Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Designated Hitters (2023)
Our position-by-position series concludes with designated hitters, those lovable, one-dimensional fellows who qualify only at the DH/utility position in leagues that require hitters to play 20 games at a position to qualify there.
This is the shortest of the positional overviews by far, but I wanted to include the DH-only players in this series because (1) I’m an obsessive completist, and (2) a handful of these players might actually be useful to fantasy teams and worth discussing.
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Catchers
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: First Basemen
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Second Basemen
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Shortstop
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Third Basemen
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Outfield
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Starting Pitchers
- Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Relief Pitchers
Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy
Is there a strategy for designated hitters? Uh, not really. But there is one important principle to which you should adhere if you’re thinking of drafting one of these guys to fill your DH/utility slot:
Insist on a discount.
If you draft a player who’s only eligible at designated hitter to fill your DH/utility slot, you are choosing to deny yourself roster flexibility. Assuming you have only one such slot, you can no longer draft an extra outfielder or an extra middle infielder and slide that player into your utility slot. You are now bound by the positional restrictions your league has set. For instance, if teams in your league must fill four outfield spots and a utility spot, you could potentially draft five outfielders and slide one into the utility slot. But not if you draft J.D. Martinez, in which case he can only be used in the DH/utility slot, and you lose the option of drafting a fifth outfielder.
Fantasy Baseball Draft Strategy: Designated Hitters
Therefore, if you deny yourself that roster flexibility, it should be because you’re getting a great price on a DH-only guy. Do not pay full price for these players.
Let’s dig into the designated hitter tiers. In addition to the rankings and tiers. I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.
(Please note that these rankings are limited to players who appeared in at least 20 games at designated hitter or played more games there than at any other position.)
Fantasy Baseball Designated Hitters Tiers & Draft Advice
Harper had off-season Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow and is expected to be out until sometime around the All-Star break. Some reports have suggested that Harper could return even earlier, but injury optimism can be a dangerous drug for fantasy managers. The appeal here is obvious, though. Harper is a two-time National League MVP. Adding his booming bat to your lineup at midseason could give you a massive lift. Investing in Harper makes a lot of sense in head-to-head leagues in order to have him for those late-season H2H playoff duels.
Martinez isn’t that old. He’s 35, and he’s batted .286 and .274 the past two seasons. The power disappeared last season, however, as he plummeted from 28 home runs and 99 RBI in 2021 to 16 home runs and 62 RBI last season in only slightly fewer plate appearances. Expecting a 30-HR season from Martinez is a stretch, but a 25-HR projection isn’t terribly far-fetched. Hitting in the middle of the Dodgers’ lineup should help Martinez produce solid run and RBI totals.
Oldsters Carpenter and Cruz could very well end up next to each other in the Padres’ Opening Day batting order.
The 37-year-old Carpenter batted .305 with 15 home runs in only 154 plate appearances for the Yankees last year. Carpenter’s age ratchets up the risk level, and it’s unlikely we’ll see this career .263 hitter bat .300 over a full season, but Carpenter is capable of chipping in 25 home runs and 75 RBI.
Cruz, 43, finally started to show signs of age last season, batting .234 with only 10 HRs in 507 plate appearances. Cruz had eye surgery at the end of the season to fix a problem that he says affected his vision for more than a year. It’s possible the eye problem was largely responsible for the 2022 downturn, but investing in a 43-year-old slugger is risky business, so insist on a deep discount.
Langeliers is a power-hitting catcher prospect for the A’s who made 24 appearances as a DH last year and only 17 at catcher, so he won’t have catcher eligibility in some leagues. Langeliers could bop 25 home runs if he secures a full-time role, but he also struck out 53 times in 153 plate appearances last year, so there’s some worrisome batting average risk here.
Phillies 1B prospect Hall has a profile similar to Langeliers’ — a lot of power potential mixed with a lot of swing-and-miss. Hall might be limited to platoon duty in his first full season in the majors, but he’s a lefty, so he could still get 400+ plate appearances in a platoon role.
The oft-injured Garver has thunder in his bat, but he’s become a batting average risk. After posting some quality batting averages (at least by catcher standards) with the Twins early in his career, Garver batted .207 in 215 plate appearances for the Rangers last year, and he batted .161 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Garver will likely back up Jonah Heim and make occasional appearances as a DH. He probably won’t get enough at-bats to justify using him in your DH/utility slot.
If only Reyes could fully tap into his mammoth power. Unfortunately, Reyes’ groundball rate routinely hovers near 50%. Reyes was a free agent as of this writing. He might be worth a late-round pick if he lands in an ideal spot.
Cabrera’s fuel tank may have run dry during the second half of the 2022 season. Miggy batted .287 before the All-Star break, .171 after it, and he hit only five home runs in 433 plate appearances for the season. He’ll be in the Hall of Fame before long, but that doesn’t mean he should be on your fantasy roster.
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