With the new change to the designated hitter position rule, coaches will have flexibility to strategize how to keep players in the game.

The position of designated hitter in high school baseball has been expanded for the 2020 season.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) baseball rules committee recommended the expansion of the designated hitter role with an additional option at its meeting in early June in Indianapolis. The recommendation was approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“The change,” said Eliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee, “which was organic and intuitive, meets the desires of the high school baseball community.”

There are now two scenarios which a designated hitter may be used.

The first is the traditional route, where the designated hitter may be a 10th starter who hits for any of the nine starting defensive players.

“The committee felt it was necessary to make an additional option available to coaches that could be strategic but also maximize participation,” Hopkins said in a news release. 

The change to the rule, which is 3-1-4, allows the starting designated hitter to also be a starting defensive player. Using this avenue, the player then has two positions: defensive player and designated hitter. The team would begin with nine starters—nine defensive players—one of whom also is the designated hitter.

“It sounds like they’re going into the direction of what the college rule is for the designated hitter,” Morton Ranch baseball coach Jim Janczak said. “Not only can he occupy the defensive position, but the DH role as well. Where I could see that would be an advantage is if you would need to make a pitching change and you still want his bat in the lineup, but not in the outfield or a place that puts more wear and tear on his arm, it makes it an easier option for a coach to bring in another defensive player, but leave him in the hitting position in the order instead of having to keep him in the field to keep him in the game.”

With pitch-count restrictions, Hopkins said this change will let pitchers remain in the game as a hitter while moving them from pitching.

“The change also allows coaches to strategize how to keep players in the game to contribute offensively while allowing another player a chance to participate on defense,” Hopkins said.

Initially, 10 players from the roster would have to be committed to the starting lineup. With this rule change, Janczak said, only nine guys have to be committed to the starting lineup.

“For teams with small roster numbers, like we’ve had in the past, that’s going to help us because now I have more substitute options,” Janczak said.

Teams will also have to purchase new baseballs and catching equipment as all baseballs and chest and body protectors used in competition will have to meet the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) standard at the time of manufacture as of January 1, 2020.

“That just means we’ll have to buy some extra equipment this year,” Janczak said, laughing. “More money, more fundraising.”