After calling up their top hitting prospect this fall, the Yankees now find themselves in the interesting position of finding a place in the order for the young and talented Jesus Montero.
Most scouts and analysts agree that Montero is not ready to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues (whether he ever will be is another question, entirely). However, there seems to be equal agreement about his skills at the plate. With Jorge Posada likely not returning, the Yankees will have an opening at DH in 2012. The question before them is whether to give that spot to Montero.
This got me thinking: What is the precedent for giving a first-year player significant time at DH?
Looking back through the data, there isn't much of a precedent.
Since the introduction of the DH, only three players have DH'd in over 50% of their games played during their first season in the majors:
The positive here is that all three managed to post an OPS+ above league average, with Eddie Murray leading the way at 123.
Now, if we extend the list to players that DH'd in over 50% of their games through their first two season, the list gets a little bigger:
The list now contains 14 players, less than half of which turned in below league-average performances. Frank Thomas was clearly the best young player to spend significant time in the DH spot when he first came up to the big leagues. There are also a few duds, but the list does include a number of other players that went on to have strong offensive careers in the majors.
Here's the interesting part: these lists assumed the players played at least 50% of their games at DH.
What if the Yankees wanted to Montero to take on an almost full-time DH role next year? What is the precedent for that?
Basically, it's even thinner.
For first year only players, only Billy Butler logged at least 75% of his games at DH. For players over their first two seasons, only Thomas, Olreud, Sheets, and Vitiello managed the trick.
So if the Yankees decide to given Montero the bulk of the DH at bats next year, it will certainly be out of the ordinary. That being said, teams that have gone this route seem to do a decent job of selecting players wisely (although, given the small sample, they could simply have been lucky in their assessments). He may not put up Frank Thomas numbers in 2012, but the little precedent there is suggests it would be far from a disaster should the Yankees roll the dice.