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Universal DH - Biggest Fantasy Baseball Risers

The battle lines have long been drawn between baseball traditionalists (i.e. grumpy old men) and revisionists (those who realize we are in the 21st century). It appears progress has won out and both leagues will finally play under the same rules over a full season going forward.

Although nothing has been officially settled in the ongoing dispute between ownership and labor in the MLB lockout, we do know that the league is finally expected to implement a universal DH for good.

That means more bats in the fantasy world are now relevant and sluggers who wouldn't normally see the field can at least swing the bat on a regular basis.

Here are the top hitters to watch as DH candidates in the National League.

 

Darin Ruf, San Francisco Giants

After three years mashing the ball in the KBO, Ruf has made himself into a fairly successful part-time player. Emphasis on part-time, as he's fallen victim to Gabe Kapler's mad platooning ways along with a pair of IL stints last season. For that reason, he only took 262 at-bats in 2021 but when he was at the plate, he was still mashing.

If he had enough AB to qualify, Ruf's 54.9% Hard% would have placed him seventh among all hitters, just behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He also posted an excellent 14.2% Brls/BBE% and .513 xSLG that rank in the top-40. There's no guarantee Ruf will hold down a full-time role even with the DH at play but his stock certainly goes up as he remains a valuable part of a team that should be contending once again.

 

Clint Frazier, Chicago Cubs

There may as well be a fan club for those of us who have been clamoring for Frazier to get full-time at-bats the past few years. We could "Frazie's Crazies."

It looked like he was ready to break out with a strong end to 2020 but he took a major step backward in 2021, ending with a slash line of .186/.317/.317 and 29.8% K%.

Frazier finally pulled a Kurt Russell and escaped from New York but a one-year deal with the Cubs wasn't too promising... until the DH was announced. Frazier now has to put up or we have to shut up. He fits in perfectly with the cast of former prospects that never happened but might suddenly come together to be relevant, such as Frank Schwindel, Rafael Ortega, and Patrick Wisdom. He is the classic lotto ticket that has a chance to cash but is more likely to end up in the waste bin.

 

Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds

The Moose hasn't taken kindly to Cincinnati since joining the team in 2020. Never one to hit for average, he's nonetheless seen it drop from .254 in his last season as a Brewer to .230 then .208 last season. Injuries limited him to 183 AB but he has also seen his exit velocity and barrel rate drop while his strikeout rate climbed. It's possible he's simply on the decline which makes him a big draft-day risk. He'll have April at least to prove his worth before the team considers other options.

 

Garrett Cooper, Miami Marlins

The signing of Avisail Garcia and Joey Wendle, as well as the ascension of young outfielders Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz, seems to have pushed Cooper out of playing time in Miami. There's a chance he gets dealt elsewhere, which may not be a bad thing for his fantasy value, but I still see a path to semi-regular at-bats if he stays around. Assuming the outfield is set with the aforementioned trio, we could see Brian Anderson remain at third base and Wendle take on the utility role, playing around the diamond 4-5 times a week. That leaves designated hitter wide open for Cooper.

Cooper is a late bloomer, making steady gains since his age-27 MLB debut back in 2017. His hard-hit rate has increased three straight seasons, up to 52.7% last season. He's earned an xBA of .269 or higher each of those three seasons as well. The Marlins don't possess an explosive offense, having scored the second-fewest runs with the third-lowest team average in the majors last year, so his upside doesn't match players like Frazier or Taylor. That said, his floor could be among the highest when he is in the lineup.

 

Tyrone Taylor, Milwaukee Brewers

This could become another love note to Rowdy Tellez but he's already penciled in as the starting first baseman for Milwaukee according to RosterResource, so the DH spot goes to Taylor instead. In 2021, he saw his first extended action in the bigs and flashed the type of power and speed upside that gives him fantasy intrigue.

