Image credit: Ian Happ (Photo by Tom DiPace)
As Major League Baseball prepares to issue a proposal to the MLB Players Association on how baseball might return under the coronavirus pandemic, reports have surfaced that the proposal may include a universal designated hitter for the 2020 season.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, such a step was considered likely after the current collective bargaining agreement expired in 2021. Now, the universal DH may come earlier than expected.
Here are 10 young National League hitters who would benefit most from a universal DH. The list includes players who are best suited to be designated hitters rather than position players as well as those whose paths to playing time become clearer if older, less defensively-skilled players at their positions are moved into a DH role.
1. Dominic Smith, 1B/OF, Mets
Smith got in better shape and turned a corner in 2019, batting .282/.355/.525 with 11 home runs in 89 games even though his season was interrupted by a stress reaction in his left foot. With Pete Alonso entrenched at first base and Smith’s defense in left field a work in progress, at best, the addition of the DH would be Smith’s best opportunity for consistent, everyday playing time.
2. Ian Happ, OF/2B, Cubs
Happ came back raking after he was unceremoniously sent to Triple-A to start last season. He batted .264/.333/.564 in with 11 home runs in 58 games after rejoining the Cubs on July 26. Happ has been forced into a utility role since his debut because of the Cubs’ position player depth, but he could finally have consistent, stable playing time in left field if Kyle Schwarber were able to move to DH.
3. Austin Riley, 3B, Braves
Riley got off to a hot start in his major league debut last season before cratering down the stretch. With Josh Donaldson gone, the Braves planned to make third base an open competition between Riley and Johan Camargo, with the loser likely bound for Triple-A. The addition of the DH would raise the possibility of enough at-bats for both of them, or for Riley to gain additional playing time in left field with Marcell Ozuna a potential DH candidate.
4. Josh Naylor, OF, Padres
The Padres transitioned Naylor from first base to the outfield after they signed Eric Hosmer in 2018. The thick-bodied Naylor made his major league debut there last year, and the results were ugly. With the Padres loaded with outfielders and Naylor blocked at first base, the addition of the DH would allow the Padres to get Naylor’s powerful lefthanded bat in the lineup without the consequences of playing him in the outfield.
5. Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals
The No. 10 prospect in baseball was set to compete for a starting outfield spot with Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader and Lane Thomas this spring. The possibility of the 34-year-old Fowler transitioning to primarily a DH thins the field and makes Carlson’s rise more likely, particularly given Bader’s offensive struggles and O’Neill’s and Thomas’ troubles staying healthy.
6. Garrett Hampson, 2B/OF, Rockies
Hampson quietly hit .284/.348/.462 after the All-Star break last year. The addition of the DH would allow the Rockies to move Daniel Murphy into that role, slide Ryan McMahon to first base and open up second base for Hampson while top prospect Brendan Rodgers recovers from shoulder surgery. Alternatively, the Rockies could move Ian Desmond to DH, slide the talented but injury-plagued David Dahl from center to left field—where he’s less likely to get hurt—and open up center field for Hampson. Either way, the speedster’s avenues for playing time widen greatly if the DH is made universal.
7. Carter Kieboom, 2B/3B, Nationals
Even with the departure of Anthony Rendon in free agency, Kieboom was going to be challenged for playing time after the Nationals re-signed Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick and brought in Starlin Castro as a free agent. All three veterans would be candidates for DH at-bats—although even those could be hard to come by with both Eric Thames and Ryan Zimmerman on the roster as well—giving Kieboom a greater chance of playing everyday in the infield.
8. Cristian Pache, OF, Braves
The Braves’ top prospect finished last season at Triple-A and is primed to make his major debut this year. Atlanta’s outfield picture is crowded with Ozuna, Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna Jr., but DH at-bats for Ozuna and Markakis would greatly increase Pache’s chance for frequent playing time.
9. Shogo Akiyama, OF, Reds
Akiyama is the Reds’ most natural center fielder but was going to be challenged for playing time in a crowded Cincinnati outfield. The addition of the DH would allow Nick Castellanos to move into that role and enhance Akiyama’s chances of playing everyday.
10. Garrett Cooper, 1B, Marlins
Cooper was the Marlins’ second-best hitter (.281/.344/.446) behind Brian Anderson last year, but he was likely going to be squeezed out of playing time by the offseason free-agent signings of Jesus Aguilar and Corey Dickerson. Instead, Cooper stands to remain the Marlins’ primary first baseman if Aguilar is able to become a DH.