Emma: DH By Committee Makes Good Sense For Cubs

The Cubs' designated hitter role will likely be filled by many players in 2020.

Chris Emma
June 24, 2020 - 1:16 pm
Categories: 

(670 The Score) When the Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber fourth overall in the 2014 MLB amateur draft, they added a coveted prospect with great hitting skills and no clear position for his future.

Early in Schwarber's career when his defensive deficiencies were on display, it seemed that the Cubs drafted a designated hitter to a National League team. Now, that narrative may have changed as a new opportunity presents itself.

As MLB now moves forward with a 60-game regular season in 2020 that includes the implementation of universal designated hitter, the 27-year-old Schwarber isn't the Cubs' obvious candidate to fill that lineup role.

Related: Stroylines to watch as Cubs gather for spring training 2.0

Though Schwarber has a checkered defensive reputation -- it's largely based on his first couple years in the big leagues -- he was a serviceable left fielder in 2018 and 2019. Schwarber has been even with zero defensive runs saved (or surrendered) in the outfield the last two seasons and committed only seven errors in 2,100 innings of work.

Schwarber isn't a liability in the outfield anymore, and that's part of the reason why the Cubs seem likely to use a variety of different players in the designated hitter slot this season.

In 2019, the Cubs played 10 games in American League ballparks. Kris Bryant saw the most time as designated hitter, with three starts in that spot. Shortstop Javier Baez filled that role twice while dealing with a bruised heel last May. Schwarber served as the designated hitter only twice. Of course, that was with then-manager Joe Maddon in charge.

New Cubs manager David Ross could rotate the designated hitter position between Schwarber and outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who are both pedestrian defenders. Souza missed the entire 2019 season with a serious knee injury, so getting him at-bats at designated hitter could help him stay healthier.

Ross can also utilize Victor Caratini or Willson Contreras as the designated hitter on days when the other is starting at catcher -- assuming the Cubs have a third catcher available on their 30-man roster.

With Bryant set as the everyday third baseman, David Bote could be the designated hitter when he's not playing second base -- which will likely be platooned by Jason Kipnis and Nico Hoerner. If Hoerner emerges as the Cubs hope, Kipnis could see more time as the designated hitter than in the field.

As the Cubs push for a playoff spot in a condensed 60-game season, the designated hitter role will allow Ross to give everyday players like Bryant, Baez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo a lighter workload for a day -- especially toward the end of a season that won't include many off days.

In theory, the Cubs could play their best players all 60 games this season while offering a little rest with the designated hitter spot.

The stakes in the short season will be much higher on a daily basis. A three-game losing streak now is roughly the equivalent of an eight-game skid in a 162-game season. Every game counts even more, meaning managers won't have the patience afforded over 162 games.

The Cubs can use the designated hitter as a position of flexibility and ensure their best lineup for each day of this compact season.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.