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Top DH Options for National League Teams

There is finally a plan for Major League Baseball in 2020! After months of negotiations and discussions, baseball is tentatively scheduled to open up in late July, and with it, a couple of new rules.

The most notable new rule for 2020 is the implementation of the designated hitter in the National League, which certainly adds intrigue to quite a few hitters around the Senior Circuit. Whether it's a veteran who won't have to play defense, a youngster who perhaps wouldn't have cracked the lineup without the implementation of the rule, or a likely platoon situation, each team's situation is going to different, so it's important to take a closer look at each National League's designated hitter situation.

Here are the most likely players on each team to benefit in fantasy from the universal DH.

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Arizona Diamondbacks: Jake Lamb, Kevin Cron

With the acquisition of Starling Marte earlier in the offseason, Jake Lamb and Kevin Cron were the two players most likely to lose playing time, assuming last year's breakout Christian Walker would win the first base job for 2020. Thanks to the DH coming to the National League, there is now more of an opportunity for at-bats. Unfortunately, it could very well end up a platoon situation, which isn't ideal for fantasy purposes.

Lamb has struggled to stay healthy since 2017 in which he hit 30 home runs, and he could thrive in a platoon role, as he has historically hit righties much better, with a career 110 wRC+ against them compared to just a 55 wRC+ mark against southpaws. This is where Cron would come in handy. Cron has done nothing but hit since becoming a professional. Although he managed just a 96 wRC+ in his first taste of the big leagues in 2019, he absolutely clobbered the ball with strong hard-hit and barrel-rates, along with an overall healthy Statcast profile that should land him a meaningful opportunity:


Atlanta Braves: Nick Markakis, Austin Riley, Adam Duvall

With the addition of Marcell Ozuna this offseason, it looked like the end of Nick Markakis' days as an everyday player. With the DH now in the National League, the old reliable Markakis should still remain as a near-everyday player in 2020. I say near-everyday because the Braves would likely be better off using the DH spot as a straight-up platoon, with Austin Riley perhaps drawing the shorter end of the platoon.

Riley, of course, got off to such a hot start in his first taste of the Majors in 2019, with a 122 wRC+ in his first 187 at-bats, but then managing just a 22 mark in his last 87 at-bats. Riley was expected to start the season in Triple-A, but with the DH, he should have at least somewhat of a role in 2020, even if it is just as a weakside platoon player. There's also the chance that he earns the starting third base job outright, which in that case probably opens the door for Adam Duvall, who has primarily been a backup player since his days of consecutive 30 home runs seasons from 2016 to 2017. He can still hit lefties, however, in a role that would probably suit him well in 2020, as he hit .333/.386/.744 against left-handed pitching in 2019.


Chicago Cubs: Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ

The DH role was basically made for a player like Kyle Schwarber. Although his defense has gotten better, he's still probably best off in a DH role if it's available to him. We all know the type of hitter Schwarber is. Expect a lot of barrels, a lot of hard-hits, and a lot of home runs. There's not much analysis needed to be done here regarding Schwarber, but the one benefit of moving him into a DH role is that an everyday spot could open up for Ian Happ.

Happ has yet to really put it all together over a full season, but we saw the best glimpse of Happ yet in 2019, with an excellent 127 wRC+ mark in just 58 games in 2019, while cutting his strikeout rate down tremendously. With an everyday role looking assured, Happ could be a sleeper that pays huge dividends with a nice power-speed combination, while perhaps building on the improvements he made a season ago. Happ has gradually made improvements since making his debut in 2017, and we'll see if he can continue that trend in a shortened 2020:


Cincinnati Reds: Nick Senzel

Nick Senzel was looking like the odd man out in most roster projections pre-shutdown, but Senzel could perhaps slot back in here and be an everyday player after it was looking unlikely earlier in the offseason, assuming his body cooperates. While Senzel underwhelmed in his first season, everything that made him a consensus top-10 prospect is still there now. He still has a profile that suggests he should hit for a high average, steal bases, and provide decent power, which could make him a valuable fantasy option. He could very well remind us why there was so much hype with a strong couple of months worth of games in 2020.


Colorado Rockies: Daniel Murphy, Sam Hilliard

Another hitter that is made for the DH role, the Rockies should feel comfortable having Daniel Murphy in this role every day, barring injury issues. While Murphy didn't live up to the high expectations that had many excited about his move to Colorado, an early-season injury perhaps derailed his entire season. It could be worth a speculative selection to see if he can be more like the Murphy of old. Murphy moving to DH though should open the door for a handful of Rockies youngsters as well.

