Hello, again. Hope all you Razzballers enjoyed my takes on how some bats in the West might be impacted by the DH. This time around I’ll take you through each team in the Central. Remember, folks, I’m not here to guess who will DH necessarily. I’m looking at the overall boost a player might get because of the likelihood of an extra hitter in the lineup being a thing. Think more along the lines of guys who would have platooned or had questionable status entering the season.
Welp, let’s jump right in, shall we?
Gotta like Steven Souza Jr. here. Maybe that’s a little random, but hear me out. It’s a very safe bet that Kyle Schwarber will move to the DH spot and let a better outfielder do the outfielding. Enter Souza, who is definitely the better glove, and back in 2017 he hit 30 homers while with the Rays. He only managed 72 games in 2018, and didn’t play at all last year due to a nasty, nasty knee injury that he’s lucky to have recovered from. He tore his ACL and LCL and partially tore the PCP in his left knee. Good news is he says he’s back to 100%. If that’s the case, expect to see him in the field, and therefore getting everyday swings at the plate. In 2017, his last full season, Souza’s defense metrics were elite.
Speaking of 2017 metrics, the batting side of things was impressive as well. He strikes out a lot – always has, probably always will. At least the last couple of seasons he’s gotten back below a 30% k-rate, but he’s still in the high 20s. He does walk quite a bit as well, so there’s that. His OBP won’t hurt you very much thanks to the free passes, but his batting average is always gonna sink you – he’s a career .233 hitter. Souza also possesses excellent speed, assuming that knee truly is back to full health (he was 92nd percentile in 2017). Wouldn’t expect a ton of steals, but he might turn out to be a good power/speed guy that a lot of people are overlooking (NFBC ADP is at 623.93 at time of writing). The year he hit 30 and stole 16, he was one of just five others to hit 30 and steal even 15. Only four players did it in 2018 and only TWO last year. So that type of combo is actually a huge, huge luxury to have. He said he was ready to go back in March and it’s likely we’re not playing ball until July. So that’s like triple ready by that point.
Another name to keep an eye on in Chicago is David Bote. RosterResource has Jason Kipnis slotted to play second right now, but Bote should slot in against lefties and could even see DH time. I don’t really see everyday ABs happening for him, but he could be an intriguing option for you DFSers out there. That ain’t my bag, but I try to serve everyone with my wisdom.
The Reds have some outfield options and the DH would let them tinker with that some. We know Nicholas Castellanos is a lock, but he’s the only one for sure in my mind. It may be a committee type thing until someone starts to sink to the bottom for the other spots. The first name that pops into my head when I think “Reds DH” is slugging phenom Aristides Aquino. For a few weeks last season he was the craziest thing in sports. Homer after homer after homer. Troy Story did it when he came up, and he’s kept doing it. Aquino is a tad different. He fell off the face of the earth after bashing 11 homers in his first 16 appearances (15 starts). The man clubbed 47 dingers total in 2019: 19 with the Reds and 28 in AAA. Can you believe he had time to hit 19 homers in the majors after not playing until AUGUST? That’s absolutely mind-blowing to me. Two months and 19 homers and he still was a huge question mark heading into 2020.
Pitchers seemed to figure him out after he whacked everything over the wall early on, but he still managed eight homers and 25 RBI in his final 40 games (38 starts). Pace that out to 162 games and that’s 32ish HR and 101 RBI. The batting average completely capsized over that stretch but the power remained, even if it diminished. Interestingly, his BABIP remained almost identical between that early hot stretch (.265) and those final 40 games (.267). The batting average difference was enormous, though: .345 in those first 16 games and only .227 thereafter. If you want to talk monthly splits, he slashed .320/.391/767 in August but only .196/.236/.382 in September. But looking back to that pesky BABIP, we see .302 in August and .231 in September. My hot take: Aquino’s true self is closer to the August version than the September version. Worse luck and a propensity to strikeout made the end of his season look worse than what he’s capable of. No, I don’t think he’s the August version, but I think he closer to it than not. You don’t hit 47 homers by accident. His strikeout rate isn’t great, and it never has been, but his walk rate has improved throughout his career and his average was excellent all year in AAA last year.
Okay, enough about Aquino, he may not even be on the MLB roster when the season starts. Maybe they want to season him more in AAA, but I just don’t see that being very necessary given he dominated it last year and at times even dominated MLB last year. Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Shogo Akiyama are all in line to see some more outfield time or even DH time. Maybe even Josh VanMeter as well. Of those, I think Senzel takes the biggest leap. Winker would likely play for his bat, but his fielding sucks. Senzel is a better fielder and is one of the faster guys in the league, so if Winker could DH then boom, Senzel is in the field. That’s if Aquino doesn’t DH. Basically, the Reds have some options. My first bet to take a leap in value is Aquino. My second is Senzel. Be wary, though; leashes will probably be very short in a condensed season. Every game means so much more when you’re playing 100 instead of 162. Get some handcuffs on that bench! Get Aquino and Senzel!
Ryan Braun is the clear beneficiary for the Brew Crew. His aging body means he’s more a liability than an asset in the field. I mean, just look at all these injury listings within the past couple of seasons. His career was winding down unless he went to the AL to DH full time. Now he doesn’t have to!
