It looks like Atlanta’s William Contreras could be in the starting lineup for the National League in the All-Star game next week in Los Angeles. Oddly enough, he doesn’t even start for his own team.
Like his brother Wilson of the Chicago Cubs (who will start the ASG) William is a catcher. But he plays behind another All-Star, Travis d’Arnaud for the Braves, and gets most of his plate appearances as a Designated Hitter. However, he’s not even Atlanta’s primary DH. That role belongs to Marcell Ozuna, who is returning from the injured list. In Ozuna’s place, William has been steady if not spectacular, hitting .273 with 11 homers to this point.
But you know what they say, the best ability is availability.
So William will most likely be the NL’s DH when the first pitch is tossed out next Tuesday night. He was chosen as the top reserve at that position, rather than as a catcher. If he is the starter, he may very well be hitting ninth, given the strength of the NL lineup.
Imagine that. A Designated Hitter hitting in the pitchers spot.
To be fair, DH is where defending MVP Bryce Harper was voted into the starting lineup by the fans. But Harper’s out with a broken thumb and isn’t available. Miami first baseman Garrett Cooper was named to the team as a replacement for Harper. He’s one of several NL first baseman having sensational seasons so far.
Here’s the issue: There are a lot of guys who play first and third base who are having big seasons so far. But only Harper is listed as a DH. There aren’t any other high quality full-time designated hitters in the National League.
This being the first full season of the DH in both leagues, the NL doesn’t know how to DH yet.
Before hurting his elbow, Harper was playing right field. He was moved to DH to keep his bat in the line-up while his arm gets better. Resting players and rotating guys in and out of the DH spot – the way the Colorado Rockies do with Charlie Blackmon (who should be a full-time DH at this stage of his career) – is the way NL teams have done it this season. Nearly all the NL starters have spent a game or three serving as the DH rather than playing in the field, but only Harper got the majority of his at-bats there. It’s a smart strategy. Saves some wear and tear and keep a good bat in the lineup, rather than a full day off like in the old days.
But it makes things more difficult come All-Star selection time.
NL Manager Brian Snitker could skip over his guy and go nostalgic and insert Albert Pujols – a Commissioner’s pick for the team – as the starting DH and no one would be upset (except maybe the Contreras family.) It’s a role Pujols knows well from his time in the American League. If he were in his prime, Pujols would be the obvious choice. And there are any number of NL players who could serve in the role, which will essentially be a pinch hitter as the teams clear the respective benches later in the game. That includes C.J. Cron of the Rockies, who is on the team for his bat, not his glove. It maybe Cron’s best chance to get into the game. First base is so crowded in fact that the Dodgers star Freddy Freeman got left off the NL roster.
At some point, National League teams – including the Rockies – are going to have to learn how to DH. Grab someone like Blackmon, who is a liability in the outfield at this point in his outstanding career – and take away his glove. Make him a DH and let him flourish. That’s very likely what the rest of Harper’s career is going to be – a full time DH who gets a few games in the outfield but who makes his money strictly with his bat. Keeping aging or injury wracked star hitters in the game is why the DH came into existence in the first place.
It worked for Hall of Famers like David Ortiz and Edgar Martinez, guys who ditched their mitts and ended up in Cooperstown…with a few All-Star games in-between.
Be sure to catch Mark Knudson and Manny Randhawa on the Park Adjusted Rockies Podcast each week, available on all major Podcast platforms.