On Thursday, commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league and the players’ union agreed that the universal designated hitter would be a part of the new collective bargaining agreement. This means that the Pirates, along with the other 14 clubs that make up the National League, will be able to use a DH at their home stadiums moving forward.
While some teams may have obvious fits for the new role on their roster, the Pirates don’t seem to have an obvious, everyday designated hitter. If no free agent or trade acquisition is brought into the fold once teams are allowed to make Major League roster moves again, who benefits the most?
Of anyone on the Pirates roster, Tsutsugo profiles best as a stereotypical DH-type with the potential for big power and run production. While after his signing was made official general manager Ben Cherington said that Tsutsugo would be used more as a first baseman, this creates more opportunity to get the lefty slugger more at-bats.
While his defensive abilities at first base aren’t bad, his metrics indicate that he’s also not great at the position. However, Tsutsugo looked uncomfortable in right field where he posted -5 defensive runs saved in just 150.1 innings. Now, instead, the Pirates have the luxury of using him as a DH — a chance for him to focus on his hitting abilities and not worry about being a liability in a corner outfield spot.
With no clear-cut DH, the Pirates very well may employ a designated hitter by committee — a rotation of using different players based on matchups and getting different players into the lineup more often to keep them fresh. Players like Michael Chavis, Hoy Park and whoever the fourth outfielder would be on a given day (whether Ben Gamel, Anthony Alford or Greg Allen), now have an opportunity to get more regular at-bats.
On the prospects side, Suwinski was added to the Pirates 40-man roster in November and could make his Major League debut for the Pirates in 2022, With questionable defensive abilities, the designated hitter role gives Suwinski a better chance at cracking the Pirates’ lineup at some point this upcoming season.
Suwinski profiles as a DH-type already with plus power that can help to anchor the middle part of a lineup.
Mason Martin and Cal Mitchell
Neither Martin nor Mitchell was added to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster this offseason, but both are knocking at the door after reaching Triple-A towards the end of last season. These two are grouped together because they are both in similar situations, and both benefit in similar ways to the new rule.
For Martin, he may be the most obvious DH candidate of anyone in the Pirates’ organization. While he’s projected to be an adequate defender at first base, Martin’s best tool is his plus-power after hitting 25 homers last year and 35 in 2019. There are other question marks about Martin’s offensive abilities but for a team that lacks power, Martin is an eventual obvious choice to get a crack at being the Pirates designated hitter.
In Mitchell’s situation, he grades more as a below-average defender largely do to his below-average arm from the outfield. While Martin is power over pure hitting ability, Mitchell is a more hit over power. Nevertheless, Mitchell has been an above-average producer at the plate throughout his minor league career since making his debut in 2017.
Oneil Cruz is another guy who could benefit, but the Pirates should be giving him as much time as possible at shortstop to evaluate his defensive abilities. In addition to his strong skills with the bat, Cruz possesses one of the strongest arms in the Pirates’ system and erasing that tool from his game by sticking him at DH would be mistake.