BBE 2019 Positional Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 Designated Hitters

Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2019 season.

Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them.

As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers over the next few weeks.

Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-place vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.

As the spring training season comes to a close and the 2019 MLB season begins, you will see these countdowns published in conjunction with the beginning of another exciting MLB season. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.

In the rundown, we list the pitcher, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 designated hitters for the 2019 season.

15. Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Rays (Last year: not ranked)

Choi raked after being sent from the Milwaukee Brewers, where he served as a reserve first baseman who got very few at-bats, to the Rays, where he was gifted the designated hitter role. In 2018 he slashed .233/.281/.500 in 32 plate appearances as a Brewer, and after being traded for Brad Miller and cash in June, hit .269/.370/.506 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, 12 doubles, 24 walks, and a 142 OPS+ in 49 games as a Ray.

The left-hander has had power everywhere he has gone in the majors leagues, but has lacked consistency. Now, the fan-favorite 27-year-old has a chance to finally put it all together with Tampa Bay, and the results have been promising thus far.

14. Mark Trumbo, Baltimore Orioles (Last year: 5th)

Trumbo has been one of baseball’s premier power hitters since the outset of his career, and as an Oriole, has been a consistently excellent designated hitter. In 2016, Trumbo led all of baseball with 47 home runs, winning the Silver Slugger and making the American League All-Star team. Though his health has not allowed him to perform at that level for a while (Trumbo underwent knee surgery last year after injuring it while sliding into second base), he still has pop that rivals any DH in baseball.

In his abridged 2018 campaign, the big right-hander slashed .261/.313/.452  with 17 home runs, 44 runs batted in, 12 doubles, and a 106 OPS+. His 2019 season will be shortened as well, as he was placed on the 60-day injured list and will be out of action until at least the end of May.

13. Yonder Alonso, Chicago White Sox (Last year: not ranked)

After predominantly playing at the first-base spot for most of his career, Alonso shifted to DH once he joined the White Sox, who have Jose Abreu manning the first-base position. For a lefty who has torn the cover off the ball in recent seasons, it shouldn’t be much of a challenge to adjust.

Following up a 2017 season that saw him make his first All-Star team, the 32-year-old hit well in 2018, with a .250/.317/.421 slash line, 23 home runs, 83 RBIs, 51 walks, and a .738 OPS as a Cleveland Indian. Over the past two seasons, Alonso has hit 51 home runs, more than the 39 he hit in his first seven major-league years combined.

12. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (Last year: not ranked)

CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 28: First baseman Carlos Santana #41 of the Cleveland Indians waits for a new batter during the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field on September 28, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Twins 5-2. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

In basically every way, the relationship between Santana and the Philadelphia Phillies was a bad match. Santana did not produce up to scale with his $20 million per year earnings, and forced Rhys Hoskins, now the Phillies full-time first baseman, to shift to left field, where he was abysmal. Now, Santana returns to a familiar place with Cleveland and back to a mix between first base and DH.

Though his .229/.352/.414 slash line is uninspiring, Santana still had some value in 2018. He hit 24 home runs, 86 RBIs, and 54 extra-base hits, while remaining one of the best players in the sport at working the count and drawing walks; he was one of four MLB hitters to have more bases on balls (110) than strikeouts (93) last season. The switch-hitter spent the first eight years of his career with the Indians and should be better in 2019 with a familiar jersey on his chest.

11. Tyler White, Houston Astros (Last year: not ranked)

After a rookie explosion in the first parts of the 2016 season, White cooled down considerably with fewer and fewer at-bats on a loaded Astros team, but in 2019, projects to be their primary DH with the loss of Evan Gattis and Brian McCann to free agency. He will benefit from a full season in that role, as he fared well in 66 games in the 2018 campaign. The righty slashed .276/.354/.533 with 12 home runs, 42 RBIs, 27 extra-base knocks, and a 142 OPS+ in 237 plate appearances last season.

The 28-year-old has been an unheralded presence in an Astros dugout with many MLB superstars, but has a lot of pop and power and should reach his full ceiling this year.

10. C.J. Cron, Minnesota Twins (Last year: not ranked)

For the second straight season, Cron raked and then got sent to a different team. In 2017, it was the Los Angeles Angels sending their former top prospect to the Rays, and in 2018 it was Tampa Bay waiving one of their better offensive contributors and having him be claimed by Minnesota, despite Cron having a career year.

The big and stocky right-hander slashed .253/.323/.493 with a career-high 30 home runs, 74 RBIs, 127 hits, 28 doubles, 37 walks, and a 124 OPS+ with Tampa Bay last season, a career year by any measure. The Twins will use Cron at first base in 2019, but the right-hander remains a critical DH-esque bat for an emerging Twins club.

9. Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers (Last year: 10th)

Last season Choo provided an intriguing storyline for a Rangers team that didn’t have much entertainment value elsewhere in completing a wild 52-game on-base streak, a record for a single season by a Texas player. At 35, the left-hander earned his first MLB All-Star Game appearance and a deserving one at that, as he hit .264/.377/.434 with 21 home runs, 62 RBIs, 92 walks, six stolen bases, 30 doubles, and an .810 OPS.

He is well past his best days of hitting .300, stealing 20 bags, and hitting 20 bombs everywhere, but I’ll be damned if he can’t still provide value for the Rangers — or, potentially, through a trade deadline swap with a World Series contender who needs timely hitting.

8. Kendrys Morales, Oakland Athletics (Last year: 3rd)

In losing Matt Olson early in the season, the A’s needed to make a trade for a big bat right after their two-game set in Japan concluded, and they were smart in looking for Morales, whom they acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays on the eve of Opening Day. Morales has long been one of the most consistent lethal power-hitting DHs in baseball, and his 2018 season with Toronto showed that the 35-year-old still has something in him.