Over 243 at-bats, Taylor hit 12 homers, drove in 43 runs, and stole six bases. Even better, he posted a whiff rate below the league average and won't be completely dependent on the long ball to provide counting stats. His lineup spot won't be too favorable but he could be a strong NL-only option or late pick in NFBC drafts.

 

Michael Chavis, Pittsburgh Pirates

For three straight seasons, Chavis has posted a K rate over 31% and a swinging-strike rate of 17.5% or more (league average was 11.3% in 2021). He's a defensive liability in the outfield and simply adequate as a corner infielder but may be able to focus on making more contact as a hitter only. Despite a smallish 5'10" frame, Chavis sells out for power and profiles as an all-or-nothing slugger. If any team will offer him a chance to get into a groove, it's Pittsburgh.

 

Nomar Mazara, San Diego Padres

Signed to a minor-league contract in December, Mazara isn't guaranteed to make the final 26-man roster, much less the starting lineup. He gets a chance to start over after disappointing stints with the White Sox and Tigers where he hit .220 with a total of four homers over the past two years. The expected stats from last year prove that he didn't deserve more playing time but it's also curious that many of his peripheral stats aren't much different from his time in Texas when he was a perennial 20-HR threat.

The biggest change is that he has gotten more aggressive swinging at the first pitch to his detriment. Mazara can still make quality contact so a change of scenery could be the spark he needs, although it's tough to imagine drafting him anywhere outside of a best-ball league because the floor is absolutely non-existent.

 

Matt Vierling, Philadelphia Phillies

We got a taste of what Vierling could bring to the table late last season when he hit .308 with two HR, six RBI, one SB, and 10 runs scored over 65 second-half AB. Despite boasting elite 95th percentile sprint speed, Vierling hasn't proven to be much of a base thief in the minors so we need to focus mostly on the power and hit tool as with most of these DH candidates.

At the Triple-A level, Vierling had a lot more success against lefties than righties, which sparks concern about a platoon with someone like Mickey Moniak. If the Phillies don't add another outfielder before the season begins, however, they may not have the depth to get away with that. Barring a huge post-lockout splash in the free-agent market, Vierling looks to be a nice late-round sleeper given his path to plate appearances.

 

Seth Beer, Arizona Diamondbacks

Now, we really swing for the fences. Beer is a big-swinging lefty who is a former first-round pick by the Astros. He figured to work himself onto the roster this spring once he recovers from shoulder surgery after suffering a dislocation last September. It will be key to see if his swing isn't affected once spring training finally begins. The D-backs aren't exactly overflowing with offensive talent at the moment and it might be another year before their top prospects like Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll get the call. Beer has a strong shot to slot in at the sixth or seventh spot in the order and become a solid source of HR and RBI.

 

Juan Yepez, St. Louis Cardinals

This is a longer shot but the designated hitter could be Yepez's chance to crack the big club this season. He launched 27 HR and drove in 77 runs across 367 AB at Double-A and Triple-A last season. He raked in the Arizona Fall League too, slashing .302/.388/.640 with seven HR and 26 RBI, finishing second in the league in both categories. Fellow prospect Lars Nootbaar also performed well in the AFL but he doesn't project nearly as high offensively and should be used mostly as a fourth outfielder. If Yepez can carry his momentum forward, he will be a hot add early in the season.

 

Robinson Cano, New York Mets

I saved the most interesting pick for last. This could be a number of names for the Mets, as players like Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and Jeff McNeil all appear to be squeezed out of playing time with the team's offseason acquisitions. There will be more at-bats to go around for the bunch but Cano is the one that suddenly sees his fantasy value resurrected. News of the DH had to be a relief for the 39-year-old, among other things.

His advanced age, year-long suspension in 2021, and recent back discomfort that saw him pulled from the Dominican Winter League make for a wave of red flags. Perhaps hoping that Cano can revive his fantasy value is asking too much. But remember that in his last season on the field (2020), he hit .316 with a .376 wOBA, 10 HR, and 30 RBI in just 49 games. He'll be a part-time player and not someone to depend on in leagues with weekly lineups.



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