Spring Training Hot Takes: Universal DH?
Greg Jewett takes an upbeat look at the current state of baseball and the up-in-the-air timetable to start the season for 2020.
First, our own Howard Bender mused about the possible importance of baseball playing with expanded rosters once games resume in 2020. One day removed from submitting an article centered around hope for a shortened season, this published on Friday, April 10th:
MLB considering radical realignment as one of their options for 2020 season: Grapefruit and Cactus leagues https://t.co/vLQTG4ezgu— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 10, 2020
Within the article by Bob Nightengale, with teams in Florida and Arizona using their spring training facilities and playing in new divisions, perhaps an overlooked wrinkle with a proposed universal designated hitter. Noting this all remains speculative, forward thinking fantasy players will need to update their draft boards with potential late round targets emerging if National League teams. Remember when first base and corner infield runs dry late in drafts? Depending on how news breaks, suddenly a few more players will be on fantasy radars in the coming weeks.
Focusing on National League teams, here’s some players who may be of more intrigue if baseball explores a way to play a proposed 108-game schedule by state with 15 teams in Florida and Arizona.
National League East
Remember when manager Brian Snitker faced a tough decision between Johan Camargo and Austin Riley to start at third base? With a universal designated hitter, both could log at-bats at the onset of the season. Camargo owns the better glove, so he could start the year as the third baseman but Riley owns more upside. Both players accrued 28 at-bats in spring training with Camargo slashing .286/.333/.464 with two doubles and one home run while Riley hit .357/.438/.643 with two doubles along with two home runs. Dark horse candidates would be Nick Markakis or Adam Duvall but Riley gets the largest bump in this scenario.
Entering 2020 in a potential platoon, Garrett Cooper could also appear as the designated hitter if his manager prefers. Cooper hit .281/.344/.446 with 15 home runs in 107 games spanning 381 at-bats last year. Health works against Cooper but not playing the field could provide him with more plate appearances. Wild card Jon Berti stole 16 bases in 17 tries from July 31st on last season. Berti owns multi-eligibility playing 20 games at third base, 32 at shortstop and 29 in the outfield.
New York Mets
First, things broke right for J.D. Davis to take over in left field. A universal designated hitter could also benefit Dominic Smith who slashed .282/.355/.525 in 2019 with 11 home runs in only 177 at-bats (one every 16.09) across 89 games. No one knows how to assess the health of Yoenis Céspedes , but given health he’s appeared in 84 games as a designated hitter with 18 home runs in 337 at-bats with a .288/.329/.525 line.
Flying well below the radar at a time with power teeming late in drafts, do not forget about Jay Bruce . He seemed healthy this spring with three doubles and one home run in 18 at-bats hitting .333 with a .667 slugging percentage. During an injury plagued season in 2019, Bruce launched 26 home runs in only 310 at-bats. He only hit .216, so the average will need to be accounted for but he’s only 33 years old.
It feels like forever ago when Howie Kendrick projected as a favorable target late in drafts. Kendrick hit a robust .344/.395/.572 over 121 games with 61 runs, 17 home runs, 62 RBI and two stolen bases. Although everything with the major leagues remains fluid, Kendrick represents a worthy late round flier given his ability to hit for average and he can be used as a first baseman (48 games) or second baseman (23) adding versatility to a roster.
National League Central
One of the toughest teams to sift through, the Cubs could go one or two directions with this option. Steven Souza slated to platoon with Jason Heyward could log full-time at-bats. Souza last played a full season in 2017 with 30 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 148 games. David Bote flashed upside last year but lost playing time once his teammates returned to health. Obscure wild card, Victor Caratini could accrue more at-bats as a designated hitter making him a second catcher with upside but it’s an outside shot.
This delayed start to the year not only allows Eugenio Suárez time to rehab his shoulder injury, same for Nick Senzel . Senzel appeared in 104 games in 2019 with 55 runs, 12 home runs, 42 RBI, 14 stolen bases and a .256/.315/.427 slash line. But, Senzel projected to be on the wrong side of a platoon with Shogi Akiyama if the season opened in March. If healthy, Senzel could get a full run as the team’s designated hitter. Josh VanMeter could also be a factor. VanMeter started the spring strong with a double, home run and a .400/.526/.667 with more walks than strikeouts. Stay tuned.
Part of the price reduction of Ryan Braun in drafts came with the potential playing time lost with the addition of Avisaíl García . A universal designated hitter prolongs Braun’s viability. He played in 144 games last year with 70 runs, 22 home runs, 75 RBI and 11 stolen bases with a .285/.343/.505 slash line. This announcement will probably not allow Braun to extend his current 10-year streak of 20 or more home runs, but if it comes to fruition, he and Garcia will be terrific targets even if their price rises slightly.
