Potential National League DHs

With all the potential setups we’re seeing for 2020 baseball, it seems like most would benefit from having a designated hitter included for the National League. If that does come to fruition, a group of hitters will see value upticks just by virtue of getting extra playing time, but they will also benefit from not having to play defense. Let’s go west to east with our NL DH candidates for each team:


Kevin Cron, Jake Lamb | Cron and Lamb are a righty-lefty combo that could straight up platoon as Arizona’s DH in this scenario. Cron didn’t do much in a tiny sample last year, but he did pop 6 HR and boast a .310 ISO in the 78 PA of work. Lamb is now three years removed from his 30 HR/105 RBI season, but I still think the 29-year old has big power when healthy (he just hasn’t been close to healthy since ’17). Seth Beer is the prototypical DH, but he’s not on the 40-man so I went with Cron & Lamb instead.


Sam Hilliard | Knowing Colorado, they’d probably put Ian Desmond in this role just to piss us off. The fantasy friendly move would be installing Hilliard into a full-time role, though our own Roster Resource has him with the strong side of the LF platoon so he’s not far from playing daily if that happens. The 26-year old smashed 35 HR and stole 22 bases in 559 Triple-A plate appearances last year, leaving fantasy folks salivating at what he could do in a full season in Coors. Garrett Hampson would also fit here. I think I perceive him as the better defender because of his elite speed, but most scouting reports favor Hilliard in the field. Either way, an NL DH should be good news for Hilliard.


Edwin Ríos, Matt Beaty | Let’s be honest, they’d use this spot as a rotating partial day off for several guys including veterans without full-time roles like Chris Taylor, A.J. Pollock, and Enrique Hernández, but those guys are going to mix regularly regardless of the setup. Meanwhile, Rios and Beaty are the 40-man roster guys who should see biggest playing time boosts with an NL DH. Beaty had 9 HR and 5 SB in 268 PA last year while Rios sneakily posted a 161 wRC+ in his 56 PA sample. The excess of talent on the Dodgers is insane because one of these two will definitely be left off the roster without an NL DH and I haven’t even mentioned DJ Peters and his .232 career ISO in 1989 minor league PA.


Ty France, Josh Naylor | France was silly in Triple-A last year, smashing the opposition to the tune of a .399/.477/.770 line just 348 PA. He couldn’t bring it with him in 201 MLB PA with just a .234/.294/.402 line, but the 25-year old would definitely get another look if the NL adopts the DH. Naylor isn’t a terrible defender, but he’s stretched in the outfield and blocked at first base so the DH could be his answer for a full-time role. He showed flashes in 279 MLB PA last year (89 wRC+) while his minor league plate skills remain very encouraging (12% K, 11% BB at AAA last year).


Hunter Pence, Jaylin Davis | Pence returns to the bay and will get some playing time even without a DH, but he likely becomes a full-timer if they don’t have to put him in the field every day. The 36-year old enjoyed a resurgent 2019 that included a 128 wRC+ in 316 PA. At worst he’ll be a platoon partner for Alex Dickerson. Davis came over via trade last year in the midst of a breakout season with 35 HR and 10 SB across Double- and Triple-A. Can the 25-year old hold his power gains? Probably not in Oracle Park, but if the season is played in minor league parks, Davis could deliver some sneaky deep league pop.


David Bote, Steven Souza Jr. | Bote signed a 5-year, $15 million dollar deal to be a super utilityman for the Cubs, but his role could be expanded to include some DH time if the role were added to the Senior Circuit. He’s been a league average bat in 566 PA and at age-27 with a contract in hand, the Cubs will be looking to get him in the lineup consistently. Souza is similar to former teammate Jake Lamb in that he’s three years removed from his 30-homer season as health has ravaged his ability to stay on the field. Cutting his duties to hitting only with some regularity might allow him to stay healthier and tap back into the pop that yielded a .188 ISO from 2015-17 (and a .220 in that big 30 HR season of ’17).


Aristides Aquino, Josh VanMeter, Phillip Ervin | The outfield-rich Reds would arguably be the biggest benefactors from an NL DH. It’s not even that their surplus bats are inept in the field, it’s just that there simply aren’t enough spots for all of the talent. Aquino seemed ticketed for Triple-A as Spring Training was winding down, but an NL DH might get him back on the roster. If not, a platoon of VanMeter and Ervin could be the perfect fit for them. This already loaded offense would no doubt get even better if their pitchers no longer need to hit.


