While 55 percent of fans might prefer pitchers hitting to the designated hitter, the Cubs won’t have a choice in the matter beginning Tuesday when they travel to play the Tigers in Detroit.
It is the first of seven games in June in which the Cubs will be the road team in an American League park. For Joe Maddon, it is a return to a style of managing he is used to, but also should still allow him to be creative with how he uses the roster. And that will be necessary when trying to manage playing time with an extra hitter in the line-up in seven of the next 13 games.
Calling up Kyle Schwarber would be exciting, intriguing and would go against what the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has done in regard to promoting prospects. There would be risk in possibly stunting his development, especially considering he has a ways to go to be a serviceable big league catcher. Still, a .324/.445/.580/1.024 slash line in 52 games at Double-A is impressive, no matter how you slice it.
Just consider Schwarber to be one of the many candidates for the team’s designated hitter spot, even if an unlikely one.
The first-year Cubs catcher has an on-base percentage of .363, a .406 slugging percentage and an OPS+ of 113 — all of which represent his best offensive showing since 2012. He is also 31 and of great defensive value to the point where getting him some rest now could be beneficial later.
Getting Montero a start as a designated hitter could allow to rest their lead catcher without losing his bat in the line-up. As for the defense, David Ross provides an adequate replacement when it comes to game calling and pitch framing (and he’ll be catching Jon Lester today anyway), so the drop off should not be as significant as one could imagine.
The Cubs’ left fielder is coming off a good seven-day stretch in which he had six hits and two walks in 21 at bats. He still carries a rather woeful .246 BABIP despite having a respectable 22 percent line drive rate and 30 percent hard hit rate.
But getting Coghlan reps as a designated hitter would be more about getting a better defender in left field than it is getting his bat in the line-up.
Through 54 games, the FanGraphs leaderboard has Coghlan with a career best (and MLB best!) 21.8 UZR/150 and the third best UZR (4.4). Though, not all metrics agree on Coghlan’s defensive season. His Defensive Runs Saved number (1) hovers around respectability and he has posted a -0.1 dWAR, per baseball-reference.com. In the end, his track record could suggest finding a better defensive option while sliding Coghlan into the DH role might be a best case scenario.
The rookie who has spent time at third base, left field and center field is one of the Cubs’ bigger question marks. Through 46 games he has posted a -0.4 dWAR, -3 DRS, 2.2 UZR and 7.6 UZR/150 — the last two numbers are in the middle of the pack as far as defensive third basemen are concerned. His seven errors (five of which have been fielding errors) is tied for the third most among MLB third basemen.
If the Cubs don’t move Bryant to left, they could easily slide his bat into the DH spot and improve defensively rather comfortably.
Castro had his first day off on Saturday, but the Cubs could still give him some more rest by moving him off shortstop and into the designated hitter’s spot. He has made 13 errors, has a -6 DRS, -5.0 UZR and -12.0 UZR/150. It is a step back for Castro, who only made 15 errors all of last year.
Addison Russell stepped into the shortstop role with ease and it is apparent the Cubs could stand to get better defensively there.
The Cubs could use the DH spot to allow Castro to swing through his slump without sacrificing defense.
The ultimate darkhorse in this race is Vogelbach, who is MLB.com’s 13th ranked Cubs prospect and No. 8 first base prospect, and just returned from a leg injury. Vogelbach is Rule 5-eligible after this season, so, unless he’s traded sooner, he’ll have to be placed on the 40-man roster after this season anyway.
Vogelbach has been raking at Double-A Tennessee with a .320/.436/.497/.933 slash line to go along with a 17.7 percent walk rate, 20.9 percent strikeout rate. His MiLB career numbers are decent. He owns a .289/.382/.483/.865 slash, 12.9 percent walk rate and 16.6 percent strikeout rate in 1,617 plate appearances.
Unfortunately, as far as Vogelbach is concerned, he is blocked by Anthony Rizzo (whose 2.9 fWAR and 3.2 bWAR both rank as the second best among MLB first basemen) and the fact that the NL has yet to adopt the designated hitter.
Calling up Vogelbach is true outside-the-box thinking, as it could serve as a showcase, all while trying to win games at the major league level. Quite a win-win scenario if it were to play out.