expectations career might still be too fresh in their minds. It's a leap of faith to assume that Rutschman will succeed where Wieters did not, but there isn't a more complete catching prospect in professional ball, and with the increasing premium placed upon a catcher's defense, handling of a pitching staff and pitch framing, Rutschman is one of the few sure-thing hitters who can also claim a near guarantee of staying at the position (only an injury could threaten that). He's the closest thing to prime-age Buster Posey we've seen in years. As for Mejia, he's one of the most polished hitting prospects at the position, a more-than-capable major leaguer right now (.337/.384/.554 hitting rates since the All-Star break), and I think the Padres are going to need to keep him at catcher over the long haul in large part because of their glut of good, long-term talent at the other seven defensive positions.
Best of the rest: Gary Sanchez (31) and Joey Bart (27).
Sleeper: Patrick Bailey (24). Currently a sophomore with North Carolina State, Bailey is another solid-tools-across-the-board, switch-hitting catcher who projects as a first-rounder in the 2020 amateur draft.
First baseman: Cody Bellinger (28)
I don't think that any individual hitter made a more important adjustment to his approach during the past calendar year, as in an adjustment that effectively elevated a perennial All-Star's statistical ceiling to that of a perennial MVP candidate, than Bellinger. He has boosted his contact rate from 69.6 percent in 2017, to 72.9 percent in 2018, to a career-best 80.7 percent this season, not to mention posted a best-among-qualified-left-handed-hitters .430 wOBA against lefty pitchers this year, only two seasons after he was effectively platooned during the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2017 National League championship run.
Best of the rest: Pete Alonso (29) and Andrew Vaughn (25).
Sleeper: Triston Casas (24). A "hunch" pick, Casas' 17 home runs and .213 isolated power in 109 games for Class A Greenville look a lot better if you consider that the South Atlantic League isn't known for being especially hitter-friendly. At a position that has dried up in terms of big-time-power talent, Casas is among the best in the minors and first base seems his likely long-term destination.
Second basemen: Wander Franco (23) and Gleyber Torres (27).
Can I have seven middle-infield spots? Pretty please? The middle infield looks rich in not only current, but also on-the-way, talent over this next half-decade, and the battle for the three allocated spots was easily the closest among all positions. While I'm generally more interested in the shortstop pool, two "shortstops" shift here for the rare dual-second-basemen picks, if only because I see both of them actually playing this position come 2024. Franco's position seems like a coin flip, but regardless of where he winds up, he's easily my (and most everyone's) No. 1 dynasty-league prospect among those without any current big league experience. Just look at his stats combined between Class A and A+ as an 18-year-old this year: .322/.394/.487 rates, 18 stolen bases, 53 walks, 31 strikeouts. Torres, meanwhile, might be a poor positional call should the New York Yankees allow Didi Gregorius to escape via free agency this winter -- a resolution I'd expect they won't allow easily -- but he's a surefire middle-infield pick thanks to his underappreciated power from either position.
Best of the rest: Keston Hiura (27).
Sleeper: Nick Madrigal (27). He's one of the higher-floor prospects in the minors, with a high likelihood of being a solid big league regular for the next decade. Considering his skill set, though, he has a chance at being a perennial contender for the batting title with 30-steal speed.
Third basemen: Rafael Devers (27) and Carlos Correa (29).
Correa, who has appeared in only 109 of the Houston Astros' past 208 regular-season games, might seem the oddest choice of anyone on the team, and if not for my projection that he and Alex Bregman will swap positions by 2024, Bregman would reside in his spot here instead. Correa's immense natural talent, though, not to mention his still sporting the bulk of his career prime ahead of him, makes him a worthy investment despite the injury questions he has recently faced. Devers, meanwhile, has become a threat for both batting average and power at age 22 in only three seasons' big league time, and by 2024 he'll probably be a perennial MVP candidate.
Best of the rest: Kris Bryant (32).
Sleeper: Nolan Gorman (23). While his mere 15 home runs and .196 isolated power combined between Class A and A+ might not illustrate it, Gorman's raw power ranks among the best of any minor league prospect.
