All the Jewish MLB players to watch in 2024
Photo: Getty Images; Design by Mollie Suss
Clockwise from top left: Zack Gelof, Alex Bregman, Max Fried, Garrett Stubbs and Dean Kremer. 

By Jacob Gurvis

(JTA) — The 2023 MLB season represented a watershed moment for Jewish players and fans, as a record 18 Jewish players appeared in at least one big league game.

That record, topping the previous high of 17 in 2022, is likely to be broken yet again this year.

The new season begins in earnest today, March 28, following a two-game series in Seoul Wednesday and Thursday between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.

On this Opening Day, there are plenty of Jewish storylines to keep an eye on: The two best Jewish players in the game — Atlanta Braves pitcher Max Fried and Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman — are both entering the final year of their contracts. Zack Gelof, the 2023 rookie phenom, looks to continue his ascension in his first full season, while MLB veterans Joc Pederson, Kevin Pillar, Richard Bleier and Rowdy Tellez all suit up for new teams.

The big leaguers

Max Fried, Atlanta Braves, starting pitcher: When Fried, 30, stays healthy, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. The 2022 National League Cy Young runner-up has a career ERA of 3.03 and has racked up his 62 wins at a historic pace, with a career winning percentage above .700. But Fried, who won three consecutive Gold Glove awards for his defense from 2020 to 2022, started only 14 games last season while battling a number of injuries. Now, in the final year of his contract, the stakes are high for Fried — a Los Angeles native who grew up idolizing fellow Jewish lefty ace Sandy Koufax.

Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, third baseman: Pegged as a potential future Hall of Famer by some Jewish baseball experts, Bregman, 29, has solidified himself as one of the premier third basemen in baseball, averaging 28 home runs and 99 RBI over his eight-year career. The two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion has become one of the best postseason hitters of all time (his 19 home runs are tied for fifth all-time) and like Fried, he is entering the final year of his contract. Bregman has been an active member of the Houston Jewish community and has shown support for Israel since Oct. 7, drawing a Star of David on his hat.

Joc Pederson, Arizona Diamondbacks, outfielder: After two seasons in San Francisco, the 31-year-old two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champ joins the Arizona Diamondbacks, the defending National League champions and the fifth team of Pederson’s career. Pederson, who played a key role for Team Israel in the 2023 World Baseball Classic — both as a player and a recruiter — hit 15 home runs in 121 games last season. He’s no longer the elite slugger he was when he crushed 36 homers in 2019, but Pederson remains a solid big-league hitter and veteran clubhouse presence.

Dean Kremer, Baltimore Orioles, starting pitcher: Kremer made 32 starts for the Orioles in 2023, the heaviest workload of his career, posting a 13-5 record with a 4.12 ERA. A California native with Israeli parents, Kremer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during last year’s WBC that Israel is “like another home.” Kremer, who won Israel’s lone game in the tournament, against Nicaragua, was the first Israeli ever drafted into the MLB. Kremer also became the first Israeli to start a postseason game last year — just days after Oct. 7 — but the outing did not go well: The righty surrendered six runs in less than two innings as the Texas Rangers swept the Orioles on the way to winning it all.

Zack Gelof, Oakland Athletics, second baseman: Since making his MLB debut last July — which made him the 18th Jewish player of the 2023 season — Gelof, 24, has already cemented himself as one of the league’s best second basemen. In just 69 games last season, the rookie hit .267 with 14 homers, 72 hits and 14 stolen bases — earning the Team Israel player a spot in MLB Network’s list of the 10 best second basemen entering 2024.

Harrison Bader, New York Mets, outfielder: After parts of two seasons with the New York Yankees — and a brief stint in Cincinnati — the New York native joined the Mets ahead of 2024. Bader, 29, has battled injuries the past couple seasons, which kept him from playing for Team Israel. The 2021 Gold Glove winner spent the first five-and-a-half seasons of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Bader’s father, who is Jewish, told The Forward last year that his son is considering formally converting to Judaism.

Rowdy Tellez, Pittsburgh Pirates, first baseman: The 29-year-old slugger is joining the Pirates after two-and-a-half seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Tellez, who has Jewish as well as Mexican heritage, had considered playing for Israel in the WBC last year but chose to play for Mexico. Tellez will look to regain the thump he had in 2022, when he hit 35 home runs.

Garrett Stubbs, Philadelphia Phillies, catcher: As the Phillies’ backup catcher, Stubbs, 30, does not play much — he appeared in 46 games in 2022 and 41 last year. But Stubbs still makes his presence known: he has gained a reputation as a beloved clubhouse presence and the life of the party, especially during Philadelphia’s postseason celebrations. Stubbs also played for Team Israel in the 2023 WBC and has already committed to playing for the team again in 2026.

Jake Bird, Colorado Rockies, relief pitcher: Bird, 28, was among the most reliable relievers in the majors last year, appearing in 70 games for the Rockies, tied for seventh-most in the MLB. Bird, who had planned to pitch for Team Israel in 2023 but dropped out due to injury, posted a 4.33 ERA with 77 strikeouts.