No doubt Braun can still swing the bat. Exit velocity was excellent last year, even his xBA was almost 70th percentile. He still makes hard contact very consistently, and his slash line of .285/.343/.505 and 22 bombs is pretty damn good, honestly. Kinda hate to admit it because I’ve never liked the dude since he, you know, lied to everyone, but in fantasy all that counts are the numbers, and he can still provide ’em. His Statcast numbers last year were pretty well-aligned with his career rates, with the only real negative being a dip in xBA. Not a big dip, either. Imagine what a full-time slugging Braun might be able to do as opposed to an aging Braun taking a beating by playing the field. Gotta think it’ll help. And wouldn’t ya know, I didn’t realize Braun still had that kind of base-stealing in him. Even with his 44th percentile sprint speed he was able to swipe 11 bags last year, making that six straight seasons he’s stolen double digits. His NFBC ADP sits at 250.67 right now, which is looking like a good value pick for sure.
Braun isn’t the only bat that should benefit, though. Justin Smoak now has a clear path to everyday ABs playing first base when he likely would have conceded some of those to Braun. I’m not going to say he’s capable of repeating that random 38-HR campaign back in 2017, but he could be a cheap source of power still. Miller Park has historically been a decently homer-friendly park in recent years, so he has that going for him (if they play in home parks, of course). At any rate, Smoak is extra valuable in leagues where walks help, whether that’s in a points league or OBP category league – he walked a career-best 15.8% of the time last year. In the right type of league, Smoak could be a smart grab. He’ll have a better lineup around him, too.
Well, here we go. The bad team of the division. So who cares? The guys who are any good were always gonna get the at-bats. Is there anyone on the Bucs worth a damn with extra ABs? Did I sway you with my Wilmer Flores analysis? No? Got some news for you, this is the Wilmer Flores of this piece. His name is Jose Osuna. I think? I guess? What’s exciting about Jose Osuna for fantasy baseball? I’d rather just let Ke’Bryan Hayes come in and get his licks in. He’s honestly probably better. But Osuna is probably the man for the DH, for now. In 2018, Osuna was very good in AAA, slashing .321/.378/.497 and hitting nine homers in 82 games. In 2019, however, his slash line fell off in a big way, down to .253/.343/.429.
The guy doesn’t even have enough data to have Statcast ratings for anything other than sprint speed, which is a tooch above average. Osuna was a solid enough hitter through AA and AAA but wasn’t overly impressive at all in 285 plate appearances for the Pirates last season. He hit 10 homers and 20 doubles, I guess. That’s better than I could do. Strikeout rate isn’t too bad either. Okay fine, 30 XBH in less than 300 PAs isn’t totally write-offable, but it’s not like he’s primed for some kind of secret breakout, either. I just get a real slightly-above-average-ceiling vibe from him.
I got nothin’ else, guys, sorry. Pirates offense has some good pieces I’m really excited about, especially Kevin Newman and Bryan Reynolds. But like I said, they were always getting theirs. No one off that bench revs my engine. Had to pick someone, dadblabbit.
St. Louis Cardinals
Like it or not, Cards fans (I am one, and I most certainly don’t like it), but Dexter Fowler is very likely to man right field. At least at the start. I sure hope it doesn’t last long, but then again should he even really get another chance at this point? As much as everyone wants to see Dylan Carlson, I don’t think they start him in the bigs. That means Tommy Edman should be the man in left. Or, they DH Matt Carpenter, let Edman play third, and Tyler O’Neill is in left. If I’m Mike Shildt, that’s 100% what I’m doing. But either way, I don’t think there’s much debate about O’Neill being the bat that sees the biggest boost with there being a DH.
All you gotta do is take one look at the guy and you can see the home run potential. Don’t get me wrong, at this point it’s just potential. He strikes out way too damn much; it’s ridiculous. K-rate in 2018: 40.1%. K-rate in 2019: 35.1%. Walk rate is well below league average. If he doesn’t fix that, he’s not getting very far as a hitter. O’Neill was always a masher in the minors, and in 2018 he hit 35 homers between AAA and MLB. He’s got the stuff, he’s just gotta work on his approach. He’s also never really been given a chance to find a groove at the major league level because of playing time. But guess what? He got everyday at-bats throughout the whole month of July last year. Wanna know what he did? Slashed .301/.341/.482. Yeah he only had four homers, but his k-rate dipped to a somewhat more respectable 25%. Also I had no idea Tyler O’Neill was fast. Like, did you know he’s NINETY-NINTH percentile fast? He’s that jacked and can run that fast? Sprint speed doesn’t equate to running or stealing bases, but it certainly helps if you’ve got those kinds of wheels. What if he just starts running like crazy? He’ll have to get on base to do it, but he’s shown he can get on base with consistent playing time.
I promise I’m not biased here when I tell you I like Tyler O’Neill and I think he could turn into a steal of a pick. It’s definitely a high-risk, high-reward type of deal, though. Lane Thomas is also lurking and he had a really impressive rookie season, albeit in a very small sample size. But if you think designated hitter, no one fits the bill more than Captain Canada (yes, I know I just said earlier I’d put Carpenter there; just work with me on this one).
One more to go: the East
Next time, I’ll finish out my little series with a little romp through the NL East. No spoiler alert this time. Just a good old-fashioned cliffhanger. See yinz later.
You can find me on Twitter: @jkj0787. DMs always open for questions, comments, concerns, complaints, angry rants, etc.