MLB Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings: Top 15 DH-Only Options

Stephen SkinnerContributor IIMarch 8, 2012

MLB Fantasy Baseball Player Rankings: Top 15 DH-Only Options

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    Many fantasy baseball league lineups carry a designated hitter spot that typically can be filled with a player who qualifies at multiple positions. There are some MLB players, however, who may only be put in the DH slot on a fantasy squad. 

    Those players are the ones that have played either most of the season as their team's DH or the entire season as their team's DH, depending upon how a fantasy league defines position qualifications.

    Having a designated hitter spot provides a fantasy owner the opportunity to get a player into their lineup who could supply much-needed power or speed numbers, and who otherwise might be relegated to their bench. Often it can mean the difference in having a winning or losing week.

    This article will look at the 15 best players who, in most cases, only qualify as a DH for fantasy owners.

1. David Ortiz

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    Even at the age of 36, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox remains the best designated hitter in the game today. While other players in their mid-30s begin to see a decline in their performance, Ortiz has somehow managed to reverse the effects of time. 

    The past three seasons have seen the Red Sox slugger increase his average from .238 in 2009 to .309 in 2011. Over that span he has averaged 30 home runs and 99 RBI, leading the way for the potent Red Sox lineup.

    "Big Papi" will never provide fantasy owners with stolen base numbers (he has one stolen base over the past three years) but, the power and runs he consistently produces more than make up for it. He gives most owners the "edge" at a very valuable spot in a fantasy lineup.

2. Billy Butler

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    The saying "age before beauty" might apply to this year's DH-only rankings for fantasy baseball owners. However, "beauty" is catching up fast. 

    Ortiz, 36, occupies the top spot when examining designated hitters from a fantasy perspective, but 26-year-old Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals is quickly catching up.

    Butler came into his own for the Royals in 2009 when he belted 21 home runs and drove in 93 runs while hitting .301. He has remained consistent since then and enters the 2012 season coming off a 19-home run, 95-RBI 2011 campaign.

    The fact that he continues to put those numbers up while playing for a perennial last-place Royals squad shows what an amazing hitter he is. 

    Butler is just now entering the peak years of his career, and fantasy owners won't be disappointed with the numbers this "professional" hitter provides in the DH spot.

3. Adam Dunn

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    The 2011 season was a disappointment for Adam Dunn. Having come off back-to-back years of 38 home runs and at least 100 RBI, the White Sox had hoped the "Dunn-key" they signed would provide the power they needed to surge to the top of the American League Central Division. 

    Instead, following emergency appendectomy surgery in April, Dunn didn't regain the form he had displayed the previous two seasons.

    His 11 home runs and .159 batting average in 2011 were the lowest of his career and not the numbers the White Sox were looking for in the heart of their order.

    For the 2012 season, Dunn is determined to bounce back and put last year in his rear-view mirror. 

    If he can regain the 38-home run, 100-plus-RBI form that he displayed in 2009 and 2010, Dunn will be a force from the DH spot for fantasy owners looking to add power to their lineups.

4. Edwin Encarnacion

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    It would appear that Edwin Encarnacion has found a home. 

    With the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011 Encarnacion raised his average 28 points and hit .272 with 17 round-trippers. In addition, he gave his fantasy owners eight stolen bases—tying his career mark of 2007. 

    He is projected to hit fifth in the Toronto order, and with the likes of Adam Lind, Jose Bautista and Kelly Johnson in front of him, he should be rewarded with plenty of RBI opportunities.

    If Encarnacion makes the most of those opportunities, he'll reward the fantasy owners who chose to put him in their DH spot.

5. Michael Young

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    When you look up the definition of "pure hitter" you get a picture of the Rangers' Michael Young. For the better part of the past decade he has been a constant force in the Texas lineup. The 2011 season was a perfect example of that as he hit .338 with a league-leading 213 hits while adding 106 RBI. 

    If you are a fantasy owner looking for consistency from your DH spot, Young is your man. Over the past ten years, he has:

         - Hit .300 or better seven times

         - Driven in 100 or more runs six times

         - Played in 150 or more games nine times

    With Young, you know what you are getting, and that is someone who will provide you with statistics that rank among the best in the game. 

6. Kendrys Morales

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    In 2009 it appeared that the baseball world had a budding star in Kendrys Morales. The 26-year-old hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI for the Angels and seemed to be on the fast track to the top of the Major League Baseball world.