Justin Smoak or Ryan Braun | Basically the Brewers would just assess who they think is better at first and push the other to DH. Actually, Braun could reasonably be identified as the better defender but still wind up playing more DH just because of his health profile as he enters his age-37 season (Smoak is 33).


José Osuna, Will Craig | Osuna hit 10 HR with a .192 ISO last year in 285 PA, but he hasn’t gotten much attention as a Pirates backup this year. A DH role would definitely make him viable in NL-only and deeper mixed formats as he could reasonably push 20+ HR (over a full season). Craig is pretty similar to Osuna in terms of hitting profile, but he hasn’t debuted yet. He’s on the 40-man and has back-to-back 20+ HR seasons in Double- and Triple-A. If given the time, I’d tab him for an Osuna-esque 20-something homers over a full season.


Brad Miller, Tyler O’Neill | Did you know Miller hit 30 HR back in 2016? He has 29 in 831 PA since then. He’d no doubt only be given the strong side of the role if the NL had a DH as his 150-point platoon split has made it pretty clear that he can’t hit lefties. O’Neill’s speed and athleticism would be wasted as a DH so I think he’d push someone else into DH and wind up in the outfield, but I included him because he is the beneficiary to this theoretical addition. He’s got major pop and premium speed, but a distinct inability to make regular contact so the volatility swings will be substantial until he improves that strikeout rate (if he ever does).


Austin Riley, Adam Duvall | Riley was expected to start the season in Triple-A while Duvall was looking at a backup role, but both would benefit from a new hitting role added to the National League. To keep a theme I never intended, I will point out that Duvall hit 30+ HR in both 2016 and 2017, but he’s only been given 557 MLB PA since then (.201 ISO, though). He struck out 30% of the time last year, but still hit 10 HR with a .300 ISO in his 130 PA of work. While we all remember that Riley finished his debut season horribly, let’s not forget that he hit 11 HR with a .955 OPS in his first 33 games. The dude still has incredible power.


Garrett Cooper, Harold Ramirez | Would you believe that the Marlins actually have an offensive surplus? Their offseason additions have relegated Cooper and Ramirez to bench and Triple-A roles, respectively. Cooper slowed down a bit in after a big first half (.848 OPS, 8 HR in 208 PA) including just a .581 OPS in August, but he finished strong with a .983 OPS and 3 HR in 46 September PA. Ramirez is more of a batting average guy with a .303 mark in the minors and .276 in his debut last year. He could still develop mid-20s pop as he goes forward, but for now, look to him as a late AVG asset.


Yoenis Céspedes, Dominic Smith | This job would 10000% be Cespedes’s if healthy. If we assume he won’t necessarily be ready off the rip, Smith and J.D. Davis would likely find themselves regularly in the DH position depending on who started for the opposition.


Jay Bruce, Alec Bohm | Bruce is blocked off from a full-time role as things currently stand so he’s an easy DH candidate here. He can still mash, averaging 30 HR over the last two seasons despite only playing 94 and 98 games, respectively. Like so many others I’ve mentioned in this piece, Bruce hit 30+ HR back in 2017 (36). Bohm is the only non-40 man roster inclusion here only because there’s been buzz about him coming up relatively soon in 2020 and an NL DH could definitely expedite that.


Eric Thames, Howie Kendrick | These two are going to platoon at 1B regardless of what happens with respect to the DH, but if they do add the role, these two will both see their playing time jump, especially Kendrick who hasn’t had any platoon issues over the last three seasons, including an insane .930 OPS against righties last year. Thames has yet to eclipse even a .680 OPS against lefties so while a DH would likely secure his roster spot every time there’s a righty on the bump, there’s no real reason to get him any burn against southpaws.

Who is your favorite potential benefactor from an NL DH? If you’re doing drafts in this downtime, are you drafting as though we will have an NL DH?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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2 years ago

Wouldn’t Aguilar be the DH in Miami? I mean in the big picture Ramirez and Cooper benefit with more PT, but the DH has to be Aguilar.

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Sporer

I think Cooper starts many of the games in RF, and some at 1B. So, no, I don’t think he’d be a PT gainer. Whom do you have starting in RF? Matt Joyce? The only rational possibility is Brian Anderson, and he should start at 3B.