Five Underrated Players Who Will Suit Up for Bad Teams in 2024

These players may not be stars, but they'll be valuable contributors despite suiting up for last-place clubs.

Esteury Ruiz
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 13: Esteury Ruiz #1 of the Oakland Athletics celebrates after hitting a first inning double against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 13, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

A lot of attention goes to big market teams with star power like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays, to name a few.

And while that attention is often merited, especially in the Dodgers’ case, we’re here to remind you that solid ballplayers exist league-wide. Even some of MLB’s worst projected clubs in 2024 have talent to offer fans all season long.

These five players won’t get a lot of press in 2024, because they’ll suit up for teams that aren’t expected to make much noise. Yet, they deserve to be recognized as valuable big leaguers regardless.

Esteury Ruiz

Ruiz won’t light up the box score with extra-base hits, but what he lacks in pop, he more than makes up for with 80-grade speed.

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Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers as part of the three-team trade that sent Sean Murphy to the Atlanta Braves, the second-year Oakland Athletics outfielder led the American League in stolen bases in 2023 with 67. That stat flies under the radar in large part because Ruiz’s team finished with an abysmal 50-112 record last season.

Across MLB, only the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. finished with more steals (73) as part of his historic 40-70 campaign.

MLB’s decision to enlarge the bases as part of sweeping rule changes in 2023 only enhanced Ruiz’s best tool, so fans can expect to see more displays of blistering speed from the soon-to-be 25-year-old in 2024.

While Ruiz isn’t a particularly well-rounded hitter at the dish, it’s worth noting that the ZiPS projection model at FanGraphs anticipates a decent improvement for the youngster in 2024, projecting a 1.8 fWAR (up from 1.2 in 2023) to go along with a 96 wRC+ (up from 86 in 2023) and 52 stolen bases.

Despite playing for the lowly Athletics, expect Ruiz to be one of baseball’s more dynamic players in 2024.

Ryan Noda

Sticking with the A’s, first baseman Ryan Noda is another interesting case of an underrated player who suits up for a bad team.

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A Rule 5 pick from the Dodgers’ organization last year, Noda doesn’t have the profile of other superstar first basemen like Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Pete Alonso, or former Athletic Matt Olson. However, you might be surprised to find out he was worth 2.0 fWAR in 2023. That’s a solid big league ballplayer, no matter how you slice it.

One area of Noda’s game that really stands out is his plate discipline. To that end, his 15.6% walk rate last season would’ve been third in all of baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he fell just short with 495 PA in 2023). That would’ve placed him next to names like Juan Soto and Kyle Schwarber. Seems good, especially for a first baseman.

Noda also demonstrated solid doubles power last year when he was healthy, hitting 22 of them in 128 games. Over a full season, that total would’ve been closer to 30 doubles. So, while his 16 home runs don’t pop off the stat sheet at a position where power is the most common offensive trait, he still exhibited a knack for hitting the gaps consistently. That pop is a major reason why he finished with a 123 wRC+ in 2023.

Playing for the Athletics won’t help him receive more recognition in 2024, but Noda is a name to keep an eye on heading into the new season.

Andrew Vaughn

The Chicago White Sox were bad in 2023, and they’re not expected to be much better in 2024. Still, they have some talent on their rebuilding roster, including Andrew Vaughn.

Vaughn isn’t teammate Luis Robert Jr. or even Dylan Cease in terms of pure talent or stardom, but he should be a fixture on the White Sox this season.

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His numbers aren’t spectacular, and you wouldn’t be wrong to say he has underperformed expectations as the third overall pick from the 2019 draft. Nonetheless, his stats have been solid over his three big league seasons on the South Side of Chicago.

Vaughn’s calling card is his power, which has steadily increased year over year, from 15 long balls in 2021 to 17 in 2022. He crossed the 20-homer plateau in 2023 with 21 long balls in 152 games. He also increased his wRC+ from 93 in his rookie season to 113 in 2022. That number dipped down to 103 last season, though we should note his 2023 fWAR of 0.3 was his highest to date.

