National League DH: Sleepers Edition

The universal DH is coming, which means boosted stock for bat-first players in the NL. But which valuable hitters will slip through the cracks?

Sorry Bartolo fans, the DH is joining the National League, and pitchers will be forced to leave the bat in the clubhouse. In my opinion, this change has been long overdue, and it will only make for a more entertaining, competitive, and fun game. The universal DH provides a lot of flexibility for teams and gives more playing time to a range of players. Every article about players who benefit from the new implementation will probably include many of the same hitters. Many of these hitters benefit for obvious reasons–either they simply can’t play defense or there isn’t enough room on the field for them. Here are some of the hitters I’m talking about:

They are all equally important, and hitters you should take a look at, but I want to focus on the guys you may overlook. To me, sleepers are the best part of fantasy baseball. Nothing is more exciting than picking a dude in the last round or adding him from the waiver wire and watching him boost your team’s offense significantly. Sleepers give you a step up on your opponents while simultaneously giving you bragging rights. So, let’s check out the five sleeper hitters who I think will reap big benefits from the new DH rule.

 

Kevin Cron, ARI

 

The not-so-little little brother of the Tigers’ CJ Cron, Kevin Cron finished 2019 with monster numbers at Triple-A. In 377 PA, Cron slashed .331/.449/.777 with 38 home runs and 20 doubles. He posted a 182 wRC+, along with a 16.2% walk rate and an impressive 20.4% strikeout rate. These are big-time numbers for the 27-year-old first basemen, even if they came in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Cron spent a little over a month’s time in the big leagues last season, stepping to the plate 78 times. His numbers weren’t nearly as good, as he posted a roughly league-average 96 wRC+, but he still slugged six homers and four doubles–good for a .521 slugging percentage. His shortcomings were a result of a .211 batting average and significant regressions in walk rate (5.1%) and strikeout rate (35.9%). But that’s ok! Even if his 2019 minor league walk rate is an outlier, his power numbers are not. Cron has turned in five straight minor league seasons of 22 or more home runs across the span of High-A to Triple-A. His pop is steady and provides him with great value as an NL DH.

Without a DH, Cron looked to be hard-pressed for playing time. The D-backs already have a starting first basemen in Christian Walker, a staple at 3B in Eduardo Escobar, and a veteran bat off the bench in Jake Lamb. However, the DH gives the D-backs an easy and efficient way to slot the slugger into the middle of the order. In standard fantasy leagues, Cron offers teams plenty of homers and RBIs. He could even produce a decent amount of runs if the bottom half of their lineup contributes decently. However, he doesn’t have much to offer in terms of stolen bases. Cron almost always goes undrafted and holds just a 0.4% roster rate in ESPN leagues. It’s a guarantee that he will be on your waiver wire. Go add him.

 

 

Dominic Smith, NYM

 

The Mets have a plethora of position players, and the added DH position gives them the flexibility to slot another solid bat into their already good lineup. The question of who accumulates the most at-bats as the DH is up in the air, but I think Dominic Smith will end up filling the role. Smith looked to have found his stride at the plate last season by slashing .282/.355/.525 in 197 plate appearances. He boasted a 9.6% walk rate, a 22.3% strikeout rate, and dropped 11 taters. His production resulted in a 133 wRC+ and 6.9 offensive runs above average. His splits last season, although not the largest of sample sizes, were almost identical. He produced a 133 wRC+ versus RHP and 132 wRC+ versus LHP. The expected stats don’t largely favor Smith, but there’s still upside. Although he overperformed his xwOBA by .041 last season, he showed a career-best walk rate, career-low strikeout rate, career-best ISO, and a steady hard-hit rate of 35.1%.

Smith provides decent on-base skills and solid power to add to a fantasy lineup. With Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes being the other contenders for the Mets DH, it might be best to wait for clarity about what is to expect of the position, but Smith has the tools to offer great fantasy value at a low price if he receives enough plate appearances. He’s owned in just 1.6% of ESPN leagues, so he should be available in your league. Keep your eye on him and jump on him when the time is right.

