National League Hitters That Benefit From the Universal DH
A universal DH in baseball has been discussed and argued about for years. Decades even. And as most baseball discussions go, you have a big chunk of fans that don’t want to change the game due to tradition or “This is how it’s been.” In the other corner, you have an equally massive chunk of baseball fanatics that love offense and hate to see pitchers in the batter’s box where 99% of them have no clue what they’re doing most of the time. But regardless of which side you’re on, we don’t make those decisions. “BUT WE SHOULD!” Listen, I know we as fans would love to have that amount of impact and influence, but it’s never going to happen.
With MLB finalizing a shortened season with specialized schedules, a universal DH will be implemented at least for the 2020 season. This has a big impact in our fantasy baseball world as many intriguing bats now will have a chance to play more regularly.
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Biggest Beneficiaries of the Universal DH
Austin Riley (3B/OF – ATL)
One of my favorite beneficiaries of the universal DH this year is Austin Riley. Overall, his rookie season was a mix of powerful highs and frustrating lows. But those powerful highs showed just what type of player he has the potential to be. This is a big power bat with 35-plus homers written all over it. In between all the strikeouts, Riley flashed that power, posting a 44.6% hard-hit rate, 13.7 barrel%, 40.5 sweet spot %, and a launch angle of 20.6 degrees, all of which were well above league average. Simply put, Riley is built to hit bombs. But as we saw quite frequently, the swing and miss is very apparent with Riley and a downright problem at times. It was an aspect of his game that hindered him at times throughout his minor league career as well.
Wow welcome to the show!
Austin Riley already has 5 home runs and hasn't even played in his 10th career MLB game yet 😮
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) May 23, 2019
After trimming his strikeout rate to 20.1% in the minors early last season, that rate ballooned to 36.4% with Atlanta to pair with a 5.4% walk rate. If Riley continues to be that aggressive, Major League pitchers will eat him alive. With that said, there were reports that Riley and the Atlanta coaching staff found a hole in his swing and were working hard to correct that this offseason. If Riley can improve his approach at the plate and just hit in the vicinity of .250-.260, which I believe he’s capable of doing, that should allow him to get to that power more often than not.
Coming into 2020, Riley was the odd man out in the outfield following the Marcel Ozuna signing and seemingly was behind Johan Camargo at the hot corner in spring training. But now with the Braves having the luxury of adding the DH to their lineup, I’m expecting Riley to benefit the most and play nearly every day this season. Even in 75-80 games, Riley has the power to pop 20-plus dingers while driving in plenty of runs hitting behind the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Marcel Ozuna, and others. Riley playing regularly is definitely someone that needs to be owned in fantasy leagues for the power and run production.
Dylan Carlson (OF – STL)
Even without the universal DH, Dylan Carlson was about to break down the door into the St. Louis Cardinals outfield. While there are a ton of bodies battling it out for at-bats out there, none of them can even sniff the offensive upside that Carlson possesses. The 21-year-old, 2016 1st round pick broke out in a big way last season, hitting .292 with 26 home runs and 20 steals in 126 games, ending with 18 in Triple-A.
While he might settle in as more of a 10-15 steal threat than one that exceeds 20 annually, Carlson’s above-average hit tool and plus power give him .280/30 potential at the plate. He’s one of the frontrunners along with Gavin Lux for National League Rookie of the Year and has the potential to flirt with top-100 overall status in 2020 if he can hit the ground running in St. Louis. If anyone was shying away from him due to playing time concerns, those concerns should now be firmly put to rest.
Carlson was going to play regularly in 2020 regardless, but the universal DH will help make that time happen sooner rather than later. The shortened season also plays into this as St. Louis is likely going to be an NL Central contender and needs to put their best team on the field.
Alec Bohm (3B – PHI)
Like Carlson above, Alec Bohm is going to break into his organization’s Major League lineup in 2020. The universal DH just makes that a lot easier. When Bohm was deemed ready by the Phillies, his addition to the lineup was going to cause more than one player to change spots. Whether that was at third base moving Jean Segura to second and Scott Kingery to the outfield or at first base pushing Rhys Hoskins to the outfield, someone was going to have to move. Having the DH spot alleviates that. Now, Bohm can slot in there or at first base with Hoskins DHing. That’s much better than pushing Hoskins to left field where he’s not very good defensively and force an aging Andrew McCutchen to handle center field.
For fantasy purposes, Bohm needs to be rostered as soon as he makes his Major League debut. Bohm was one of the most advanced bats in the 2018 draft and spent a hair over half of 2019 at the Double-A level. In a normal season, Bohm would’ve likely started at Triple-A before debuting around May/June or so. In a shortened season with Philadelphia looking like a contender in the NL East, it wouldn’t shock me to see Bohm’s name penciled into the Phillies’ opening day lineup. His combination of contact skills, approach, and power give Bohm a fairly high ceiling and a solid floor as well.