It’s not entirely surprising that Vaughn doesn’t get a ton of props for his game because he doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well. Though he possesses 60-grade power, which is above average, even that tool hasn’t manifested itself completely to this point.

The good news for Vaughn? ZiPS is a big fan of his entering 2024. The respected statistical model projects him to hit 24 home runs with a 115 wRC+ in just under 600 plate appearances en route to a career-high 1.6 fWAR. All of those figures would represent career bests for Vaughn to date, and that makes sense given that he’s likely entering his prime at age 25.

If Robert doesn’t get traded, Vaughn will continue playing second fiddle in a below-average White Sox lineup. However, that low-pressure environment could be ideal for him to continue his ascension into above-average big league regular.

Keibert Ruiz

Speaking of players on bad teams who are steadily improving, count Washington Nationals’ catcher Keibert Ruiz among them.

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The Nationals aren’t expected to perform well in 2024 as they continue rebuilding after tearing down their 2019 World Series core. And Ruiz was one of the more significant pieces they acquired, arriving in D.C. as part of a July 2021 trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In his first big league season in 2022, Ruiz was worth 1.8 fWAR for the Nats over 112 games, which wasn’t bad for a rookie showing. He managed to follow that up with a 0.0 fWAR in 2023, which would seem odd considering his offensive numbers improved across the board (nine more home runs, a higher wRC+ and a higher wOBA). However, his -14 DRS behind the plate helps put that zero fWAR into context.

Despite his struggles defensively, Ruiz is still just 25 years old with room to grow. And as we observed earlier, his offensive numbers are steadily rising. ZiPS concurs, projecting him to finish the 2024 season with career-bests in fWAR (2.1) and wRC+ (103) while also slugging 17 home runs.

It stands to reason that Ruiz’s defense will improve with more experience as well, which likely factors into his higher fWAR projection for 2024. Add it all up and you’ve got a player on the rise at a position where elite talent is difficult to come by.

Ezequiel Tovar

Nolan Jones is starting to receive some well-deserved respect as one of the new kids on the block with the woeful Colorado Rockies, but don’t sleep on his teammate Ezequiel Tovar.

Tovar, a top prospect entering the 2023 campaign, is highly regarded for his defense at shortstop as well as his bat-to-ball skills. The former was well on display at the highest level last season, as the 22-year-old finished with a 2.4 UZR and 13 DRS in the field. The latter, however? Not so much, as Tovar finished with a meager 70 wRC+, though he did club 15 home runs over the course of the season.

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Of course, when you’re playing half of your home games at the hitter’s haven that is Coors Field, the metrics are going to take that into account. Tovar is no exception to that rule, but he can definitely benefit from playing at Coors regardless. ZiPS seems to think so, as it projects 19 homers for Tovar in 2024, along with an 84 wRC+ (up 14 points) and a 2.5 fWAR (up from 1.6 in 2023).

In addition, let’s not discount the value of defense and run prevention here, which is also paramount within Coors’ spacious dimensions. Tovar’s excellent glove is undoubtedly a major asset to his pitchers, who struggle enough with the thinner air at altitude. He may win a Gold Glove someday, and it would be rightfully earned. At the very least, Tovar’s defense helps explain why his fWAR is already solid.

If Tovar can raise his offensive game to the level of his defense, he could become a real star. Until then, however, he’ll have to settle for being an underrated player on a bad team.

Final Thoughts

None of these five players is likely to achieve legitimate stardom during his big league career. Whether it’s due to team circumstances, individual flaws or a combination of both, these players will fly under the radar in the eyes of fans across baseball.

In the cases of Esteury Ruiz and Ryan Noda, the Athletics have a long way to go in their rebuild. So do Andrew Vaughn and the White Sox. But there’s at least some semblance of hope for Keibert Ruiz and the Nationals, who’ve started to see the fruits of their rebuilding labor in the form of young contributors like Ruiz, CJ Abrams, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, etc.

As for Ezequiel Tovar and the Rockies? No one’s quite sure what direction they’re going in. Whatever Colorado’s plans are, though, Tovar is sure to be part of them.

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