Spring Training Teasers: Couch Side’s top five Designated Hitters for 2012

BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com writer

Designated hitter isn’t an easy position to play, even though in theory you’d think it would be. You can relax during the fielding portion of the game, and wait your turn to hit.

Historically this hasn’t been proven true. DH requires an adjustment that most everyday players will struggle to adapt, as it requires a different routine both mentally and physically. Some guys are cut out for it, some aren’t. And now, with the position being used to utilize platoon matchups, there are very few full time DHs. Thankfully there are enough to put together a top five list, so enjoy.

5. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners

The rookie slugger was dealt this offseason from the Yankees to the Mariners for young flamethrower Michael Pineda, a rare trade of raw talent for raw talent. All the reports over the last several years indicated that Montero didn’t have what it took to be a full-time catcher, and was projected as a DH going forward. He moves from a friendly hitting park in the Bronx to the spacious and cavernous Safeco Field. Montero has power to all fields and most importantly, the opposite field as a right handed batter.  The projection system ZiPS says that Montero will hit .257/.322/.438 with 21 home runs and 68 RBI. Consider the fact that Montero will be facing tough competition in Los Angeles and Texas, having to hit the majority of his games in a tough park, and the fact that the Mariners have ranked last in runs scored in the AL the past three seasons. Either way, Montero should far appropriately in his first go around, maybe not Eric Hosmer good, but still good.

Chicago Whitesox Designated Hitter Adam Dunn set career lows last year, but baseball fans can never discredit his power. Photo by: Scott Ableman

4. Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

Yes, we know that Dunn had one of the worst seasons in recent memory (any way you slice it; a .159 batting average is wretched.) Dunn has been pretty easy to project throughout his career; he strikes out at a high rate, walks at a high rate, and hits around 40 homers per season. Take the good with the bad and he’s been a reliable run producer for the first 10 years of his career with the Reds and Nationals. A move to the White Sox and a permanent DH position didn’t aide his usual stats, but a lack of adjustment in all phases of his game produced a pathetic 11 home runs in nearly 500 plate appearances. What’s even stranger is that he had 75 walks to 66 hits! I wonder how often that happens. Is there hope on the horizon for Mr. Dunn? We believe so, as these types of drastic regressions hardly ever happen, so you’d think and hope it was an exaggerated fluke season.  If the law of averages equal out, Dunn should return to a semblance of his former self.

3. Michael Young, Texas Rangers

If there was one overrated storyline with the Rangers last season, it was how Young was praised and lauded as the Derek Jeter of his team. Of course, many easily forgot and conveniently ignored that he demanded a trade after learning he was going to be moved to DH, because that’s what classy players do, right? Either way, Young is by process of elimination the third best DH in the game right now because he has the benefit of being a hit machine in an excellent lineup. Now when I say hit machine I don’t mean silver slugger or anything, but a line drive hitter who gives you around 200 hits per season, and bats around .300 with an average OBP.  For a traditional DH it’s not what you pay for due to Young’s lack of power, but in that lineup with players like Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz to supply the long balls, Young is not required to be the big bopper.  One would expect him to play some first base as well, which he did in the World Series when the games were in St. Louis, but don’t expect Mitch Moreland to sit, barring injury. If you want a high batting average and 100 RBI, Young is an adequate solution for your fantasy team.

2. Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

The Royals are rising, if to sound cliché. They have a young core of sluggers coming up with some already established, and others on the way. If there’s any one team to challenge for the AL Central title over the next 5 years, Kansas City has set themselves up perfectly to accomplish it.  In the middle of this developing period is DH Billy Butler, one of the most underrated and overlooked hitters in the game.  At this point you could consider him a younger and better Michael Young. He already does everything Young can do, and better. He’s a career .297/.360/.458 hitter at age 25 averaging 20 home runs per season at the moment, which is good, but Butler has the ability to take a step forward and push that total beyond 25.  The projections however, do not feel as optimistic as The Couch Side does in terms of Butler’s power, with only 19 dingers predicted, equaling his total from last season. We wouldn’t necessarily begrudge those numbers, because Kauffman stadium is not a hitters paradise.

Boston Red Sox Designated Hitter David Ortiz carried a .309 batting average with 29 home runs and 96 RBI in 2011.

1. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

It’s fairly obvious to us and everyone else that Big Papi is the premier DH in the game. He’s already the all-time leader in DH home runs, but not historically the best overall hitter (that honor belongs to Edgar Martinez, possibly forever) at the position. Regardless, Papi has been a dominant and elite slugger ever since he nonchalantly signed with the Red Sox in 2003. Clearly then GM Theo Epstein knew something that everyone else didn’t, and Ortiz quickly developed into a Boston legend.  He’s aged extremely well, putting up an 162-game average of 35 home runs and 118 RBI, which is production that the DH was made for. Over the past few seasons and some rough Aprils, many Bostonians and media types declared that Papi was done, but he would continually bounce back and put up his usual numbers, which goes to show that slow starts don’t always mean bad finishes.

So there you have it, the top five Designated Hitters in baseball.

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