Kevin Cron (3B – ARI)
It’s very apparent that Kevin Cron has proven he can handle Triple-A pitching. The hulking corner infielder was arguably the top bat at the level in 2019, posting a ridiculous .329/.446/.777 line with 39 home runs in 84 games. But even with that showing, Cron has yet to break through at the Major League level and entered 2020 Spring Training without a starting spot. Not anymore! Sure, Arizona could throw Jake Lamb in that spot in theory, but Cron offers the highest offensive impact to this lineup.
With that said, one shouldn’t target Cron expecting a .300-plus batting average. That’s just not the type of hitter Cron is. Cron has massive power potential and around average contact skills that could produce some .260/35 seasons down the road if given full-time at-bats. With the universal DH, Cron should be a big beneficiary of the added at-bats and deserves a look in all standard mixed leagues entering the shortened season.
Garret Hampson (2B/OF – COL)
Ahhhhhhhh! Sorry, I had to yell for a second. As per the norm with the Rockies, they’ll likely use their shiny new DH spot in a way that pisses us off in fantasy. But just for a second, let’s close our eyes and imagine a world where they actually do something that helps us out in fantasy. There are a few Colorado hitters that could benefit from the universal DH, but I got to go back to my boy Garrett Hampson here. See, now you know why I was yelling to start this section.
The middle infield positions are clogged in Colorado, to say the least, with Trevor Story entrenched at shortstop and Ryan McMahon the current starter at the keystone. This leaves Hampson and Brendan Rodgers without spots to play. Hampson did get some time in the outfield last season but doesn’t have a full-time gig out there either due to the presence of Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl, and others. This added DH spot should allow Hampson to play nearly every day, and that’s a beautiful thing for fantasy purposes.
Garrett Hampson scored from second … on a ball to second. pic.twitter.com/q3vMv4UsCK
— MLB (@MLB) July 14, 2019
Hampson can do three things very well; hit for average, get on base, and steal bases. In his 331 minor league games, Hampson slashed .311/.383/.455 with a 10.4% walk rate and 130 steals in 155 attempts (83.9%). With his contact skills, approach, and speed, Hampson is tailor-made for one of the top two spots in the order where he can score a ton of runs. In a neutral park, Hampson is likely a 5-10 homer bat, but at Coors, he could get up into the teens over a full season. If the Rockies play at Coors this season, that’s obviously a boost for Hampson. But even if they play elsewhere at a neutral site, Hampson’s AVG/OBP/SB upside gives him plenty of upside in fantasy. Just look back to his dynamic September if you want a teaser of what Hampson is capable of.
If it’s not Hampson, Sam Hilliard could get a boost in playing time as well. After a massive 2019 season in the upper minors, Hillard continued to mash with Colorado and was in the running for the left-field job in Spring Training. Both should be owned in standard mixed leagues due to their upside and potential for playing time.
A.J. Pollock (OF – LAD)
With the arrival of stud prospect Gavin Lux, the one-time fantasy star, AJ Pollock, found himself relegated to a bench role coming into 2020. As much as I love Lux, it was a shame to not have Pollock in a full-time role, even if owning him in fantasy has been a major headache most of the time. Outside of his .315/20/39 season way back in 2015, Pollock has struggled to stay on the field, never exceeding 113 games played since. His stolen base numbers have also dropped drastically, all the way down to five in 86 games last season.
While his 2015 season will almost certainly stand as his career year, Pollock still can provide some fantasy value when he’s actually on the field. Over the last three seasons, he’s combined for 50 homers and 38 steals in 311 games while hitting between .257 and .266. That still has value. Even with his steals way down, Pollock could still reasonably post a .260/20-25 HR pace this season while adding in a handful of steals as well.
Ryan Braun (1B/OF – MIL) & Avisail Garcia (OF – MIL)
Both Ryan Braun and Avisail Garcia are talented enough to warrant starting positions on most Major League squads right now. But since neither have the agility or speed to play center field anymore, they were going to share time in right field this season with Lorenzo Cain manning center and Christian Yelich in left. The universal DH allows both men to take the field regularly while also giving Braun the added benefit of staying out of the outfield and resting his aging body.
