Writing up busts in Fantasy is hard. If it were up to me, I'd take an optimistic approach on every player out there. Unfortunately, that's not realistic. It's also not the game we play. There are going to be players who let us down every single year, whether we like it or not. Our job is to be objective, weigh the pros and cons, consider ranges of outcomes, and decide if a player is worth his average draft position or average auction value. 

For those who've followed my work for a few years, you know I've always been a huge fan of Sandy Alcantara. Last year I wrote up Alcantara as a bust in this very column. Even though he was coming off a Cy Young season in 2022, I was worried about his lack of strikeouts and the new shift restrictions. Alcantara was going in the second or third round of most drafts and I deemed that too expensive given my concerns. It turned out I was right, even though it broke my heart.

Below you'll find the players I'm worried about in 2024, based on early ADP data from the NFBC. Like last year, I broke them down into three groups: Bottom Out Potential, Overvalued and Injury Risks. I'd also like to preface this with a reminder that I do not hate the Cincinnati Reds! I just don't like where some of their players are being taken in early drafts.


Elly De La Cruz
CIN • SS • #44
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Consider this my Sandy Alcantara for 2024. How can you not love Elly De La Cruz? He's everything we want in the game of baseball. We're looking at a 22-year-old freak athlete, standing at 6'5, 200 pounds, who hit 13 home runs with 35 steals in just 98 games as a rookie. De La Cruz electrified fans everywhere, posting the best sprint speed in the game with the third-hardest hit ball in 2023 (119.2 MPH exit velocity). Those are the positives.

Now we move on to the negatives. De La Cruz hit .235 with a 33.7% strikeout rate. He hit fastballs well but struggled against both breaking and offspeed pitches. Next up we have the splits. While De La Cruz is a switch-hitter, he struggled mightily against left-handed pitching. In 122 plate appearances against southpaws, he hit just .184 with a 40% strikeout rate and a .495 OPS. De La Cruz's launch angle is also an issue. While he does post Herculean exit velocities, a lot of that is mitigated by hitting the ball on the ground. He posted a 54% ground ball rate with a 3.6 average launch angle. The league average is 12.2 degrees.

Let's consider his range of outcomes. Seeing as how he's only 22 years old, De La Cruz may improve in multiple areas. I truly believe that if he puts it all together, we're looking at a 40-40 hitter, which means we're drafting him in the top five in 2025. But what if he picks up where he left off in the second half? What if he can't hit lefties and stop striking out? Is it possible he winds up back in the minors? De La Cruz can make me look completely foolish but when I consider all of these possibilities, his current ADP of 38 is just too high.

Alexis Diaz
CIN • RP • #43
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Let me start by saying almost all closers have bottom-out potential. Alexis Diaz is no different. Diaz was great in his first full season as the Reds closer, racking up 37 saves to go along with a 3.07 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. As we dig a little deeper, however, the concerns start to mount. While Diaz racks up the strikeouts, control is an issue. Among qualified relievers, his 12.6% walk rate was the 15th highest. As a result, he posted just a 17.5% K-BB rate, tied for 66th. Diaz's fastball velocity also took a step back last season, going from 95.7 MPH in 2022 to 94.5 MPH in 2023. While it could bounce back, that's a pretty big drop year-over-year.

Diaz faded pretty hard, too. In the second half, he posted a 4.61 ERA and a 13.8% walk rate. The second-half ERA was supported by a 5.27 FIP and a 5.78 xFIP, which are both pretty rough. It's entirely possible that the Reds overworked Diaz down the stretch, which would explain his second-half swoon. But what if he picks up where he left off? What if the walks become untenable? The Reds are looking to compete in 2024 and signed Emilio Pagan, a reliever who does have closing experience. There's already enough risk with closers that I'll be fading Diaz at his current draft cost.

Anthony Volpe
NYY • SS • #11
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I know what you're thinking. "Frank, what do you have against young players!?" It's just cost vs. downside. Plus, spoiler alert but there are more young players to come. Anyway, Anthony Volpe had a fine rookie season! He was one of just 19 hitters to go 20-20 plus he won a gold glove as a rookie. The problem is his batting average. Volpe hit just .209 last year, the third-lowest among qualified hitters. His .666 OPS ranked sixth-lowest. I'm not sure I see the batting average improving that much, either.

Volpe struck out nearly 28% of the time last season and, according to Statcast, his expected batting average was just .229. I'm a Yankees fan. I watch a lot of Yankees games. Volpe has a pretty big uppercut in his swing. I think he'd be better off leveling the swing and taking more of a line-drive approach. While it might hinder his power production, it would help his ability to get on base. Lastly, Volpe stopped running as often. He had 13 steals over his first 41 games. From May 14 on, he swiped just 11 bags over his final 118 games. Volpe's 141.8 ADP isn't too prohibitive but I have serious concerns about the batting average, the steals slowing down and, as a result, his floor in Fantasy.

