When news broke that MLB’s proposal for a 2020 season included the universal DH, the fantasy player in all of us did a little happy dance. So many hitters in the NL get a boost with an extra lineup spot, and that boost extends to prospects as well. Even if we don’t get baseball this year, it’s still useful to think about how prospects will be impacted by this rule change. And I’m hopeful the DH will soon become a permanent fixture for both leagues, anyway. It just makes too much sense not to be.
With that in mind, the intent of this post isn’t to highlight the elite prospects who were already in line to see significant playing time this year. While players such as Dylan Carlson, Gavin Lux, Carter Kieboom, Sam Hilliard and Alec Bohm undoubtedly stand to gain from the DH, it felt redundant to include them on the list. Also, I skipped the Diamondbacks’ Kevin Cron, as Kyle Horton covered him in his NL DH sleeper article, which everyone should check out.
Instead, I wanted to focus on prospects who are close to the majors but lack a true position or were on the outside looking in due to a numbers crunch. As such, these may not be the most glamorous names in the world, but it’s possible the next big breakout is lurking here. Here are eight prospects who stand to benefit from the universal DH in 2020 and beyond:
Edwin Rios, 1B/3B, LAD
The Dodgers’ system is so loaded it’s easy to forget how impressive Edwin Rios was in 2019. The lefty slugger hit 31 bombs in AAA before adding four more in the majors in just 56 PA. The MLB sample size is obviously small and should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s still noteworthy that Rios put up a ridiculous barrel rate of 26.9% with a hard-hit rate of 65.4%. He’s going to strike out a ton, but the addition of a DH slot with expanded rosters means he could join a rotation of players who see time there, especially when facing a right-hander. I grabbed him in the 50th round of a Draft Champions back in February, so here’s hoping he gets a real shot at playing time.
Seth Beer, 1B/OF, ARZ
Perhaps the Diamondbacks had a crystal ball when they traded for Seth Beer last year. The 23-year-old has often been viewed as a future DH, so moving from the AL to the NL in the Zack Greinke deal suppressed his value a bit. But it looks like all parties are winners now. While Beer lacks a natural position, the former 1st-round pick has hit at every level in the minors, and he posted a 162 wRC+ at AA Corpus Christi last year. He struggled after the trade to Arizona, but I’m willing to give him a pass considering the abruptness of the move. While Beer may not have a clear path to the majors in 2020, he’s not far away at all, and I’m interested in acquiring him in dynasty leagues again.
Lane Thomas, OF, STL
There’s a feeling I can’t shake that Lane Thomas is going to be a thing, whether it be in 2020 or sometime down the road. He gets overlooked time and time again because the Cardinals’ OF picture has seemingly been crowded forever, but he was likely to make the team as an extra OF already. Thomas would not actually serve as a DH often because he’s a versatile outfielder, but if the Cardinals move Matt Carpenter to the DH role regularly, it means Tommy Edman is back on the infield and not taking up one of those coveted OF spots. While Thomas didn’t exactly destroy AAA last year like some other guys, he hit .316 in 44 PAs with the Cardinals, and for fantasy can contribute across the board. Dylan Carlson clearly gets a big boost as well, but don’t sleep on Thomas.
Brendan Rodgers, 2B/SS, COL
It may be unfair to include Rodgers on the list, as he’s a highly regarded prospect and a solid infielder who already projects as an MLB regular. But he’s recovering from shoulder surgery, and the Rockies’ lineup is fairly deep, so playing time in 2020 or even 2021 was not a given for the 23-year-old. While the club would probably use the DH to rotate players and frustrate fantasy owners everywhere, I can see Rodgers getting into that mix and using it as a platform to remind everybody why he’s the Rockies’ top prospect. After all, he hit .350 in the minors last year before struggling in his brief call-up and getting hurt. I had been moving Rodgers down in my rankings lately, but the DH has me intrigued with him again.
Will Craig, 1B, PIT
There may not be a bigger winner on this list, at least in the short-term, than former 1st-round pick Will Craig. The Pirates’ 1B has yet to make his MLB debut, but he is on the 40-man and spent all of 2019 in AAA. He’s currently blocked by Josh Bell, though, so he was looking at a move to the outfield for any chance of playing time. While his game is certainly flawed—he hit just a .249 last year with a .761 OPS— the 25-year-old also clubbed 43 HRs over the last two seasons. And that Pirates’ lineup is sorely lacking in the power department, with no real 30-HR threats among projected starters outside of Bell. With the team rebuilding, this may be Craig’s best (and only) window to show what he can do. I’m not super confident he’ll excel against big-league pitching, but one opportunity is all it takes to send his value soaring.
Jaylin Davis, OF, SFG
Given the current state of the Giants’ OF, it’s fair to say Jaylin Davis would have received his shot this year anyway. While he struggled mightily in a September call-up last year (.493 OPS in 42 ABs), Davis enjoyed a serious break out in the minors, smacking 35 HRs across two levels, and he had a near .400 OBP as well. He still hits the ball on the ground too much, so there may be a tweak needed to succeed at the next level. But the Giants are in a position with little to lose by playing him. I would not expect a full-time role any time soon though unless he absolutely goes bonkers. Instead, I can see him joining an OF/DH rotation that includes Alex Dickerson, Hunter Pence, Wilmer Flores among others.
Bryce Ball, 1B, ATL
I tried not to highlight prospects who are still a few years from reaching the majors, as a lot can change in their development and defensive outlooks. But Bryce Ball is worthy of a mention because he’s the epitome of a bat-first prospect with some defensive limitations. The former 24th-round pick came out of nowhere in 2019 to post a .329/.395/.628 slash line and he reached A ball in his first pro season. Sure, his prospect hype could hit a wall when he faces better pitching. But what if the Braves decide to extend Freddie Freeman’s contract past the 2021 season, and Ball is still raking in the minors? The DH just means the Braves have more flexibility with how they choose to promote him.
Brent Rooker, 1B/OF, MIN
I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Brent Rooker plays for a club in the AL. But I always thought the righty slugger needed a trade and a fresh start, as he’s limited defensively and pretty much buried in Minnesota for the foreseeable future. If half the teams in baseball suddenly gain the DH to play around with, it’s conceivable his value goes up and it’s easier for the Twins to move him. Rooker played in only 65 games in 2019 due to an injury, but he still managed 14 HRs, a .398 OBP and a 12.7 BB% at AAA. He swings and misses a lot, but the power is legit and should be enough to get his bat into an MLB lineup in the near future.
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