Ohtani's 2024 fantasy value as an exclusive hitter
D.J. Short, Scott Pianowksi ,and Eric Samulski dive into Shohei Ohtani as a first-round pick in their 2024 fantasy baseball mock draft. Does he still pay off that value when removing his pitching stats?
2023 record: 50-112 (.309)
Fifth Place, AL West
Team ERA: 5.48 (29th)
Team OPS: .668 (30th)
What Went Right
Not much, folks. The toxic combination of a late-April media leak facilitating a rushed announcement of the franchise's impending relocation to Las Vegas led directly to an entire season of backlash and protesting from loyal Oakland fans directing their ire towards Athletics owner John Fisher. It certainly didn’t help the rebuilding club’s on-field performance as their lineup consistently struggled to generate runs, with Yankees starter Domingo German’s perfect game on June 28 serving as a microcosm of their offensive ineptitude. While the offense lacked any semblance of firepower, ranking dead-last in runs scored during a calamitous 2023 campaign, Oakland’s pitching staff also wound up finishing among the worst in baseball from a run-prevention standpoint this season, with only the Rockies allowing more runs to cross the plate. Despite the organizational chaos, the franchise did manage to uncover a few potential building blocks in burgeoning power/speed threat Zack Gelof and hard-throwing right-hander Mason Miller. The tandem showed some immense potential in their rather brief time in the majors and are easily the two biggest bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2023 season. From a pure fantasy perspective, speedster Esteury Ruiz’s success on the basepaths also qualifies as a success from an organizational standpoint.
What Went Wrong
We’ve covered Oakland’s offensive ineptitude and inability to prevent opposing teams from tearing their pitching staff apart, but it’s the complete lack of productive middle-of-the-order threats that sunk the Athletics' lineup this season. Veterans like Ramón Laureano, Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson, Seth Brown and Jesús Aguilar either struggled to stay healthy, or struggled to the point that they were ultimately jettisoned from the roster altogether in the cases of Laureano, Peterson and Aguilar. The emergence of late-blooming slugger Brent Rooker, who posted an .817 OPS with a career-high 30 homers after being gobbled up off waivers last offseason from the Royals, managed to salvage what would’ve otherwise graded out as a historically-inept lineup. While rookies like JP Sears, Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina and Kyle Muller showed they could be serviceable mid-rotation innings-eaters at the big league level, none of them posted a sub-4.50 ERA in their Oakland debut this season. Veterans like Paul Blackburn and James Kaprielian battled injuries and struggled even when they were healthy enough to take the ball. Finally, Oakland's bullpen was an unmitigated disaster this season with injuries and inconsistency destroying any semblance of continuity they might've had entering the year. Last year's primary closing options Dany Jiménez and Zach Jackson were limited to just 44 appearances combined this season due to injury. Veteran high-leverage specialist Trevor May mostly took care of business when save opportunities presented themselves, but the rest of Oakland's bullpen was a mess.
** Zack Gelof was one of just six hitters (Ronald Acuña Jr., Bobby Witt Jr., Nolan Jones, Julio Rodríguez and Kyle Tucker) to eclipse 14 homers and 14 steals in the second half of the 2023 season after being called up from Triple-A Las Vegas. The 23-year-old rookie second baseman's power/speed combination is exactly the type of profile fantasy managers are looking for and his plate skills are solid enough that his second-half surge doesn't appear to be a total mirage. He's quickly emerged as the Athletics' top-of-the-order catalyst and a potential mid-round selection in fantasy drafts next spring. He has a chance to be a potential franchise cornerstone for the Athletics moving forward.
** Flame-throwing rookie right-hander Mason Miller showed immense potential in a quartet of stellar early-season starts in the majors before missing four months due to a UCL sprain in his right elbow. He made it back to Oakland's pitching mix in mid-September for a quick cup of coffee, making five appearances (two starts) before the season wrapped up. The dynamic 25-year-old righty, who routinely touches triple digits with his fastball, has the raw stuff required to dominate at the highest level. There are enough durability and workload concerns to limit his potential upside heading into the 2024 campaign, but he's going to be an extremely popular late-round sleeper candidate in fantasy drafts next spring.
** Considering there were serious question marks regarding whether Esteury Ruiz would make enough contact to survive at the highest level following last offseason’s trade from the Brewers, his full-season debut certainly qualifies as a success. The 24-year-old speedster registered a respectable .254/.309/.345 triple-slash line with 47 runs scored, five homers, 47 RBI and an American League-leading 67 stolen bases across 497 plate appearances in 132 games. He doesn't offer enough from an on-base or over-the-fence power standpoint, at least at this juncture, to serve as a top-of-the-order table-setter, but his game-changing speed fits nicely at the bottom of Oakland’s lineup. He’s a threat to continue easily eclipsing the 50-steal threshold for years to come, which makes him fantasy-relevant as a mid-to-late round selection in drafts next spring.
** The Athletics need the top prospect tandem of Shea Langeliers and Tyler Soderstrom to emerge as quality big league regulars if they’re going to take a step forward. Oakland’s front office has seemingly hinged their rebuilding effort on the pair of slugging backstop’s ability to produce at the dish, but it hasn’t quite happened yet, especially in the majors. Soderstrom posted a lackluster .472 OPS in 138 plate appearances over 45 games in the big leagues before being shipped back to the minors, while Langeliers compiled a more respectable .681 OPS with 22 homers in 490 plate appearances over 135 games. If the pair reach their considerable offensive ceilings, they'll emerge as impact contributors for fantasy managers at the relatively-barren catcher position, and serve as the primary catalysts for Oakland's lineup for years to come.
** After converting 21 of 24 save opportunities this season to accompany a solid 3.28 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 40/29 K/BB ratio across 46 2/3 innings (49 appearances), Trevor May figures to cash in somewhere this offseason as a free agent. It's within the realm of possibility that he'll elect to return to Oakland, where he would enter spring training as their undisputed primary closer, but there will most likely be more lucrative offers out there for his services. His impending departure creates a massive hole at the back-end of Oakland's bullpen heading into the 2024 campaign.
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Key Free Agents
Trevor May, Tony Kemp
It would be hyperbolic to suggest that the Athletics have needs at nearly every spot on their roster, but their long-term forecast becomes much brighter if some of their former top prospects like Zack Gelof, Shea Langeliers, Tyler Soderstrom, Jordan Diaz, Lawrence Butler and Esteury Ruiz blossom into productive big leaguers. Things are a bit more complicated on the pitching side of the ledger, but the club would certainly benefit from a full-season of Mason Miller anchoring their starting rotation. The club has several intriguing pitching prospects ascending towards the majors and also figure to continue throwing darts at reclamation projects and former prospect cast-offs during their extended rebuilding process. It won’t happen overnight, but there is a pathway back to relevancy for Oakland, but only if their player development engine churns out a couple homegrown impact cornerstones and they manage to get lucky on a few front office lottery tickets.