Ryan McMahon should hopefully slot into first base, with Garrett Hampson getting everyday time at second, and that should then open the door for more playing time for another youngster in Sam Hilliard. Hilliard has been a hot late-round option in drafts, as he impressed with a .273/.356/.649 slash line in a small 87 plate appearance sample in 2019. While he likely won't replicate those strong numbers, the draft intrigue should be there even more now with everyday playing time looking more and more likely.


Los Angeles Dodgers: Joc Pederson

The Dodgers will likely use the DH spot as a rotating spot to get hitters partial days off, rather than use it as a straight DH role, but it is also possible that Joc Pederson moves into at least a partial DH role in 2020 with A.J. Pollock's defense probably being better off in left field than Pederson's. Either way, it is unlikely how many plate appearances against lefties Pederson will get. If history is any indication, it won't be many.

Pederson has always had dramatic splits against same-handed throwers, as last season, his 137 wRC+ against righties was over 100 points higher than his mark against lefties. While this fact is what causes Pederson's draft cost to be lower, he still should be a solid option on most days. Just don't expect him to be an everyday player.


Miami Marlins: Garrett Cooper, Jesus Aguilar

The DH spot for the Marlins may come down to which of these two players they prefer on defense. Garrett Cooper does have the added flexibility of being both first base and outfield eligible, and spent most of his time in 2019 at first base, and was a positive defender there, and Aguilar wasn't bad there either. These two should both be considered deep options for fantasy purposes, but both have the potential to pay dividends.

After being non-tendered by the Rays in the offseason, Aguilar will get the opportunity to hit in the middle of the Marlins lineup to show that he's more of the player he was from 2017 and 2018 rather than the 2019 one, where his performance tanked. His peripherals suggest he maybe got a little bit unlucky, but still not on par with his 2018 season:

Cooper is somewhat of a sleeper in his own right. He's never stayed healthy enough to make it through a full season, but his batted-ball stats are encouraging. While he did have a near-53% groundball rate in 2019, when he hit the ball in the air, he got extremely good results and was among the league's best in terms of slugging and wOBA. If he can consistently keep the ball off the ground in the future, he could be a relevant name for fantasy purposes.


Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

Another hitter that is tailor-made for the DH role, it was looking like Ryan Braun wouldn't be an everyday player in 2020. The DH rule should allow him to step into that role and continue getting everyday playing time, as well as likely hit in the heart of the Brewers batting order right behind Christian Yelich. Braun's bat obviously isn't where it was a decade or so ago, but he did quietly produce in 2019, with a .285/.343/.505 line with a .354 wOBA and 117 wRC+, while also surprisingly contributing 11 stolen bases en route to his best season since 2016.

He shouldn't hurt fantasy managers in any category, with his ability to still hit for a high enough average, drive in runs, and hit for power, along with sneaky stolen base ability. There should be less hesitation to draft him now, considering those facts combined with what should be close-to-everyday playing time.


New York Mets: Yoenis Cespedes

While the circumstances surrounding the implementation of the DH in 2020 are certainly not ideal, this is pretty much an ideal way for a player like Yoenis Cespedes to come back to action after his 2018 was cut short and all of 2019 was lost due to injury. He's able to make his comeback in the DH spot, although this won't exactly clear up the Mets logjam, as they'll need to figure out the playing time situations for both J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith. It'll be a tough situation to navigate, especially in such a short season.

Expectations for Cespedes are going to be low from a fantasy perspective. He theoretically should be able to contribute power, although maybe not much else, but it should be a wait-and-see thing for now, and managers shouldn't rush out to draft him at the moment.


Philadelphia Phillies: Jay Bruce

Bruce will all of a sudden go from part-time bench hitter to everyday player. Despite appearing in just 98 games and having only 333 plate appearances, Bruce did manage to hit 26 homers, right around the same marks as Nick Castellanos and DJ LeMahieu in essentially full seasons. Bruce has shown that he can still mash, and he still isn't so far removed from his 36 homer campaign in 2017. His batted-ball profile from Statcast is still healthy, with expected stats that were actually better than his actual ones, such as his .543 xSLG and .341 xwOBA. Bruce won't contribute much elsewhere, such as in the batting average, on-base, or speed departments, but assuming he can still mash, he'll have plenty of opportunities to drive in the Phillies big-boppers in Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and JT Realmuto. He could become fantasy relevant yet again in 2020.