It’s no secret that Braun is on the downside of his career and a far cry from his MVP levels in 2008-2012, but there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank. The now 36-year-old has posted six straight seasons of 17-plus home runs and 11-plus steals while hitting .278 over that six-year stretch. And it’s not like his numbers are trending down either. The 2019 season was Braun’s best since 2016, posting a .285/22/11 line in 144 games. Another .280/20/10 pace in this shortened season is very attainable, making Braun a solid late-round option. Garcia put up a very similar line (.282/20/10) last season in Tampa Bay and should be valued in the same range as Braun. Simply put, both need to be rostered in fantasy.
All Non-Castellanos Cincinnati Outfielders
But which one? Honestly, it’s hard to pick one that will benefit more than the rest of the bunch. In this incredibly crowded Cincinnati outfield, the only one that appears locked into everyday at-bats is the newest acquisition, Nick Castellanos. He’ll slot into right field with a handful of guys vying for the other two spots. Out of Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel, and Aristedes Aquino, the one I’m most confident will receive close to regular at-bats is Akiyama. The Reds signed him for a reason and that reason certainly isn’t to ride the bench.
Out of the remaining trio, Winker’s role shouldn’t change much. His ability to mash righties and struggles against southpaws will likely keep him in a platoon role, playing around 2/3 of games overall. That leaves Senzel and Aquino as the biggest beneficiaries of the added lineup spot. Both offer intriguing offensive upside, but carry plenty of risk as well. Senzel has had issues staying on the field as a professional while Aquino has major contact/approach issues that need to improve if he wants to become a regular at the Major League level. For 2020 fantasy purposes, this is how I would rank this outfield.
Jon Berti (3B/SS/OF – MIA)
Yes, even a bottom-dweller like the Miami Marlins can have a crowded lineup. But crowded doesn’t always mean talented. Nevertheless, Jon Berti still was on the outside looking in on most depth charts entering 2020 despite running his way into our hearts with a .284 average, 40 runs, and 16 steals in his 51 second-half games in 2019. The added DH spot should allow Berti to play nearly every day which puts him squarely back on the mixed league radar to do his speed and multi-positional eligibility.
Yoenis Cespedes (OF – NYM)
Ankle and wild boar (Never thought I’d write that) injuries have limited Cespedes to only 32 games over the last two seasons combined, and in general, the Cuban outfielder has never been the most durable fellow around. With his 35th birthday on the horizon, it’s probably best for Cespedes to play the field as little as possible moving forward. All the health concerns surrounding Cespedes still make him a risky fantasy option, but those in deeper leagues should at least keep an eye on him.
Teams with No Clear Cut Beneficiary
Chicago Cubs: I nearly listed the Cubs above with Nico Hoerner, but he’s far from a lock here. The Cubs also could give the extra at-bats to the likes Steven Souza Jr, David Bote, Daniel Desclaso, or Victor Caratini while resting their core sluggers and having them DH some.
Pittsburgh Pirates: There’s really no one of note on Pittsburgh’s active roster that is struggling to find playing time right now. All their fantasy-relevant bats are already in the starting lineup. If anything the added DH could help slightly speed up the arrival of Ke’Bryan Hayes or Jared Oliva, but I’m not sure Pittsburgh is in any rush to promote either of them as they’re likely not going to contend in 2020. Both should be up at some point this season though.
Washington Nationals: With all the infield options and aging players Washington has, I’m anticipating them using the DH spot as a revolving door of sorts. The only players I believe are cemented into full-time roles are Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Adam Eaton, and Trea Turner. While Starlin Castro and Carter Kieboom look like they’ll receive the bulk of the playing time at 2B and 3B but neither are locked in by any means. We also have a 1st base platoon of Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman along with Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Taylor all fighting for at-bats. If anyone benefits more than the rest, I’d give the nod to Kendrick who has long been considered a bat-first infielder. Getting his veteran bat in the lineup while hiding him at DH could benefit the Nationals lineup overall.
San Diego Padres: Much like the Nationals, I’m expecting several players to get small boosts here, but not one player to step into a full-time role. In general, the universal DH should give more at-bats to the combination of Wil Myers, Franchy Cordero, Francisco Mejia, and Josh Naylor. Mejia will also share the catching duties with Austin Hedges, so in theory, we should see his name on the lineup card in approximately 2/3 of games. You could say the same about Myers and Cordero who will also share right field as well. In deeper leagues, these guys deserve a look, but playing in 1/2 to 3/4 of games makes it hard to accumulate enough value to be a target in standard mixers.
San Francisco Giants: There just aren’t a lot of fantasy-relevant players in this San Francisco lineup. If anyone benefits, it’s likely Hunter Pence. However, he’s still only a viable fantasy option in deeper leagues as he’s struggled to stay on the field recently.
Media Credit: Fox Sports MLB/Atlanta Braves, Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire, MLB
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