TJ Friedl
CIN • CF • #29
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TJ Friedl just enjoyed a breakout season, one that saw him finish as a Top-24 outfielder in both Roto and H2H points leagues. He hit .279 with 18 home runs, 27 steals and made a ton of contact, striking out just 16.2% of the time. What worries me is the underlying profile. First off, he does not hit the ball hard at all. His average exit velocity was just 86.6 MPH, which ranked in the 11th percentile. According to Statcast, Friedl's expected batting average was .240 while his expected slugging percentage was just .321. Friedl somehow managed 18 home runs on just 13 barrels. Typically, the average is about 60% of barrels go for home runs. I know Friedl calls Great American Ballpark home but even with that, I don't trust the power whatsoever.

Friedl also has a really weird profile in that he led the league in bunt hits and had the fifth-highest infield fly ball percentage. Friedl had 17 bunt hits in 2023, the most in a season since Dee Strange-Gordon had 18 back in 2017. That seems like something opposing teams would be more aware of and try to limit the following year. I mentioned Friedl posted the fifth-highest infield fly ball rate. Those are automatic outs and he's consistently hit too many of them in his career. Given everything I've laid out, I think there's a pretty good case that the batting average and power will regress in 2024. The Reds are a team looking to compete this year and they have a bunch of depth. There's a non-zero chance Friedl loses his job if he gets off to a slow start. There's no way I'd use a Top-160 pick on a player with a floor that low.


C.J. Abrams
WAS • SS • #5
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Like Elly De La Cruz, C.J. Abrams is a former top prospect who offers a unique skill set. Abrams finished 2023 with 18 home runs and 47 steals. He went bonkers after he was moved to the leadoff spot in July. Over Abrams' final 73 games, he hit .256 with 11 home runs and 36 steals. That's a 22-homer, 73-steal pace over 150 games. There are maybe a handful of players that could provide a ceiling like that for Fantasy. What worries me are his splits and batted ball data.

Abrams has 261 career plate appearances against left-handed pitching. He's batting just .163 with a .466 OPS in said plate appearances. I'm not sure the Nationals will ever bench Abrams against lefties because they just don't have enough talent but is there a chance he moves down in the lineup against them? I think so. Plus, Abrams playing against lefties is actively hurting his numbers and, thus, your Fantasy team. As for the batted ball data, Abrams does not hit the ball hard at all. His 87.4 MPH average exit velocity ranked in the 16th percentile. On top of that, he also hits a lot of pop ups. His 14.2% infield fly ball rate led all qualified shortstops. Again, those are automatic outs, which put a ceiling on a player's batting average. Abrams' FantasyPros ADP is currently 58.2, which is a little misleading. He's still a top-45 pick in four of the five ADP sources, which is too high for me.

Aaron Nola
PHI • SP • #27
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Aaron Nola offers a skill not many other pitchers can provide in today's game. He's a workhorse. Nola has thrown 1,065.1 innings since the start of 2018, second to only Gerrit Cole. He also gets a lot of strikeouts. Nola's 1,209 strikeouts during that span are third to only Cole and Max Scherzer. The obvious frustrating part is the inconsistency in Nola's ERA. He's coming off a 4.46 ERA in 2023, just two years after posting a 4.63 mark in 2021. What makes it even more frustrating is that the underlying numbers say he's performed like a Top-10 pitcher. Since 2021, Nola ranks eighth in SIERA (3.27) and eighth in K-BB rate (23.3%).

My only explanation is that Nola isn't built the same as other "aces". His fastball averages 92.7 MPH. That means his margin for error is slimmer than those pumping mid-to-upper 90s. It kind of makes sense, too. When things go wrong for Nola, they go wrong. He gives up hard contact, allows home runs and struggles to pitch with runners on base. Usually, I put my faith in the underlying data but when we have a big enough sample of surface-level numbers telling a different story, I'll trust that instead. The fact is Nola has a 4.09 ERA since the start of 2021.

Since writing this back in January, Scott White discovered that the pitch clock may have affected Nola in 2023. It could turn out to be a completely reasonable excuse for why Nola struggled so much. The problem is that Nola also struggled mightily in 2021, when there was no pitch clock. I'm still fading him as the Top-15 starting pitcher he's being drafted as.

Joe Ryan
MIN • SP • #41
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Joe Ryan has a lot of similarities to Nola. The strikeouts and the underlying numbers are awesome. Among starting pitchers with 160 innings in 2023, Ryan ranked fifth in strikeout rate (29.3%), fifth in K/9 (10.97), second in K-BB rate (24.3%) and seventh in swinging strike rate (13.8%). While his ERA was an inflated 4.55, his SIERA was 3.44 and his xERA was 3.53. He must be an obvious regression candidate! Not so fast.