Shortstops: Fernando Tatis Jr. (25).
Resist the temptation to toss the "injury prone" label his way, despite his two injured list stints this season for hamstring and back issues and his season-ending avulsion fracture in his left thumb that cut short his 2018 in Double-A ball. Tatis' ailments shouldn't be completely ignored, but at the age of 20 he has plenty of time to answer the question, most of which might tie to his all-out style of play. Besides, despite his pair of 2019 absences, which have now cost him a total of 40 San Diego Padres games, Tatis' 4.5 offensive wins above replacement rank 13th among all major league hitters and he's the No. 21 hitter on the 2019 Player Rater. He's an exceptional talent in all facets, and if the worst thing I could say for his future is that he might be a risk/reward player who misses a chunk of the next half-decade with, say, three injured stints, is that a damning thing? As a 25-year-old in 2024, he might have some of the best odds for National League (and fantasy baseball) MVP this early in the game.
Best of the rest: Francisco Lindor (30) and Alex Bregman (30).
Sleeper: Adalberto Mondesi (28). Perhaps it's an awkward move to apply the "sleeper" label to him, since we all obviously know his name and what he can do, but if Tatis is a risk/reward player, then what is Mondesi? If his luck in the injury department takes a turn for the better, not to mention he keeps stealing bases at a 54-per-162-games-played pace (that's his career rate currently) while the league's production in the category continues its steady decline, he could develop first-round upside. I'm a known Mondesi critic, but I also don't deny his massive fantasy potential.
Outfielders: Ronald Acuna Jr. (26), Mike Trout (32), Juan Soto (25), Eloy Jimenez (27) and Royce Lewis (24).
Consider the Lewis/Christian Yelich (he's the first name on my "Best of the rest") battle for the OF5 role one of the team's most contested, with the nod going to the "fun" pick in that I see Lewis' future as that of a center fielder rather than shortstop, not to mention going against the grain to highlight his five-category fantasy potential. Even at age 32, Yelich shouldn't be far along a possible downward slope to his career -- his stolen-base potential will probably be his most threatened skill by then -- and in all fairness, he'll probably wind up one of the position's top five again in 2024. Lewis, though, brings the rare combination of power and speed, with a hit tool that could take significant steps forward in the next five seasons and make him a five-category superstar. He needs to be on this team somewhere.
Acuna couldn't be a more obvious member of the team, a superstar 21-year-old who is already great at just about everything. He's 2024's version of 2018 Mike Trout. And speaking of Trout, while the history of age-32 seasons among the players Baseball-Reference.com considers most similar to him through this career stage is a bit spotty, his current career track grants him a legitimate chance to wind up the greatest player in the game's history, rendering the career comps less relevant. Soto's bat -- it's his defense that spawns all the questions -- puts him on a similar track, albeit at a far, far earlier career stage, but just imagine the possibilities for him in his age-25 season. Jimenez, who rounds out the starting five, is a personal favorite who has so much more to offer in terms of both batting average and power -- and keep in mind he does have an impressive 22 home runs and .231 isolated power in what has been widely regarded a "disappointing" rookie year.
Sleeper: Jasson Dominguez (21). The Yankees' midsummer prize as 2019's top international prospect, Dominguez is still oh-so-early in his professional career, but his upside is also oh-so-tantalizing. It's tough not to dream big about a player about whom Yankees director of international scouting Donny Rowland said "he's the kind of player who makes the hair on your arm stand up."
Designated hitter: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (25)
The only relevant question regarding Guerrero's future -- barring, as mentioned in a few instances above, unexpected injury -- is his defensive position, but his bat is so good that even if he's a DH by 2021, he'll still be one of the most attractive franchise-caliber chips of anyone on this team. Even in what has been judged a "down" year relative to preseason expectations, Guerrero has slashed .287/.354/.500 in his past 80 games played, his seasonal numbers effectively weakened by his poor first three weeks in the majors. He's also only 20 years old, an age at which only 15 players in history have managed at least a .287 batting average and .854 OPS in at least 80 games played, and has earned perfect 80 grades for his hitting left and right.