Richard Bleier, Washington Nationals, relief pitcher: Bleier, 36, who also played for Team Israel last year, will pitch for his fifth team in his ninth MLB season, joining the Nationals after spending most of last season with the Boston Red Sox. Bleier, who didn’t break into the big leagues until he was 29, has a 3.27 career ERA and has enjoyed stretches of dominance: from 2016 through 2018, his ERA stayed under 2.00.

Kevin Pillar, Chicago White Sox, outfielder: The 35-year-old is one of the more experienced players on this list: Pillar has played 1,114 MLB games across 11 seasons with seven different teams. Pillar played in 81 games for the Braves last year and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in February. He is expected to make the team’s Opening Day roster as a bench/platoon player. Pillar has embraced his role as a Jewish ballplayer, including by speaking to up-and-coming Jewish athletes.

Zack Weiss, Minnesota Twins, relief pitcher: After playing for Team Israel last year, Weiss, 31, appeared in only 12 games in 2023, six each with the Los Angeles Angels and the Red Sox. Weiss joined the Twins ahead of this season but is expected to begin the year on the injured list.

Scott Effross, New York Yankees, relief pitcher: Effross’s career had gotten off to a stellar start: in his first full season in 2022, Effross, 30, posted a 2.54 ERA with the Chicago Cubs and Yankees. Then, the injury bug bit. Effross, who wears a Star of David necklace on the mound and had planned to play for Team Israel, missed the entire 2023 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Effross will now be out until the summer after a back surgery derailed his rehab.

The minor leaguers who could see MLB action

There are a number of Jewish players who are set to begin the 2024 season in the minor leagues. Some have played in the MLB before, while others are still eagerly awaiting their first taste of the majors.

Matt Mervis, Chicago Cubs, first baseman: Mervis made his much-anticipated debut last year, but lasted only 27 games before being sent back down the minors. The Team Israel player has prodigious power — Mervis crushed 36 homers in the minors in 2022 and 22 last year. But with the Cubs re-signing star first baseman and outfielder Cody Bellinger, Mervis’ path may be even trickier in 2024.

Spencer Horwitz, Toronto Blue Jays, first baseman: Mervis’ Team Israel teammate also debuted in 2023 but appeared in only 15 games. Horwitz can hit — in 107 Triple-A games last season, he posted a .337 batting average with 132 hits and 30 doubles.

Jared Shuster, Chicago White Sox, starting pitcher: Shuster entered 2023 as a highly-touted prospect — and even made the Opening Day roster — but he struggled in his first 11 MLB starts with the Braves and was traded to the White Sox during the offseason. He begins 2024 in Triple A.

Kenny Rosenberg, Los Angeles Angels, pitcher: Rosenberg has appeared in 10 games for the Angels over the past two seasons, making four starts. He will start the season in Triple A.

Dalton Guthrie, Boston Red Sox, utility: Guthrie has appeared in 37 MLB games with the Phillies, but spent most of 2023 in the minors. He joined the Red Sox for Spring Training but will start the year in Triple A.

Evan Kravetz, Cincinnati Reds, relief pitcher: The Team Israel pitcher has yet to make his MLB debut, but 2024 could be his year. Kravetz struck out 67 batters in 36 games across Double A and Triple A last season.

Colton Gordon, Houston Astros, starting pitcher: Team Israel pitcher Colton Gordon made 24 starts across Double A and Triple A in 2023, posting a 4.14 ERA with 151 strikeouts in 128.1 innings. The 25-year-old begins 2024 in the minors, but his future seems bright.

Chase Strumpf, Chicago Cubs, infielder: Strumpf was considered a top prospect ahead of the 2019 MLB Draft, when the Cubs selected him 64th overall. In 2023, the 26-year-old hit 21 home runs with 66 RBI in 104 games. He begins the year in Triple A alongside Mervis.

C.J. Stubbs, Houston Astros, catcher: Garrett’s younger brother C.J. is a catching prospect in the Astros organization. Stubbs spent most of 2023 in Double A, where he struggled at the plate — posting a .196 batting average with 132 strikeouts in 95 games. Stubbs played for Team Israel last year, replacing Garrett after an injury. (They also shared a brotherly moment during Spring Training this month.)

The long-shots and an update on a trailblazing prospect

A few final names to keep an eye on: Ryan Sherriff, the onetime Team Israel pitcher who announced his retirement in September but has said he’d be open to pitching in 2024; Team Israel pitchers Jake Fishman, Bubby Rossman and Robert Stock, each of whom has MLB experience and played in independent or foreign leagues in 2023; and Rob Kaminsky, who also pitched for Israel in 2023 before spending the season in the Seattle Mariners system. He is currently a free agent.

Five Jewish players were selected during last summer’s MLB Draft: Jake Gelof (Zack’s younger brother), Zach Levenson, RJ Schreck, Ben Simon and Will King.

Last but not least, 2021 MLB draftee Jacob Steinmetz, who is hoping to become the first Orthodox player in MLB history, was promoted to Single A last season. The 19-year-old — who enjoyed a breakout performance for Team Israel last year — is likely a few years away from MLB action.

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