Middle infield is a position that gamers often have to hold their nose while filling. An increase in playing time for a rookie in Pittsburgh could add a semi-intriguing name to the middle infield waste land. A pair of vastly different outfielders have something to offer gamers in larger leagues. Finally, gamers looking for a possible breakout at starting pitcher who should, at worst, contribute positively in strikeouts could find this mystery man in the desert and on your waiver wire.
Jung-ho Kang 3B/SS, Pittsburgh Pirates (CBS – 35%, Yahoo! – 23%, ESPN – 8.6%)
There were questions abound about how Kang’s bat would translate making the leap from the KBO to MLB. It’s still too early to draw too many hard and fast conclusions, but just as a reminder, he killed it in his final season in the hitter-friendly KBO. In 2014, he totaled 501 plate appearances, ripped 40 homers and drew 68 walks while striking out 106 times with a .356/.459/.739 slash line. If he could perform at even a fraction of that level he’d have value in fantasy leagues.
The biggest concern early was a lack of playing time. Kang is a reserve, but slow starts from Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer — as well as injury in Mercer’s case — have opened the door to near everyday playing time of late. The 28-year-old infielder has started five of the Pirates last six games. He’s making the most of the playing time and has totaled a triple slash line of .298/.369/.474 with a pair of homers, .175 ISO, 6.2% BB and 21.5% K through 65 plate appearances.
His .357 BABIP is likely to regress, but he’s hitting for above average power at a position not noted for it. It’s going to take time for his batted ball profile to stabilize, but if he’s going to continue to hit for power he’ll need to turn some of his groundballs (54.8% GB) into flyballs (26.2%). For a first year big leaguer who was seeing sporadic playing time to begin the year, his plate discipline numbers don’t paint the picture of a guy who was pressing. Kang does a great job of avoiding going fishing out of the strike zone. His 26.1% O-swing rate is below the league average rate of 30.1%. Kang’s ownership is on the rise, and it should be. There are enough interesting goodies here that he warrants rostering in 12-team mixed leagues using a middle infielder or larger leagues.
David Peralta OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (CBS – 15%, Yahoo! – 4% , ESPN – 2.6%)
Peralta is a platoon outfielder who is on the favorable side of things facing right-handed pitchers. He’s following up his surprising 2014 showing with an even more impressive encore. Last year, Peralta hit .312/.342/.506 with a 4.5% BB and 14.6% K against righties and reached the seats eight times in 267 plate appearances. This year, he’s upped his walk rate to 8.9%, cut his strikeouts down to a 13.9% K and kicked his power production up swatting four homers in just 79 plate appearances while boosting his ISO from .194 to .275.
Digging into the power a little deeper, he’s upped his line drive rate from 22.9% to 26.7%, and while it’s far too small a sample to declare a true batted ball change, his 23.7% line drive against righties in his career is quite nifty. He’s also hitting the ball a long way. He ranks 25th in average home run and flyball distance, per Baseball Heat Maps. Chase Field is a great offensive environment and Peralta has sizable run production upside due to often hitting cleanup. He doesn’t play everyday, however, and that drags down his overall production and is the major contributing factor to his low ownership. Peralta’s excellence against righties has thrust him into large mixed league relevance, namely those that allow daily changes.
Carlos Peguero OF, Texas Rangers (CBS – 5%, Yahoo! – 2%, ESPN – 1.2%)
Peguero is taking three true outcomes to a whole new level. Through 82 plate appearances this year he’s hit four homers with 12 walks and 35 strikeouts. A staggering 62.2% of his plate appearances have ended by three true outcome. Unfortunately, strikeouts lead the way with Peguero posting a 42.7% K. His propensity for punching out has saddled him with a .191 batting average. He’s a career .197 hitter in 308 plate appearances with a 39.6% strikeout rate, but there’s hope for him lifting his average above the Mendoza line.
Peguero’s has a 67.7% contact rate, the 12th worst among batters who’ve totaled a minimum of 50 plate appearances. Only three of the players who have a lower contact rate than Peguero’s own an average south of .200. Chris Carter is one of the hitters with a low contact rate than Peguero who is hitting under .200, and he illustrates what Peguero’s average upside is. Carter has a career 65.2% contact rate and .217 average. Peguero’s chase rate and zone contact rate this year line up very favorably with Carter’s career marks, but Peguero will need to be more aggressive attacking pitches in the strike zone if he’s going to up his average and cut down on his punch outs. ZiPS and Steamer project him for a .221 average and .232 average, respectively, for the rest of the season.
Of course, it’s not batting average you’re paying for with Peguero. The 28-year old has big thump that’s worth rostering in deep leagues. He’s ripped 13 homers in 308 plate appearances in the majors, and he’s coming off a 30 homer campaign in 418 plate appearances for Triple-A Omaha in 2014. It’s worth mentioning that Omaha, the Kansas City Royals Triple-A affiliate, plays in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and their home ballpark, according to StatCorner, has a left-handed batter park factor of 111 for homers. ZiPS has him pegged for 14 homers in 342 plate appearances the rest of the year and Steamer has him projected for nine homers in 209 plate appearances. If you’re in an AL-only league and in need of power, Peguero is a worthy option in the hopes he can hold down left field duties for the Rangers.
Rubby de la Rosa SP, Arizona Diamondbacks (CBS – 56%, Yahoo! – 13%, ESPN – 7.5%)
Calling de la Rosa a deep league target might be taking some liberties given his high-ish CBS ownership rate. However, he’s being wrongly overlooked in Yahoo! and ESPN leagues. I was skeptical of the 26-year-old righties ability to provide fantasy value this year, but I’m on the bandwagon after seven starts.
He’s whittled a 9.3% BB entering this year down to a 6.6% BB rate this season while bumping his strikeout rate up from 18.6% to 23.1% in 2015. His walk rate reduction is supported by getting ahead of hitters more often (63.2% first strike this year compared to 56.1% in his career) and pitching in the zone more frequently (53.7% in 2015, 47.1% for his career). The strikeouts also look legit. His 10.7% swinging strike rate is tied for the 23rd highest mark among qualified pitchers this year.
de la Rosa throws hard, 95.31 mph average fourseam fastball, according to Brooks Baseball, and backs it with a pair of secondary offerings that can miss bats. His changeup has a 16.92% whiff rate and his slider misses even more bats with an 18.63% whiff rate. His arsenal should promote a more balanced platoon split than he’s demonstrated, but lefties are creaming his offerings. He carries a .361 wOBA allowed to lefties in his career and a whopping .417 wOBA allowed to them this year. Home runs and line drives by lefties have been a huge problem for de la Rosa, but if he can get those in check, he’s in store for a full-blown breakout. On a positive note regarding lefties, despite what his low strikeout rate against them would suggest, he can miss left-handed bats a bit with a 14.39% whiff rate on his changeup and 15.79% whiff rate on his slider this year.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.