Image credit: Keston Hiura (John Fisher/Getty)
As expected, the universal DH has officially come to Major League Baseball for good.
The league and player’s union agreed to a universal DH as part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified Thursday. MLB played with a universal DH during the shortened 2020 season, but pitchers returned to hitting in National League parks in 2021.
Pitchers hit .108/.147/.137 with a 45% strikeout rate in 2021, the lowest batting average and slugging percentage by pitchers since the DH was added in the American League in 1973.
The universal DH not only stands to bolster offense league-wide, but it gives more opportunity to talented hitters who otherwise may not have gotten regular playing time, whether because of their own defensive shortcomings or they were blocked by another player at their position.
Here is a look at nine young hitters who stand to benefit from the addition of the universal DH beginning in 2022. All players are 26 or younger as of March 10.
1. Dominic Smith, Mets
Though he’s been around for a while, Smith is still just 26 and entering his prime. He is miscast as a left fielder and his defensive struggles have often affected his offense. In 2019-20, when Smith primarily played his natural first base, he hit .299/.366/.571 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs in 139 games. Last season, while mostly playing left field, he hit .244/.303/.363 with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs in 145 games. Pete Alonso’s presence means Smith won’t be getting the majority of the reps at first base anytime soon, but the universal DH opens up another avenue for him to get at-bats without having to play out of position—although the return of Robinson Cano from his PED suspension could make DH at-bats hard to come by, as well.
2. Keston Hiura, Brewers
Hiura has regressed badly as a hitter and needs to iron out his swing and approach first and foremost, but the universal DH gives him an opportunity to play every day without his defense hampering his team. Hiura’s shortcomings as a defender—particularly his throwing struggles—date back to his days at UC Irvine, and the Brewers moved him from second base to first base last season. The universal DH gives Hiura a chance to work on getting right offensively without having to worry about learning a new position or struggling to make routine plays, a development that stands to benefit both him and the Brewers.
3. Michael Chavis, Pirates
Chavis came up through the minors as a third baseman, made his major league debut as a first baseman, moved to second base last year and has also seen time in left and right field. Constantly trying to find a position hasn’t helped Chavis acclimate to the majors on either side of the ball, and he enters the 2022 season with a career .243/.295/.419 slash line despite longstanding confidence in his hitting ability. Allowing slick-fielding defender Kevin Newman to handle second base rather than Chavis enhances the Pirates defense, while the opening of a DH spot allows Chavis to just focus on his bat without worrying about trying to find a position.
4. Luis Campusano, Padres
Campusano has little left to prove in the minors, but the presence of Austin Nola and Victor Caratini blocked him from getting regular playing time behind the plate in San Diego. Campusano’s offense is the strongest part of his game, and the universal DH allows the Padres to get his bat in the lineup without losing the defensive attributes Nola and Caratini provide.
5. Juan Yepez, Cardinals
Yepez broke out as one of the top hitters in the minor leagues last year and was added to the Cardinals roster for the NL wild card game, but his long-term future in the organization was muddled with Paul Goldschmidt locked in as the Cardinals’ first baseman. With the addition of the universal DH, Yepez now has a path to everyday at-bats in a role that suits him best as a thick, powerful slugger with limited mobility.
6. Riley Adams, Nationals
The Nationals acquired both Adams and Keibert Ruiz at last year’s trade deadline as part of their rebuild. Ruiz is the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect and long-term catcher, but Adams is a talented player in his own right, particularly as a hitter. The addition of the universal DH allows Adams to get more at-bats than he otherwise would as Ruiz’s backup, with a chance he blossoms into an Evan Gattis-type power hitter.
7. Seth Beer, D-backs
Beer has a long track record of hitting dating back to his days at Clemson, but his limited mobility, poor hands and general lack of athleticism have long made him borderline unplayable at first base. In his first defensive inning in the majors last season, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury diving for a ball. Beer has the contact skills, patience and power to be a productive hitter given everyday at-bats. Now that the DH has come to the NL, he has an opportunity to get them.
8. Ryan Vilade, Rockies
Vilade was drafted as a shortstop, moved to third base in his second professional season and moved again to the outfield last year. His slow reaction times and limited range prevent him from playing the infield and his reads and routes need a lot of work in the outfield. Vilade’s below-average defense anywhere on the field has long made it hard to project him as an everyday player despite his penchant for hard contact and natural feel for making adjustments in the batter’s box. The addition of the universal DH now gives him a legitimate chance to get regular at-bats without hampering his club defensively.
9. Michael Busch, Dodgers
The Dodgers moved Busch from first base to second base after drafting him in the first round in 2019. He has handled the transition better than expected, but he is still a fringe-average defender at second base, at best, and his below-average arm strength makes it difficult for him to turn double plays. With Gavin Lux a superior defender at second base and Max Muncy signed for 2022 with a team option for 2023 at first base, Busch likely needed an injury to get a chance at regular at-bats in the immediate future. The addition of the universal DH now expedites his path to a regular role in the Dodgers lineup, whether he fills the DH role himself or plays the field while Muncy and others rotate in.