If MLB implements a Universal Designated Hitter as expected this season, the new rule will impact more than just the lumbering gloveless wonders. A Universal DH opens up playing time for people all over the field, especially in the era of load management. If the DH spot adds something like 650 plate appearances, I suspect most teams will divide that up among several players.
Seems important to note that some of this work will be obliterated or at least obfuscated by free agent signings shortly after the lockout ends.
I could have sorted these guys out team-by-team, but I can be kind of a moron and wanted to go player-by-player instead. Things got messy in a hurry, but the completionist in me is pleased with the results: a document ranking just about every National League prospect who figures to benefit from the Universal DH.
Cream of the crop here. Vargas looked okay to me playing some 2B late in the season at AA with Michael Busch bumping over the 1B. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s a little hint that the Dodgers think Vargas is a better defender than public-facing sites do. It makes sense in a lot of ways. Tastemakers who saw Vargas fumble around at third base back in 2019 still have that in their minds. May not have seen him much since. Can sit on a whole game and see maybe one ball hit to a guy. Defense is the kind of skill you have to be following all the way through the pitch, every pitch. How does a guy move with the catcher (if at all) in anticipation of where the pitch is aimed and how it’s likely to come off the bat? It’s not the kind of thing you can evaluate fully in just one series, especially when the player is several years young for his level.
If the Dodgers think Vargas might be able to play some second base in the majors, maybe we should be thinking the same way. After all, they’re the ones in charge of where he plays, and they know better than anyone what the guy can do.
The Cardinals will tell us a lot about Yepez’s 2022 outlook during the free agent bonanza following the lockout. If they sign a veteran bat, slide Yepez on down the redraft ranks. If they don’t, bump him a few rounds.
I guess a lot of leagues have drafted, or will have drafted by the time we know the Cardinals Opening Day roster. Maybe he’s still on the wire in your league, and maybe you can still make moves. If so, try to find a spot for him while we wait. Yepez got better as the season went along last year, reducing his strikeout rate and raising his average month to month and functionally graduating the top level in the minors. He’s 24 years old and played 92 games at AAA last year. Any rationale for keeping him out of the lineup will have to be fabricated.
Coloring outside the lines for this group because these two just barely graduated MLB prospect eligibility and only land here because the DH buys them some extra time in the event that they struggle. Neither team has many options for center field. Having one extra lineup spot for a Garrett Cooper or Yoshi Tsutsugo type loosens the playing time squeeze all around but especially for solid defensive youngsters at difficult positions. If Edmundo Sosa were a little closer to prospect eligibility, I might squeeze him onto the list for similar reasons.
De La Cruz feels particularly underrated to me this year. I understand why people are shying away from Alford after watching him struggle to convert his opportunities to this point, but De La Cruz came over from Houston for Yimi Garcia last year and immediately settled into an everyday role, slashing .296/.356/.427 with 5 HR in 58 games. That’s an incredible run for a rookie. Miami doesn’t have anyone else in center field.
Velazquez brings plus athleticism at 6’0” 190 lbs and put up a tasty 20 HR 17 SB season across two levels last year, culminating in his best stretch as a pro: 34 games in AA slashing .290/.358/.581 with 8 HR and 5 SB despite being 2.5 years younger than the average player. He also won MVP of the Arizona Fall League this year, and while I don’t care much about that, his success in the league should earn him a lot of chances in spring training.
The Universal Designated Hitter was made for Beer, in more ways than one. I think he’s a better defender than he appears to be at first glance and a little more athletic than reports suggest, but that might be the beer talking. He dislocated his shoulder this year, but his injury happened in September, so he’ll miss the off-season, in the body-sculpting, swing-developing sense. He played well in AAA last year, slashing .287/.398/.511 with 16 HR and a 17.5 percent strikeout rate in 100 games. Feels like a moving target at the moment, trying to get any kind of read on what we’ll see from Beer as a big leaguer. I’m feeling optimistic at the moment, but it’s hard to separate that from the fact that I think now is a good time to buy in while the general murmur around Beer is lukewarm.
A 5’10” 198 lb switch hitter in search of somewhere to play, Cooper Hummel had been a catcher before moving to the outfield, but like Beer, the position he’s best suited to is Hitter. The Diamondbacks got him along with 3B Alberto Ciprian in return for Eduardo Escobar, so the current leadership team has a real stake in Hummel’s success. He slashed .311/.432/.546 with 12 HR and 4 SB in 92 games at AAA last year, striking out just 61 times.
I have drafted Aderlin Rodriguez in five leagues this winter. Four of them are 30-teams deep, and he was my final pick in the Razz30, so it’s not like I’m shoving people out of the way to get him, but I am invested. He had a good season in the Padres system in 2019, slashing .321/.363/.634 with 19 HR and a 15.9 percent strikeout rate in 75 games. He went to Japan in 2020 and struggled to get acclimated then came back with another good year at AAA for Detroit in 2021. AJ Preller brought him back to San Diego this off-season, and it’s just me sifting tea leaves, but I think he’s got a chance to win the primary DH gig there as the roster sits today. They’ll probably sign somebody and send him to AAA, and maybe I’ll cut him where I can if he’s left a lifer down there, but I see no reason this guy can’t get a chance. He just slashed .290/.362/.565 with 29 HR in 116 games. I love to see guys like him finally get their chance, and it’s probably now or never.
Nick Plummer tightened up his plate approach in 2021 and could be next in the long line of Cardinals outfielders to take flight in their next organization. He posted a .415 OBP last year in 117 games across AA and AAA, culminating in a 19.6%/17.6% BB/K rate in 24 AAA games. To characterize New York as “crowded” understates the situation, but he’s gifted enough to carve a path for himself.
It’s easy to overlook Vierling, a 5th round pick in 2018 who never garnered much press in his journey to the majors, partly because he lost the 2020 season, partly because much of that climb occurred this year when Vierling traversed three levels and wound up one of the club’s better hitters down the stretch, albeit in a part-time role. He got the season cooking with a steamy .345/.422/.644 line in 24 games at AA, but that ballpark in Reading is notoriously generous to hitters, and he struggled to replicate that success at AAA (.248/.331/.359) before splashing down with a .324/.364/.479 line in 79 major league plate appearances. He doesn’t swing and miss much (9.2% in Philadelphia) or strikeout much, and he packs just enough power and speed to cause problems for opponents and score points for us. If not for the DH, I’d expect him to get pushed to the back of the line by a bunch of free agent signings. As is, Philadelphia has holes at left, center and DH, and Vierling is the best in-house option for all three spots. Might still get waylaid by some fresh free agent blood, but his window is wide open.
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