THE DYNASTY GURU’S 2021 TOP 9 DYNASTY LEAGUE DESIGNATED HITTERS/UTILITY-ONLY PLAYERS, #1-9
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Without further ado, it’s time to close out our 2021 consensus rankings by ranking the designated hitters/utility-only players for dynasty leagues.
1. SHOHEI OHTANI, LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM (AGE: 26, PREVIOUS RANK: 1)
There isn’t a more perplexing fantasy player than Shohei Ohtani. He elected to bet on himself when he came to MLB in 2018, forgoing the more drawn out, but typically more profitable path for Asian players. For 2 years, that bet looked like it would pay off. He demonstrated top-of-the-league talent both at the plate and on the mound (when his health allowed him to pitch). In his rookie season, he hit 22 home runs, stole 10 bases, hit for a .285 average, and threw 51.2 innings to the tune of a 3.31 ERA and a nearly 30% strikeout rate. Last year was the first time we saw that immaculate sheen start to come off a little. Injuries limited him to only 1.2 innings pitched, and his value at the plate dropped to nearly 20% below average. 2020 was a forgettable season for many, but perhaps none moreso than Ohtani. Nevertheless, his skillset is unparalleled in MLB. He has ace-level stuff and can provide a power/speed profile on offense. The trouble comes with being able to deploy him in your lineup. Your league settings may have him as 2 separate players, or you may use weekly lineups that could hinder your ability to accumulate both his hitting and pitching stats. For the purposes of this list, Ohtani has a much better outlook as a hitter. If his injuries force the Angels to limit him to one facet of the game, it would seem that he would merely spend his career being one of the best hitters in baseball. Not a bad consolation prize. (Aaron Cumming)
2. NELSON CRUZ, MINNESOTA TWINS (AGE: 40, PREVIOUS RANK: 2)
Ohtani is at the top of this list because he is perhaps the most exciting player in the game, but Cruz is a close second because he is arguably the most consistent player. At least 37 home runs every year since 2014 (his 16 last year had him on a 43 dinger pace). An OBP of at least .360 in five of the last six seasons. His bat has been at least 33% above average for seven straight seasons by wRC+, a feat equaled only by Mike Trout. He is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down, and is one of the safest power bats in fantasy, despite his age. If anybody is poised to put a blemish on the perfect record of father time, it’s Cruz. Perhaps when he’s still hitting 35 home runs a season 10 years from now, we may bump him up to the top of this list. (Aaron Cumming)
3. KHRIS DAVIS, TEXAS RANGERS (AGE: 33, PREVIOUS RANK: 3)
Davis has been fodder for many fans of statistical trivia, as he posted identical .247 batting averages in four consecutive seasons from 2015 to 2018. The last three of which he also hit 42, 43, then 48 home runs. Going into 2019, there was no reason to expect anything different. He was a metronome of meteoric power and mediocre batting average. However, early in 2019, Davis banged into a wall making a catch, injuring his hip/oblique. He hasn’t been the same in the year and a half since then. His bat to ball skills took a huge hit, sapping his power, and obliterating an already subpar hit tool. This offseason, Oakland decided that it was time to move on, and traded him to the Rangers. Perhaps additional time to get healthy, a normal Spring Training, and a change of scenery can rekindle the magic Davis had, but if he doesn’t experience a bounceback this year, he will likely be relegated to small-side platoon duties, or even just being a career pinch hitter. (Aaron Cumming)
4. MIGUEL CABRERA, DETROIT TIGERS (AGE: 37, PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
I need to take a moment to personally thank Miguel Cabrera. As a Tigers fan, his skill and personality rejuvenated this franchise. He is one of the best hitters of his generation, and he sparked joy around the game of baseball in Detroit that had been lost since the 80s. He is just 13 home runs shy of 500, and will likely retire with a batting average above .300. He’s an all-time great, and it’s been the gift of a lifetime to see him play.
