Jackson Merrill the unlikely leader of fantasy's "Jackson Three"

So far, Jackson Merrill's 2024 has been a triumph. Getty Images

It has been quite the unpredictable season on the rookie front. Perhaps as good an example as any is a trio of hitters, inextricably linked in that they share their given name.

They're fantasy baseball's "Jackson Three," Jackson Holliday, Jackson Chourio and Jackson Merrill, who each entered 2024 with great expectations.

Flash forward four months, and Merrill isn't only the most successful of the Jacksons thus far, but also, through Monday's games, the fifth-best rookie in terms of Wins Above Replacement (2.0). In fantasy terms, he has been plenty valuable as well, placing 94th on the Player Rater while scoring 139 points, 141st among all players. Merrill even homered in three consecutive games during the past week, a sign that he's only getting more comfortable at the big league level.

Holliday was one of the most ballyhooed prospects of this generation, the universally regarded No. 1 prospect on every major preseason list. Chourio wasn't far behind, placing second on Kiley McDaniel's list (E+) (as well as several others) and signing an eight-year, $82 million contract in December that represented the largest guarantee to a player with no MLB experience.

Merrill, meanwhile, placed 12th on McDaniel's list, but he lacked the pizzazz of the other two, not to mention that he entered spring training regarded as the least likely of the trio to break camp with his team.

For those who read my Monday column, detailing prospective replacements for Mookie Betts in fantasy leagues, Merrill might be the most uniquely skilled such candidate, possessing outfield and shortstop dual eligibility with the categorical balance that might appeal most to Betts' managers. That Merrill's skills only seem to be improving as he gains experience puts him high on a short list of players with the greatest upside over the remainder of 2024 who are available in more than half of ESPN leagues.

More about Merrill

Merrill's contact ability is his greatest asset. Here are his year-to-date numbers in related departments, with his percentiles among batting title eligibles (again, through Monday's games):

  • Batting average: .278, 80th percentile

  • Contact rate: 83.4%, 88th

  • Miss rate on all swings: 18.2%, 82nd

  • Contact rate when chasing (swinging at non-strikes): 67.9%, 85th

  • Statcast expected batting average: .299, 95th

That said, he's free-swinging, with his 35.1% chase rate at non-strikes ranking in the 12th percentile. However, the contact he makes when doing so helps make up for that skills flaw. Improving that by even the slightest amount, however, could be what vaults Merrill into the upper echelon of fantasy hitters.

Considering that he's pacing for 15 home runs and 19 stolen bases already, that he's improving against same/left-handed pitchers and that he has already moved up from initially the No. 9 to currently the Nos. 6-7 lineup spots, he's already well worth adding in standard formats based upon his potential.

Choose Chourio?

Chourio, meanwhile, ranks among the bigger disappointments this season, as its midpoint approaches. A 22-HR, 44-SB performer who hit .283 as a 19-year-old between Double- and Triple-A last season, he finds himself on pace for only 16 HR/18 SB numbers with a miserable .222 batting average and an equally sad .276 OBP this year. Worse yet, he has begun to lose starts to the Milwaukee Brewers' other outfielders, sitting out six of the team's last 22 games and generally batting eighth or ninth when he does play.

Chourio's tendency to chase non-strikes has contributed greatly to holding him back. His 34.7% chase rate is right there with Merrill's, in the 14th percentile, but it comes with a 29.9% whiff rate (20th percentile), as his skill set is centered upon his raw power and blazing speed, rather than the contact ability of the Padres rookie.

McDaniel outlined the pitfalls of a prospect like Chourio's free-swinging nature best in his preseason prospects column: "This kind of thing can go one of a few ways for a talented young player: a couple of seasons of trouble, eating into his ability to reach his ultimate upside; a month or two of tough adjustments; or little trouble at all, if a prospect is so talented on multiple fronts that he makes the adjustment as he's forced to do it."

Thus far, Chourio looks like one of the former two, but we should also remember that he's still only 20 years old, with scads of time to improve. And, while it's a small sample, Chourio's June at least offers hope that he's beginning to figure it out. He has a mere 27.0% chase rate for the month, and has delivered .278/.366/.472 numbers.

Chourio's roster rate has slipped to 20.7% -- that's roughly half of what it was on Opening Day -- but he'd be worth an add in every league if he can continue to improve his patience.

Hope for Holliday

Last, but certainly not least (and only in this position due to his injury status), Holliday had improved his play enough recently that he might have soon been a candidate for another recall. Since his return to Triple-A Norfolk on April 26, he's been a .252/.418/.429 hitter with five home runs in his 40 games there, although that included a .293/.461/.500, 2-HR stretch in his most-recent 17 contests.

Unfortunately, right elbow inflammation landed Holliday on the seven-day minor league IL, an ailment that isn't expected to cost him significant time but will probably require more than a minimum stay. He'll likely need multiple games for Norfolk after his activation to prove both his health and readiness before being a candidate for recall, meaning a post-All-Star break timetable.

That said, everything that has been written previously about Holliday remains true. He's still one of the game's most promising prospects -- a potential MVP candidate down the road -- and a player who could be an instant fantasy option the moment he gets another chance.

Holliday wouldn't be the first prospect to struggle in his first taste of the big leagues, yet flourish in his second opportunity, and while he's in a position that makes keeping him on an ESPN standard roster difficult, he's as close to being a stash there as it gets and would be an immediate pickup the moment he's recalled.