Best of the rest: Yordan Alvarez (26).
Starting pitchers: Walker Buehler (29), Lucas Giolito (29), MacKenzie Gore (25), Gerrit Cole (33), Chris Paddack (28), Shane Bieber (28) and Mike Soroka (26).
With the game moving in the direction that it is on the pitching side, it's the highest-floor youngsters who earn my most generous long-term projections. That's why age -- six of my seven picks have yet to celebrate their 26th birthdays -- and the pitchers' control -- six of the seven have walk rates beneath 7.5 percent of their total batters faced -- weigh so heavily in my selection process. Buehler, Giolito, Gore and, yes, Cole possess the filthiest stuff of the bunch, with the control of it that could earn each of them a league's Cy Young before we arrive in 2024. If Cole, at the age of 33, surprises you as far as inclusion on the team, consider this: He's already one of only nine pitchers in history to whiff at least one-third of the batters he faced as well as four batters for every one he walked in a season in which he made at least 25 starts, and since he's a lock to meet those thresholds again in 2019, he'll become only the sixth to do it in consecutive seasons (Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and teammate Justin Verlander, who is also a lock to do it again in 2019).
Paddack, Bieber and Soroka, meanwhile, are strike-throwing machines; each possesses a lights-out pitch that solidifies him as a long-term investment. For Paddack, it's the changeup that's already one of the game's best; for Bieber, it's the vastly improved slider that FanGraphs has earning more than 10 runs above average already this season; and for Soroka, it's the two-seam fastball that is a ground-ball machine. While in the past, I might've built my "All-20XX Team" rotation around high-upside, future-ace types about whom the scouts were always glowing, today I want the polished, entering-their-prime arms who pepper the strike zone. Give me 180-200 innings of locked-in 1.00 WHIPs over the fading quest for 300 strikeouts.
Sleeper: Deivi Garcia (24). I'm not ready to put him on either the A or B teams considering he's more of a 2019 Double-A breakthrough who has struggled thus far with his first taste of Triple-A ball, not to mention his smallish frame. Still, Garcia's history of missing bats cannot be ignored and he's still awfully young, and a year from now I might sorely regret excluding him. Hey, he deserved a writeup somewhere.
Relief pitchers: Shohei Ohtani (29) and Andres Munoz (25).
Hear me out with Ohtani. By all rights, he should be this team's designated hitter, or at least a "Best of the rest" at the position, as a prime-age 29-year-old who to this point in his career has already slashed .296/.363/.547 while averaging 30 home runs and 17 stolen bases per 162 career games in the U.S. I placed Ohtani here, however, because he's a legitimate two-way talent whose pitching ability might best be maximized over the long haul by locking him into a more flexible relief role. With the game moving toward more specialized full-staff approaches to individual baseball games, sparing Ohtani the every-fifth-game schedule of a starting pitcher while freeing him up for 100 maximized innings at any key point in the game might be the best way to use him. It might not be ideal from a fantasy standpoint, where his usage patterns would be less predictable -- you currently cannot utilize him as both hitter and pitcher in the same game -- but who's to say the status quo will remain what it is in 2024? Ohtani is a potentially perennial top-25-overall fantasy baseball performer beginning with 2020, and by 2024 he should still be one of the game's shining stars.
Munoz, meanwhile, represents the combination of Padres success developing closers over the years, as well as the sheer unpredictability of the position as a whole over the long haul. He sports a 100-plus-mph fastball and biting slider that already are dominating big league hitters, and to the former point about the franchise's success, the Padres have squeezed excellent years out of Joaquin Benoit (2014), Fernando Rodney (2016), Brad Hand (2017) and Kirby Yates (2019) in just the past six seasons alone.
Sleeper: Nate Pearson (27). The Toronto Blue Jays understandably are developing him as a starting pitcher, with a probable arrival in that role by the early portion of 2020, but Pearson's combination of 100-plus-mph fastball and slider give him the look of a dominating closer should starting not work out.