As for expectations going forward, he has shown diminished-yet-stable skills the last couple of years. Most projections have him hitting between 18 and 23 home runs this year, with a batting average around .260. That seems like a reasonable expectation for each of the 3 years he has remaining on his contract. 2020 was his first time not playing the field, and I don’t expect his positional eligibility to change moving forward. Despite reports about the possibility of Cabrera playing some first base this year, with Jeimer Candelario and the newly acquired Renato Nunez on the roster, I wouldn’t bank on it. In my opinion, the only value lost by Cabrera being a DH is that he can’t untuck baserunners’ jerseys now. (Aaron Cumming)
5. YOENIS CESPEDES, FREE AGENT (AGE: 35, PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
After injuries and contract issues robbed Cespedes of a 2019 season, he was able to get back on the field in 2020 for all of 8 games before abruptly opting out. By no means should someone be faulted for not playing during the past season, but the circumstances of his exit layered upon his previous flair for drama don’t bode well for a relationship with any potential future employers. Somebody should add him to the mix, though. Even in the incredibly small sample last year, he showed the power that is a hallmark of his career. He has only had an ISO (isolated power) below .200 one year since he came into the league in 2012 and even then it was a .190 mark in 2014 (league average is usually around .140). Cespedes had been seen regularly working out with his brother who was preparing for the international signing period, so he seems to be in very good shape. If he catches on with an AL club in need of a DH (a return to Oakland?), he could get back to punishing some baseballs. (Aaron Cumming)
6. YERMIN MERCEDES, CHICAGO WHITE SOX (AGE: 28, PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
Mercedes is one of the more powerful and quick bats in the White Sox system. The problem is that he’s one of the worst defenders across all of professional baseball. He’s generously been given a chance to play catcher, but there’s almost no room left to disappoint his club with his receiving skills. His DH-only profile could play in most other organizations, but he is blocked by a litany of C/1B/DH players in or near the majors for Chicago. In an ideal 2021 scenario, Mercedes will get more than the one at-bat he got in 2020 and showcase something that gets him traded to a lesser team that can offer him consistent playing time. If given an opportunity, he has 25+ home run pop, and could maintain a batting average above .270. That’s a solid line for fantasy, but may not be enough to overcome the bad defense and earn him a starting role. (Aaron Cumming)
7. YASMANY TOMAS, WASHINGTON NATIONALS (AGE: 30, PREVIOUS RANK NR)
Tomas signed a minor league deal with the Nationals, with an invite to their major league camp. He only has 6 big league at-bats since 2017, but was once a highly touted prospect for the Diamondbacks and belted 31 home runs in 2016 while hitting for a .272 AVG. Showing those skills in the majors at any point and having his pedigree will earn a player ample opportunities to see if they’ve still got it. If Tomas can prove his worth in Spring Training, he could infringe on Andrew Stevenson’s role as the 4th outfielder, and see some time as a potential platoon partner for Kyle Schwarber. The hope here is that he can turn a good performance into a regular role somewhere else for 2022 and beyond. (Aaron Cumming)
8. MARK TRUMBO, FREE AGENT (AGE: 35, PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
Trumbo is not currently with a team, and there don’t seem to be any rumblings of a signing in the near future. A string of knee injuries starting in 2018 cut that season short and limited him to just 12 games in 2019. That injury concern, his defensive limitations, and dipping performance along the way caused him to go unsigned going into 2020. If he has interest in returning and can demonstrate that he is healthy, his powerful bat should be worth a flyer for somebody. In his prime, Trumbo was a lock for 30+ home runs, even spiking a 47 homer season in 2016. At this point for fantasy, there’s no reason to show any interest until an MLB organization does first. (Aaron Cumming)
9. YADIEL HERNANDEZ, WASHINGTON NATIONALS (AGE: 33, PREVIOUS RANK: NR)
The Nationals interestingly are the only team to have a second player in the utility-only hitter rankings, despite the lack of a DH in the senior circuit entering the 2021 season. Hernandez signed with the Nationals from Cuba at the age of 28 in 2016, and with a good amount of experience already, started in Double-A. He showed a good plate approach and posted consistent numbers, but a 2019 power surge made him an interesting option for the World Series champs going into 2020. He only got a late call, though, and saw very brief action as a 32-year-old rookie. Fun fact: he was the oldest player to ever have their first career home run be a walk-off. Like the Nats’ previous entry on this list, Hernandez has historically played in the outfield, and could see some time there this year if injuries or underperformance at the big league level dictate a promotion. His age and the fact that he won’t even be in the big league camp this year make it tough to put him on a fantasy roster. (Aaron Cumming)