Ryan is an extreme flyball pitcher who, at times, allows hard contact. Those two things together often result in home runs. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched since 2021, Ryan's 52% fly ball rate ranks second behind only Cristian Javier. Ryan's 1.5 HR/9 is 16th during that span. If we take a look at the arsenal, Ryan has a deceptive fastball and not much else. He incorporated a new splitter and sweeper but neither had great results. I also worry that the rest of the league might be starting to catch up to these deceptive fastballs being thrown at the top of the zone, as laid out by Eno Sarris of The Athletic. Some might point to Ryan pitching through a strained left groin last season. He took time off and even after returning, posted a 4.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 1.77 HR/9 over his final seven starts. Ryan is a talented pitcher but he has a career ERA of 4.05 and a questionable arsenal. He's currently the SP26 in early ADP but is ranked outside my top-36 starting pitchers. 

Mitch Keller
PIT • SP • #23
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It's hard to say a player with an ADP of 165 is overvalued but I have my concerns with Mitch Keller. In many ways, Keller is coming off his best season yet, posting career-highs in innings (194.1) and strikeouts (210). He had some rough starts in the second half, which brought the final ERA up to 4.21. One of my concerns with Keller is that I can't explain the increased strikeouts. While he posted career-highs in strikeout rate (25.5%) and K/9 (9.7), his swinging strike rate was a paltry 9.7% (37th among 44 qualified starting pitchers). He took a turn for the worst in that second half, too. 

  • First three months: 3.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 118 K over 105 IP, 3.56 SIERA, 20.8% K-BB rate
  • Final three months: 5.24 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 92 K over 89.1 IP, 4.12 SIERA, 16.5% K-BB rate

Keller is prone to blow-up starts, which could wreck your ratios or single-handedly lose you a week in a H2H league. He allowed at least four earned runs in 11 of 32 starts. He allowed eight earned runs on three different occasions! Lastly, Keller showed off a new level of control, posting a career-best 6.7% walk rate. What if that regresses back to his career 8.6% mark? I just see too many avenues where this can go wrong plus Keller pitches for the Pirates, so we shouldn't expect too many wins. I'll pass on Keller for other more intriguing options in that range of the draft.


Royce Lewis
MIN • 3B • #23
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Let me preface this by saying I have no concerns over Royce Lewis' talent level. It's just damn near impossible to discuss injury concerns in Fantasy Baseball without mentioning his name. Lewis was selected first overall by the Twins way back in 2017 and, when he's been on the field, he's shown us why. In 70 career games, Lewis is batting .307 with 17 home runs and six steals. That's a 36-homer, 12-steal pace with a great batting average. He just has not been able to stay on the field.

Lewis has torn the ACL in his right knee twice and, most recently, went on the Injured List with oblique and hamstring strains in 2023. Obliques and hamstrings, in particular, are injuries that could linger year over year. On top of that, you have to pay a steep price for Lewis in drafts. His ADP is currently 47.9 as the sixth third baseman off the board. It comes down to your risk tolerance. If you think Lewis can stay upright, there's a real chance we're drafting him in the top two rounds next year. The overall ADP has dropped to 63.8 but he still remains a top-50 pick on both CBS and the NFBC, which is too high for me.

Shane Bieber
CLE • SP • #57
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A lot has happened to Shane Bieber since winning the Cy Young in the shortened 2020 season. In 2021, Bieber was limited to just 96.2 innings due to a strained subscapularis in his right shoulder. He bounced back in 2022 with a terrific season, though it came with decreased velocity and diminished strikeout ability. Then in 2023, everything went south. His strikeout rate plummeted, the walks went up and, worst of all, he went on the 60-day IL with a strained right forearm.

As we've seen with many pitchers, the dreaded strained forearm is often a precursor to more serious injuries. That's the main concern but the skill degradation is also very worrisome. Over the past four seasons, his strikeout rate has gone from 41% to 33% to 25% and down to 20% in 2023. His swinging strike rate has followed a similar trend. It's no secret the Guardians have been shopping Bieber this offseason, too. Is it because he's in the final year of team control? Is it because he might be damaged goods? Perhaps it's a combination of both.

Since writing this back in January, a lot has changed with Bieber. First, the clip below went viral in early February. That's Bieber working out at Driveline Baseball this offseason. According to the video, Bieber's velocity is up and he has more break on his curveball. If true, both factors are huge for his upside. With that being said, his overall ADP has also climbed about 30 picks since January! Bieber's now being drafted inside the top-150 picks. I'll admit his outlook has changed but the injury downside still remains. In fact, I'd argue he might be even more susceptible to re-injury if he's throwing harder this season. I've moved Bieber up a bit in the rankings but he's still a fade for me.