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Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Designated Hitters (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Designated Hitters (2024)

Let’s turn our attention to designated hitter, fantasy baseball’s Land of Misfit Toys.

Actually, that’s an unfair label since this is the position where Shohei Ohtani and Yordan Alvarez dwell. If those two are misfit toys, please give me a toy chest brimming with misfits.

Most of the players in this category are misfits in that they fall through the cracks of positional eligibility, qualifying only at the DH/utility position in leagues that require hitters to play 20 games at a position in order to be eligible there.

It’s not a big group, but it’s an important one. There are a lot of aging sluggers in the DH category, and a lot of them are aging quite gracefully, thank you very much.

There isn’t really a “strategy” for Ohtani and Alvarez. They’re top-20 overall picks in fantasy drafts, and it’s just a matter of deciding whether you want to acquire their booming bats in an early round or choose some other star.

But there is an important bit of strategy for other designated hitters.

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, once you draft a player who only has DH eligibility, 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 example, if your league requires you to fill four outfield spots and a utility spot, you could draft five outfielders and slide one into the utility slot. But not if you draft Marcell Ozuna, in which case he can only be used in the DH/utility slot, and you lose the option of drafting a fifth outfielder.

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 themselves, I’ll offer a few words about some of the players from each tier.

Fantasy Baseball Draft Rankings, Tiers & Strategy: Designated Hitters (2024)

Tier 1

It’s been a delight to watch Shohei Ohtani dominate as both a hitter and pitcher, giving us a dose of Babe Ruth-iness in the modern era. But it will be fascinating to see what Ohtani can do exclusively as a DH after undergoing offseason surgery to repair a torn UCL in his throwing elbow. Ohtani batting third in a stacked Dodgers lineup behind Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman? Yes, please. Ohtani slammed an AL-high 44 home runs last season in only 497 at-bats and had an MLB-leading OPS of 1.066. Those are cartoon numbers. It’s not hard to imagine Ohtani wearing Dodger blue and batting .300 with 50 HRs, well over 100 runs and RBI, and 25 stolen bases thrown in for good measure.

Health is the only concern with Yordan Alvarez, whose thunderous bat has produced a .295 lifetime batting average and more than 30 home runs in three consecutive seasons. Alvarez had arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees in 2020 and missed significant time last summer with an oblique injury. Projecting 500 at-bats for Alvarez is a leap of faith, but even 400 at-bats are likely to net 30 home runs and close to 100 RBI from this strapping 6-5, 225-pound slugger.

Tier 2

A deteriorating contact rate suggests that J.D. Martinez may no longer be an asset in the BA category at age 36, but the power has held up nicely. His 33 home runs and 103 RBI last season were the most he’s had since 2019. But with the age cliff looming, insist on a discount.

Marcell Ozuna socked a career-high 40 home runs and had 100 RBI last year in his age-32 season. Health is the key, as 2023 was the first time Ozuna had played more than 130 games since 2018. If he can stay ensconced in the middle of a potent Braves lineup, strong numbers should ensue.

Fantasy managers have been chasing the dragon with Eloy Jimenez ever since his 31-HR rookie season in 2019 and a zesty 14-HR follow-up in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. But injuries have dogged Jimenez the last three years. He stayed healthy-ish last season — at least relative to 2021 and 2022 — but the home run power dried up a bit, with 18 HRs in 456 at-bats. Jimenez is only 27, so there could still be big seasons ahead if his body cooperates. He’s still looking for his first major-league stolen base, by the way.

Iffy health seems to be a theme with this DH tier, so let’s keep it rolling with Jorge Soler. After an injury-plagued 2022 in which Soler batted .207 and hit 13 home runs in 270 at-bats, Soler stayed healthy until the very end of the 2023 season and finished with 36 home runs and a respectable .250 batting average for the Marlins. Soler is a one-dimensional power guy, but after switching teams, he’ll now occupy a spot in the heart of the Giants’ batting order.

The youngest player on this tier, Christopher Morel, has hit 42 home runs with 117 RBI over 767 MLB at-bats. He also runs a little bit, with 16 career SBs. But Morel struck out 133 times in 388 at-bats last season, suggesting that he’ll be hard-pressed to dramatically improve upon a career .241 batting average.

Tier 3

Joey Meneses had a mildly disappointing season in 2023 (13 HRs and a .275 BA in 611 at-bats) after an exciting 2022 debut in which he hit 13 home runs in 222 at-bats and batted .325. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Meneses was playing through a knee injury last year, so he could be a sneaky value at the end of drafts.

Everyone knows about the mammoth power Giancarlo Stanton brings to the table. This is, after all, a man who hit 59 homers in 2017. But Stanton comes with injury and batting average risk. The latter is the more ominous red flag: Stanton has batted just .202 over the last two seasons.

Charlie Blackmon is 37. Justin Turner is 39. Neither guy is going to win a batting title, but both can provide reasonably good batting averages and just a dash of power.

Late bloomer Brent Rooker hit 30 home runs for the A’s last year after never hitting more than nine in any of his three previous MLB seasons. Rooker’s 85th-percentile average exit velocity and 91st-percentile hard-hit rate say the power is legit, but his 172 strikeouts in 463 at-bats last season portend BA risk.

Tier 4

If you want a cheap source of power, Nelson Velazquez might be able to oblige. He belted 14 home runs in only 133 at-bats after being traded from the Cubs to the Royals last summer. But Velazquez batted .253 across six minor league seasons and has a .219 average in MLB, so the power comes with BA risk.

At age 37, Andrew McCutchen still has a little bit of speed and pop, but the last time he batted better than .256 was 2017.

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