Pittsburgh Pirates: Jose Osuna, Will Craig

The Pirates do get the extra lineup spot, but they perhaps benefit less than most other National League teams. Without so much offensive depth, Jose Osuna could wind up being the Opening Day designated hitter for the Pirates. Osuna is probably best off as a deep-league option for fantasy purposes, but he should not be written off completely. He did have a .456 slugging mark and he popped ten homers in a small sample of 285 plate appearances in 2019, and has had isolated power marks of around .190 in two of the past three seasons, so he could be reasonably expected to add some pop for fantasy managers. It just likely won't be super exciting.

Will Craig is a youngster who will likely be on the team's 60-man roster. He has yet to make his Major League debut, but has shown good power in his minor league career thus far. If the Pirates are slow out of the gate in 2020, they could give some more playing time to youngsters like Craig, but for now, he won't play much of a role in fantasy drafts.


San Diego Padres: Josh Naylor

Josh Naylor perhaps couldn't quite cut it as an everyday player in the outfield, and Eric Hosmer has him blocked at his natural first base position, so Naylor could slide comfortable into the Padres' designated hitter spot for 2020. He's no longer a prospect, and he needs everyday playing time to further develop, and he could get that opportunity now. He wasn't anything special in his 2019 debut, with just an 89 wRC+ and a jump in strikeout rate from where he usually was in the minors, but his prospect profile is still encouraging. He should provide plenty of power, has batting average upside, and has shown good on-base ability. He's earned an opportunity, and now it's up to him to make it count.


San Francisco Giants: Hunter Pence

Another obvious one, Hunter Pence signed as a free agent to return to San Francisco this offseason, but wasn't expected to be a regular despite his strong bounceback 2019 season in which he slashed .297/.358/.552, good enough for a .377 wOBA and 128 wRC+ in about a half season's worth of at-bats. His defensive ability at his advanced age would have limited his playing time, but now in the DH role, that won't be much of an issue.

While his 2019 performance isn't expected to carry over, his performance was mostly supported by Statcast, due to increases in average launch angle and exit velocity, as well as having the highest hard-hit rate he's had in the Statcast era. All of that goes with a higher barrel rate, and a lower groundball rate, which seems like a good recipe to follow for a strong bounceback season. Wilmer Flores is also a factor in the equation, as he could very well see some time at DH when Pence needs a breather, but he should be more of a straight platoon partner for Brandon Belt.


St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O'Neill

Tyler O'Neill is probably better off in the field than Dexter Fowler is at this point, so these two may end up being flipped, but O'Neill is still the player that stands to get the most additional playing time because of the DH rule, so he's included here. O'Neill has been a part of two Major League seasons so far, and he has shown glimpses of what made him a top-100 prospect, but has also showed what may hold him back as a hitter.

O'Neill has huge power, plays great defense, and has underrated speed. These are all tools for success, but then with that big power, comes a lot of whiffs. O'Neill struck out 40% of the time in his 2018 debut, and only got it down to 35% in 2019, and the power wasn't quite there to justify the super-high strikeout rate last season. He'll be a turbulent option with such a high strikeout rate, but if he improves upon it and somehow shows that he can stop whiffing, he could become quite a nice fantasy option. He'll get around 60 games to show it.


Washington Nationals: Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames

Finally, we come to the defending World Series champions. Only one of Howie Kendrick or Eric Thames would be expected to be in the Nationals Opening Day lineup with the DH rule. But with Ryan Zimmerman's status for 2020 still up in the air, there is a real possibility that both Kendrick and Thames are in the lineup; the Nationals may be better off that way. It still is kind of shocking to see how good Kendrick's 2019 season was:

While he is probably going to regress, he should still be quite useful, and in a 60-game season, the Nationals shouldn't have to worry too much about getting him days off. In the case of Thames, this was a good signing by the Nationals. While he struggles against left-handed pitching, he is still very good against righties, with a 122 wRC+ against right-handers in 2019, he should fulfill his role as a middle-of-the-order masher for the Nats. He is a likely platoon candidate though, but he is probably one of the better platoon-only options in fantasy baseball, as he'll be in the lineup on most days, and he is extremely likely to produce. He will strike out a lot and won't hit for a high average, but he should provide a good amount of power and a decent enough OBP, to justify his draft cost.

Overall, the implementation of the DH to the National League in 2020 will just be another oddity in what is already going to be quite a hectic season. Some teams are better prepared for it than others, but whether it's an aging veteran, poor defender, or a young player getting their first true everyday opportunity, there are now a lot more hitters that are going to be fantasy-relevant this season. It'll be hard to take anything truly meaningful away from 60 games, but a good performance in this season could help make the player also become relevant for a hopefully normal 2021 season.

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