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Fun with Numbers: Designated hitter

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Designated hitters demonstrate the appeal of fantasy baseball at its simplest. There's no concern of whether a guy is a defensive liability, it's all about the player's ability to mash.

Naturally, a number of players have changed teams since I started this endeavor with the catchers, with several more moves on the horizon in the immediate future. But that's OK. Every excuse to rank and re-rank and shuffle our preseason predictions is good for everybody, as there's always another nugget of truth to unearth.

Let's start with a guy tentatively penciled into the DH role in Baltimore.

David Newhan, Bal
As soon as the deal for Sammy Sosa is finalized, Newhan likely leaves the starting lineup as a reserve. Rafael Palmeiro should split time at 1B with Jay Gibbons. Both have been reviewed in previous installments of this tour, so for this turn I'll take a peek at Newhan.

Newhan rolled off to a tremendous start in 2004, hitting .424 in his first 23 games. He continued to hit at a torrid pace through the end of August (.337), but dropped off to the tune of .247 after September 1st. With enough at-bats, Newhan has 15-HR, 15-SB potential. The addition of Sosa means that he'll need an injury to make that happen.

David Ortiz, Bos
Last season, Ortiz lingered on draft boards until the ninth or tenth round. Following a monster regular season, and a downright awesome postseason, he looks to be targeted as a second-round selection. His 41 homers tied him for third in the American League, and his 139 RBIs trailed only Miguel Tejada. Ortiz hit a ridiculous .400 in 14 post-season games with five homers and 19 RBIs.

Jason Giambi, NYY
According to Yankees GM Brian Cashman, ""Giambi's 100-percent healthy, ready to go, and we are excited about that." Fantasy owners gambled on Giambi's knee in the '04 preseason draft; they had no idea that a series of other issues, including BALCO, would decimate his season. After five straight seasons of 33 or more homers and six-straight 100-RBI campaigns, his fantasy totals plummeted. If Cashman is right, it's fair to speculate that Giambi returns to the player we saw in his pre-Victor Conte days (27 HR, 110 RBIs and .295 average in 1998). That wouldn't be too shabby.

Josh Phelps, TB
Alas, it's been a couple years since Phelps honored us with eligibility at catcher. This season, he'll be confined to the Utility and 1B positions. He split time between Toronto and Cleveland last season, pounding out 17 home runs with 61 RBIs. Phelps occasionally busts out a big month, as he did last July (.318 with five home runs and 18 RBIs), but he's yet to grind it out for a full season. Perhaps knowing that he's the everyday guy, as he'll be in Tampa, will push him to the 30-HR, 90-RBI season we've been expecting.

Reed Johnson, Tor
The acquisition of Shea Hillenbrand makes him the everyday DH, but Reed Johnson will factor into the offense. He'll spell Hillenbrand at DH and will also play some outfield. Johnson has been solid but unspectacular in two seasons with the Blue Jays, managing just 20 homers and 113 RBIs in 255 career games. If only he could face Baltimore pitching more often, Johnson might step into fantasy prominence. In 33 career games against the O's, he's hit .342 with 16 RBIs.

Frank Thomas, ChW
The two-time MVP looks to complete another rebound after an injury-shortened 2004 season. Thomas doesn't light it up in the batting average column like he used to (hasn't hit .300 since 2000), but he still holds a career .308 average and can mash. Before his injury, Thomas pounded out 18 home runs and 49 RBIs. He's topped the 90-RBI mark 11 times in his career and should hit that total again in 2005, given health and Scott Podsednik effectively setting the table.

Travis Hafner, Cle
As part of the up and coming Indians offense, Hafner posted tremendous numbers in 2004 and should grow even more in '05. He was consistent at the plate between the first and second half of the season (.004 difference in batting average), but Hafner turned on the power after the All-Star break (18 of his 28 homers). One glaring discrepancy in his stats was that Hafner hit only seven of his 28 home runs at home. Once he gets comfortable in Jacobs Field, forget about it.

Dmitri Young, Det
The "Meat Hook" put together a nice season after missing all but three games before June 1st. While his batting average tailed off 25 points from his 2003 All-Star season, Young's power numbers were right on track (18-HR, 60-RBI in 104 games). He'll be penciled into the No. 4 spot in the lineup, pending the acquisition of Magglio Ordonez.

Mike Sweeney, KC
Sweeney remains on the fantasy radar due to solid power numbers (20 or more homers in five of the past six seasons), but he hasn't played a full season since 2001. He drives in runs in buckets, averaging 98 per season for the past six years (90 if you take out the monster 2000 season).

Lew Ford, Min
In his first 34 games in Minnesota in 2003, Ford raised eyebrows with a .329 average. Last season, he became a full-fledged fantasy threat. Ford contributed in all five traditional categories, pounding out 15 home runs to go along with 20 steals (tied for seventh in the American League). Through 188 career games, Ford holds a career batting average 51 points higher at the Metrodome.

Jeff DaVanon, LAA
DaVanon set the fantasy world on fire in June of 2003 with eight home runs, 16 RBIs and a robust .349 average. Since then, he's been essentially a non-factor, although his seven steals in June, 2004 were intriguing. DaVanon contributed 18 steals in only 108 games last year (12th in AL), but failed to add much value elsewhere.

Erubiel Durazo, Oak
In his second full season in Oakland, Durazo posted new career-high marks in home runs (22) and RBIs (88), and hit for his highest batting average (.321) since his 55-game contribution in 1999. Though he hit .315 in September, Durazo contributed only one home run and 11 RBIs for the month, after a six-HR, 24-RBI explosion in August.

Raul Ibanez, Sea
After three years in Kansas City, Ibanez returned to Seattle for the disastrous 2004 season. Though he posted a career-high .304 average in 123 games, Ibanez only drove in 62 runs and that's with Ichiro basically living on first base. For some reason, Ibanez struggles mightily in May, with a career .236 average for the month. He hits .280 or better in every other month.

David Dellucci, Tex
Dellucci produced career-high marks in home runs (17), RBIs (61) and runs (59). In his 107 games last season, he also stole nine bases. He didn't light it up in batting average (.242 for the season), but the .216 clip away from home is particularly disturbing. Additionally, in 52 games after the All-Star break, Dellucci hit an anemic .206 (.273 before the break).

Next time, I'll round out the tour with a glimpse at players still looking for a home, or still looking to define their roles for the coming season.

The countdown to the reporting date for pitchers and catchers is down to 12 days.

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