Since Ke’Bryan Hayes did not receive a contract offer yet, he left camp for the minors. However, Hayes hit a respectable .280/.400/.440 with a home run, five walks and four strikeouts during his time in major league camp. For those burned last year, do not forget about dark horse Cole Tucker . He struggled upon his promotion last year but surged at the start of spring with a .296/.387/.667 line hitting three home runs with a stolen base in 12 games.
St. Louis Cardinals
Tough timing for the Cardinals who traded José Martínez this offseason if a universal designated debuts in 2020. But, they still roster options with Tyler O’Neill and Lane Thomas in line to log at-bats if provided. O’Neill owns prodigious power upside but with some spotty plate discipline. As camp progressed, Thomas appeared primed to usurp playing time from O’Neill. Thomas slashed .250/.400/.563 with three home runs, eight walks and eight strikeouts in 32 at-bats. O’Neill hit .219/.359/.438 with two home runs, five walks and 14 strikeouts also with 32 at-bats. Veteran Brad Miller could also garner more at-bats as a designated hitter resurrecting his career in 2019 with 13 home runs across 154 at-bats with a .260/.329/.505 line.
National League West
Back from the dead, Jake Lamb may get another reprieve with a universal designated hitter. This would help Christian Walker investors from a platoon at first base as well. Lamb swung a hot bat in spring with two doubles and two home runs in 26 at-bats with a .308/.419/.615 line. More importantly, he walked five times verus five strikeouts in his early contests. Tim Locastro gets the attention of those mining stolen bases late in drafts. Locastro’s yet to be caught in 22 stolen base attempts in the majors and reached base safely in 39 of his last 43 starts in 2019. Dark horse candidates would be Josh Rojas and Kevin Cron .
Speaking of a need for speed, Garrett Hampson continues to be targeted in drafts without a primary position. Could he be a designated hitter or would David Dahl stay healthy as one? Either way, more at-bats for Hampson could yield more steals. Hampson finished with a flurry in September hitting .318 (28-for-88) with 16 runs, two doubles, five home runs and nine stolen bases. Sprinkle in 40 games at second base, 20 in center field and 10 at shortstop for multi-positional eligibility. Plus, no one really needs to find out what Ian Desmond can do anymore, right?
Los Angeles Dodgers
Given Chris Taylor and A.J. Pollock struggles to stay healthy, so given a full-time designated hitter, it’s possible the Dodgers keep it fluid like the rest of their lineup. However, Enrique Hernandez changed his swing in the off-season and launched three home runs with two doubles over 30 spring at-bats resulting in a hearty .300/.323/.667 slash line. Perhaps he’s the big winner in this universal designated hitter for a team projected to win over 60 percent of its games?
San Diego Padres
At a time with so many fantasy owners trying to identify players with home run and stolen base potential, Wil Myers may receive the biggest boost in a universal designated hitter scenario. Myers ended 2019 on a high note batting .312 in September with six doubles, three home runs and 12 RBI. He crushed fastballs last year with 12 home runs and a .297 average against them. But, his struggles with off-speed and breaking pitches depress his average. This spring, Myers carried over his hot bat with a .300/.364/.733 line during 30 at-bats with three home runs and a stolen base. Any migration towards a .250 or higher batting average with his ability to hit home runs and steal bases, Myers could be a worthy flier late in drafts. Plus, given stable playing time, do not forget about Francy Cordero either.
San Francisco Giants
Rising from the ashes like a Phoenix, Hunter Pence signed with Texas last year and surged hitting 18 home runs while stealing six bases in only 83 games. He also hit an eye popping .297/.358/.552 in them. With the Giants in line to struggle producing runs, Pence as a designated hitter becomes more appealing for fantasy if it keeps him healthy, herein lies the rub. Dark horse candidate could be Darin Ruf who hit .429/.469/.1.000 over 28 spring at-bats with five doubles, three home runs and nine RBI. Coming back from three years in the KBO, Ruf hit .313/.404/.564 with 86 home runs in 404 games in Korea with an 11.7 walk percentage and 17.1 strikeout rate.
Again, this all remains speculative but even if the proposal linked above by Bob Nightengale does not occur, a universal designated hitter could be worked into the 2020 realm of possibilities. Keep tabs on all the news surrounding how major league baseball tries to return to game action and keep hope alive as this tweet suggests:
Another positive day for Korea. Only 27 new COVID-19 cases were reported today by Korea’s CDC. First time in 50 days since daily positives were in the 20’s. Meanwhile in Busan, #LotteGiants played 1st night game which was televised nationally. pic.twitter.com/IHFpXNLyRv— Daniel Kim ??? ? (@DanielKimW) April 10, 2020
Be safe, keep your distance and wash your hands. There may never be a full return to normal, but baseball remains possible on the horizon.