The switch-hitter slashed .249/.331/.438 with 21 home runs, 57 RBIs, 50 walks, and a 113 OPS+ last season. Early into 2019 Morales has played a lot of first base, but essentially gives the A’s another pure slugger of DH caliber.

7. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (Last year: 7th)

Pujols is a shell of his former self, but in no way is he just complete trash. Yeah, he is overpaid, but the right-hander is also a future Hall of Famer with a career worth celebrating. And at 39 years old, it’s worth noting that he is still adding to his remarkable career home run total in his 19th season.

Last season Pujols slashed .245/.289/.411 with 19 home runs, 64 RBIs, 20 doubles, 28 walks, and 50 runs while picking up career hit number 3,000 in the process. He is only 26 home runs away from passing Willie Mays for fifth on the all-time home runs list, which would be an incredible achievement by a generational talent. There is no getting past how poorly Pujols has aged, but he still has something left in him, and it’s worth talking about how brilliant his career has been.

6. Edwin Encarnacion, Seattle Mariners (Last year: 2nd)

Encarnacion had his least productive season in a while in 2018, by OPS+ measures, which tells us his 2018 campaign (115) was his worst since 2011. On the flip side, the big righty also had his seventh consecutive season with 30 or more home runs, which is an unbelievable stretch of power-hitting prowess. With Cleveland last season, the 36-year-old slashed .246/.336/.474 with 32 home runs, 107 RBIs, 63 walks, and 16 doubles in 137 games.

Now with the Mariners, Encarnacion has four homers and a .316 batting average for the offensive powerhouse M’s team early in 2019. I feel we have somehow underappreciated Edwin’s sheer dominance of the DH spot over his career. Plus, he has the coolest home run celebration in baseball.

5. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels (Last year: not ranked)

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 29: Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim smiles during the game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)

If he was fully healthy, Ohtani would also be on our list of the top 15 starting pitchers because he’s just that talented. The 2018 AL Rookie of the Year enthralled MLB audiences with his revolutionary two-way play as a pitcher and designated hitter and lived up to the massive hype, when his health cooperated. As a DH, we saw Ohtani truly shine while his pitching elbow failed him, hitting .285/.361/.564 with 22 home runs, 61 RBIs, a 151 OPS+, a .925 OPS, and 10 stolen bases in just 367 plate appearances.

For any major-leaguer, those are superstar-level numbers, but for a rookie who also made 10 starts on the mound, those are genuinely jaw-dropping stats. If we were voting for players from a raw talent perspective, Ohtani would be the number-one ranked player on this list. He is expected to make his season debut as a hitter in early April and return to pitching in 2020.

4. Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins (Last year: 1st)

In 2018 Cruz was an All-Star for the fifth time in the last six years, contributing to the Mariners everything you would want a DH to do. He slammed 37 home runs, drove in 97 runs, drew 55 walks, and slashed .256/.342/.509 for a 135 OPS+. It was the fifth season straight with at least 35 home runs for the big right-hander, who has an MLB-best 203 home runs since the start of the 2014 campaign.

The former AL Championship Series MVP signed with the Twins as one of several high-profile free agents to join forces in St. Paul, and despite being 38 years old, he evidently has a lot left in him with bat speed and power that have aged well.

3. Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics (Last year: ineligible — played left field)

ANAHEIM, CA – SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Chapman #26 and Khris Davis #2 of the Oakland Athletics celebrate Davis’ two-run homerun during the first inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Davis has hit exactly .247 in each of the last four seasons, which is remarkable and funny. What is also remarkable is his emergence as one of baseball’s most prolific power-hitters, and his first year as a full-time DH went exactly as you might expect for the A’s slugger. The right-hander hit an MLB-best 48 home runs during his third-straight year with at least 40 bombs and drove in 123 runs to headman an electric offensive lineup in Alameda County.

The 31-year-old finished eighth in a stacked AL Most Valuable Player Award race in 2018, the highest of his career, and it’s by no means the last time he’ll accrue MVP votes. Davis already leads the major leagues with nine home runs in 16 games so far in 2019.

2. Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees (Last year: ineligible — played right field)

Stanton’s first year as a Yankee came with mixed results. He struggled mightily in his first few games in pinstripes, accumulated a career high in strikeouts (211), and struggled in the AL Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, hitting .222 with six strikeouts in 18 at-bats. On the flip side, the big right-hander slashed .266/.343/.509, knocked 38 home runs, chipped in 100 RBIs, totaled 34 doubles, and drew 70 walks in the middle of the Yankees’ order.

A year after hitting 59 home runs as a Miami Marlin, Stanton didn’t really follow it up well, but it’s difficult to complain about a guy who hits .266, 38 home runs, and 100 RBIs because you aren’t going to get that from many other players. The 29-year-old is historically a pretty streaky hitter, and once he gets settled back into the New York lineup, should be lethal again.

1. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox (Last year: ineligible — played right field)

Martinez, a free agent last offseason, went unsigned until February 26 before signing with the Red Sox, and then proceeded to make every other front office in the game look silly for not paying him. The lofty right-hander had a career year in 2017, but followed it up with an even better 2018 campaign that was one of the biggest reasons for the Red Sox taking home the World Series crown.

Martinez slashed .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs, 130 RBIs, 69 walks, a 1.031 OPS, 37 doubles, and a 173 OPS+. He won his second and third Silver Slugger Awards (he qualified as both a DH and an outfielder) in 2018, in the process of finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting. At just $23,750,000 per year, the veteran is a steal for the Red Sox.

2 Responses

    • Tom Dorsa

      Sorry about that one, John. I always get where the Twins play and where the Minnesota Wild play mixed up in my mind. Maybe they should just be called the Minneapolis Twins for southwest-native fools like myself.


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