    Morales' path to stardom came to a crashing halt as he sprinted to home plate following a grand slam against the Seattle Mariners in 2010. His exuberant jump to finish his round-tripper resulted in a broken leg and the loss of the better part of two seasons. 

    His comeback has been slow, but the Angels have seen some hope that the end of his nightmare could be on the immediate horizon. It is their hope that he will begin playing in exhibition games in the upcoming weeks and ultimately provide valuable protection to Albert Pujols in the Angels lineup.

    That is welcome news to fantasy owners, and should he remain on track to begin the season on time, Kendrys Morales could prove to be the ultimate fantasy DH.

7. Jesus Montero

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    He is only 22 years old and has a grand total of 18 games under his belt at the Major League level, yet Jesus Montero is slated to be the Seattle Mariners' designated hitter with good reason.

    In those 18 games as a New York Yankee, Montero hit .328 and drove in 12 runs—hitting four HR in the process. Those numbers, when translated into a 162-game schedule, equate to 36 HR and 108 RBI—numbers that fantasy owners drool over when talking about the DH spot.

    From a fantasy baseball perspective, Montero's fielding issues are a non-factor. If you are slotting him into the DH spot in your lineup, all that you care about is that he provides good offensive numbers. 

    Given the fast track he took as a Yankee and now the confidence the Mariners have placed in him by naming Montero their designated hitter, it would seem that the baseball experts are certain he will produce. 

8. Johnny Damon

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    As of this writing Johnny Damon has not yet signed with a team for the 2012 season. In spite of that, his 2011 season cannot be overlooked as Damon experienced a rebound with the Tampa Rays, hitting 16 HR, driving in 73 runs and stealing 19 bases—his 16th consecutive season stealing 10 or more bases.

    While his best days are behind him, Damon has shown he can still provide fantasy owners with decent power and speed numbers, and should he manage to sign with a team prior to the new season, they can count on him giving them a solid performance from the DH spot.

9. Travis Hafner

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    For Travis Hafner the key to a good season is being able to stay healthy. Constant ailments over the last four years have prevented him from playing in more than 116 games during any one of those seasons.

    When Hafner does play, he has produced relatively decent numbers. Over the past three injury-plagued seasons he has managed to hit .274 and average 14 HR and 52 RBI.  

    Fantasy owners and Cleveland Indians fans both hold out hope that Hafner can fight his way through an entire season, because they know if he does he will be one of the most valuable designated hitters in baseball.

10. Vladimir Guerrero

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    Like Damon, Vladimir Guerrero remains unsigned as of this writing and, like Damon, his statistics cannot be overlooked when examining potential designated hitters for your fantasy lineup.

    Over the past three seasons Guerrero has managed to continue to display decent fantasy numbers. As recently as 2010, he hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI for the American League champion Texas Rangers.

    While his age (37) may be scaring teams from signing Guerrero, it shouldn't scare off fantasy owners from taking a shot with "Vladdy" should he eventually sign a contract. Given the right scenario, Guerrero could prove to be a steal for a savvy fantasy owner looking for a cheap productive bat to put at DH.

11-15. Other DH Options

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    There are, of course, other less "attractive" options for fantasy owners should they find themselves in a position where they need a player to put into a DH-only spot in their lineup. They include:

    11. Hideki Matsui: Currently a free agent, should Matsui sign with a team that gives him decent playing time he could provide you with double-digit HR totals and at least 70 RBI.  He is a "pure" hitter and will hit for at least a .250 average.

    12. Manny Ramirez: He will sit the first 50 games of the season for the Oakland A's, but when he does play Manny has proven to be a productive points producer for fantasy owners.

    13. Jim Thome: Yes, he is now on a National League squad and won't be a designated hitter in 2012, but most fantasy leagues base position qualifications on the previous season. With that, Thome does qualify as a designated hitter.

    In spite of the fact that he continues to display above-average power, Thome ranks low because he will see very limited playing time behind Ty Wigginton for the Phillies.

    14. Luke Scott: Scott will be the Tampa Bay Rays' designated hitter, but he will give you limited power, average and virtually no stolen bases.

    15. Ryan Doumit: As the Minnesota Twins DH, Ryan Doumit should contribute a decent average (.270) and has the potential for increased RBI totals if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau precede him in the lineup.