 

 

Josh Naylor, SDP

 

Josh Naylor got his first taste of the major leagues in 2019, where he logged 279 plate appearances across 94 games. Naylor didn’t find great success at the major league level, hitting to a clip of .249/.315/.403 with eight home runs and 15 doubles. He turned in an 89 wRC+ and .306 wOBA. The 9.0% walk rate and 22.9% strikeout rate he delivered are modest, but not enough to carry his lack of consistent hits. His numbers aren’t much to get excited about, but the 22-year-old first-round draft pick still has some of the best raw power of any fantasy player, and absolutely torched the ball during his time in Triple-A last season, posting a .392 wOBA, 125 wRC+, and 10 home runs. His power is his biggest attraction, and it is the main reason he is such a sleeper. If Naylor gets comfortable versus major league pitching, he could provide power to the likes of Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Naylor is nowhere close to being given up on, but with a packed farm system and crowded Padres roster, he’ll need to tap into his elite power. Roster Resource doesn’t even have Naylor on the depth chart at the moment, but it also hasn’t been updated with the DH yet. If Naylor hits the way the Padres know that he can, I can’t imagine a situation where guys like Franchy Cordero or Brian Dozier take at-bats away from him. Naylor has the power to make Petco Park look like Yankee Stadium, he’s well worth taking a shot at. He’s not even rostered in ESPN leagues, making him extremely available.

 

 

Brad Miller, STL

 

Brad Miller might be my favorite sleeper on this list, and it isn’t only because he leaves the batting gloves at home. Miller will easily be the most overlooked on this list, but Miller had himself a 2019 season that was a bit exciting. Although he had the fewest number of plate appearances in a single season of his career (170), Miller hit .260/.329/.565 with 13 home runs. His .368 wOBA and 126 wRC+ were the best of his career, as well as his .510 xSLG, 12.8% barrel rate, and 91.6 mph average exit velocity. Miller hit the ball HARD last season. 2019 showed Miller with a significant increase in his average launch angle, finishing at 16.8 degrees. Of course, increasing your launch angle won’t always yield positive results, but with how hard Miller hit the ball, the results came through. Before his 2019 season, his career launch angle ranged from 8.0 degrees (2015) to 11.7 degrees (2016), so his 2019 launch angle looks like it was either the product of a change in approach or randomness. Miller also hit significantly better versus fastballs, curveballs, and changeups last season than he has in any of his past four seasons. Unfortunately, Miller struggles mightily versus LHP, so it may hold him back a bit.

The Cardinals have a few different options for who to use in their DH role. Among Miller and top prospect Dylan Carlson are Tyler O’Neill and Dexter Fowler. O’Neill has 70-grade raw power but a career strikeout rate of 37.5% and is probably too good of a fielder to DH. Fowler’s defense has been declining the past few seasons, so it would make sense to move him to a DH role, but his offensive production has also been underwhelming the past two seasons. Rangel Ravelo is a right-handed hitter who may see some time there as well. With Miller’s past season of hitting the ball hard and veteran track record, the DH should yield him a good opportunity to hit. Even if it doesn’t necessarily come as the DH, Miller’s defensive versatility can allow him to slot in the lineup while lesser defenders slot in at DH. Miller is rostered in 0% of ESPN leagues.

 

 

Jesse Winker, CIN

 

If you know me, then you know how much I love Jesse Winker, so of course, he’s going to be on this list. A full breakdown of Winker’s 2019 season can be found here. In short, Winker slashed .269/.357/.473 with 16 homers and a 113 wRC+. His career numbers are in line with a 122 wRC+, making him an above-average hitter thus far. Winker’s kryptonite is his inability to hit lefties. As well as he can mash against right-handed pitchers, he hits just as poorly versus left-handers. Additionally, Winker has power to all fields that he has yet to really tap into. Nonetheless, Winker has proven to be a very capable hitter with some more upside in the tank.

The Reds’ plan for utilizing the DH is unclear, but it’s almost certain that Winker will be a part of it. With Nick Senzel, Nick Castellanos, and Shogo Akiyama taking the majority of outfield starts, Winker, Aquino, and Phil Ervin will be left to share playing time. Winker is undoubtedly the best hitter of the three, but presumably won’t be given starts versus lefties. He may find himself in a platoon, but DH’ing him will give him consistent plate appearances while limiting injury risk associated with playing the outfield. Winker can bring elite on-base skills to your fantasy team while providing some good runs and a little bit of pop. He’s extremely available and is rostered in just 2.3% of ESPN leagues. Do yourself a favor and grab him from the waiver.

 

 

Winker: (Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire) Smith: (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire) | Feature Graphic Designed by James Peterson (Follow @jhp_design714 on Instagram & Twitter)

Kyle Horton

Kyle is a former Division 1 baseball player and Cincinnati Reds fan. Please follow him on Twitter @Hortonimo, he already told his mom that you did.

  • Avatar Yants says:

    Dropping by to say I loved this podcast. Great job by all involved! 🍦

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