On Sunday, Mookie Betts‘ first start at shortstop since July 7, 2012 — back when he was a second-year pro with Class A Lowell — might have made a few waves around Major League Baseball, but it’s we fantasy managers who really took notice.
Where we can place a player in our lineup has a lot to do with his fantasy utility, as certain positions can run thin on talent in some years. Betts’ seven appearances at second base and now three at shortstop have piqued our interest, as he could become a three-position qualifier heading into 2024.
The odds of this actually coming to fruition might have heightened, as a result of an evolution to rules for determining player position eligibility that we’re introducing in ESPN fantasy baseball games going forward.
Now, Betts does not yet have SS eligibility for the current season, as the requirement for in-season eligibility at a new position is 10 games (with said eligibility kicking in on the day following that 10th appearance). That rule is not changing, but we are making an adjustment in terms of player eligibility requirements for the following season of play.
Beginning with the 2024 season, and using the most recent year’s games played — meaning that 2023’s games played will decide each player’s initial 2024 eligibility — a player will need to meet the following criteria to begin the season with eligibility at any given position:
Playing at least 20 games there the previous season OR
Playing at least 25 percent of their games at the position the previous season (minimum five games at the position)
For the purpose of determining eligibility, designated hitter (DH) does count as a position, and it is possible for a player to qualify at DH only based on the above criteria. For a batter to be considered eligible for outfield (OF) he must play at least 10 games in any outfield position (any combination of appearances in LF, CF or RF).
If a player played in the Minor Leagues only, or played in the Major Leagues but did not earn position eligibility based on one of the above criteria, then combined minor league and major league games played by position will be used in the same manner as described above: either 20 games played or 25% of all games played at the position (minimum of five).
If a player does not play in either the Major Leagues or Minor Leagues during a season (for example, is injured or signs a contract with a non-affiliated league), then the previous season in which he has at least five games played at one position in the minor league or major league level will be used to determine his eligibility.
In Betts’ example, as of the end of play on Monday, he had played 21 total games, broken down as 17 games in the outfield, seven at second base and three at shortstop. (He has moved around in-game as a defensive replacement multiple times, which is why the games played at each position add up to more than his total games played).
If that ended up as his final stat line, Betts would enter 2024 as both an OF- and 2B-eligible player, having played 81% of his games in the outfield and 33% of his games at second base. If he makes an appearance at shortstop in each of his next three games, then he would reach the 25% minimum threshold to qualify there, too. Just be aware that he would have to then maintain at least that percentage over the rest of 2023 to stay at that threshold.
Should Betts play 40 total games come season’s end, 23 of them in the outfield, 14 at second base and 10 at shortstop, then he would automatically earn OF eligibility (20-plus games), plus also earn it at both second base and shortstop due to playing at least 25% of his 40 total games (10) at both of those positions.
Entering Tuesday’s games, the closest player to meeting both the 20-game minimum at one position and the 25% minimum at another in 2023 (for 2024 eligibility) is Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets. He has 19 appearances at second base and nine in the outfield, the latter representing 39% of his total games played, which would would meet the 25% minimum to qualify at both second base and the outfield anyway.
Alec Bohm of the Philadelphia Phillies is within range as well, with 18 appearances at first base and nine at third base, putting himself well above the 25% threshold at either position. He’s well on pace, however, to reach the 20-game threshold at both positions to qualify at both for 2024.
A pair of regulars are currently on track to qualify at three different positions, though neither has reached the 20-game threshold to lock in those spots come season’s end. Enrique Hernandez of the Boston Red Sox has 14 appearances at shortstop (61%), six at second base (26%) and six in the outfield (26%), while Gio Urshela of the Los Angeles Angels has nine appearances at third base (47%), six at first base (32%) and six at shortstop (32%). As with McNeil, each will need to maintain at least 25% of their appearances at those positions, or reach 20 games played, in order to retain them, but they’re all right on track currently.
Meanwhile, MJ Melendez of the Kansas City Royals might have the most compelling case to monitor under the new position eligibility rules. A C/OF player entering 2023, entering play this week, he had 14 appearances in the outfield and seven at catcher, putting him well over the 25% threshold to retain dual-eligibility. Can Melendez sneak in either the minimum 20 games at catcher, or, if not, appear in at least 25% of his games there in order to keep qualification at fantasy baseball’s toughest position to fill?
Only time will tell, but it’s certainly fun to track Betts’ usage at shortstop, in the hopes he can be a multi-position dynamo for 2024, as well as other compelling players!
Fantasy baseball – Positional Eligibility Rule