Player To Be Named Later: #2
by Mac Squibb
February 11, 2019
Football season has officially ended, pitchers and catchers report this week, and it’s time for a lot of fantasy sports fans to turn their attention to baseball. Every year in draft prep most of us find a few players who, for one reason or another, we think are being underappreciated. In this article we’ll be covering a player who should fall into that category and could also be in the running for Comeback Player of the Year. Let’s now compare our mystery man with two other players who have had comparable fantasy seasons.
At initial glance each player provides their own strengths and weaknesses for a fantasy team. Player A has a large advantage in stolen bases and paces the group in on-base percentage but lags in slugging percentage. Player B has far and away the most power but finished last in stolen bases, average, and on-base percentage. Player C falls in the middle in most categories and leads in average and slugging percentage. Which player would you take? As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to spotlight one of these players because I think that they’re being vastly overlooked. The reason for that is, according to NFBC ADP, one of these players is being drafted nearly 400 picks later than the other two. You read that right, 400 picks later.
Of course, there’s a reason for that. Player C, AKA Pirates infielder Jung-Ho Kang, was away from the game for nearly two years due to off-the-field issues. He was arrested in his home country of South Korea for a DUI in 2016 and struggled to get a work visa from the U.S. government afterwards. Finally, in April of 2018 he was granted a visa and started playing again later in the year. After the season Kang was actually cut by the Pirates only to be resigned nine days later to a one-year contract worth a little less than his previous deal. Because he hasn’t played the last two years, the numbers listed above are actually a combination of his 2015 and 2016 seasons unlike Player A’s and Player B’s which come from 2018.
While Kang might cause problems off the field, he has been incredibly valuable on it. During his 2015 and 2016 seasons, Kang posted a wRC+ of 132 and 128 respectively which would have placed him within the top 50 qualified batters had he not missed time in both seasons due to injury. In the MLB, Kang has excelled at hitting the ball hard, specifically in the air, and finished within the top 25 in exit velocity on fly balls and line drives both years (minimum 200 batted balls).
It should be clear at this point that Kang possesses the necessary skills to be a valuable fantasy commodity. His draft stock is likely being held back by people’s skepticism towards his current skill level and his potential playing time.
Kang’s ability to perform is still somewhat of an unknown variable and he absolutely needs to be watched during Spring Training. In 2018, he had just six plate appearances in the majors and only 77 total across three levels with varying degrees of success. Kang faces several barriers to consistent plate appearances and needs to return to his old form to carve out playing time. Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed at PiratesFest that Kang has asked to exclusively play third base likely due to decreased mobility after a season ending knee injury in 2015. Last season at third base the Pirates deployed a platoon with right-handed David Freese, who is no longer with the team, and left-handed Colin Moran. It would normally make sense for Kang to replace Freese as the right-hander in the third base platoon, however, Kang has actually had a reverse split in his MLB career meaning that he hits better against righties than lefties.
Moran came over from the Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade and thus the Pirates are at least somewhat invested in his development, but it will be difficult to justify playing him with a healthy Kang on the team. The Pirates also have minor league third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes who is the 46th overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Hayes is primarily known for his defense, however, last year he put together a strong offensive season hitting .293/.375/.444 with a 129 wRC+. After spending all of 2018 in AA, Hayes will likely be promoted to AAA either to start the season or soon thereafter and could be called up to the MLB at some point in 2019. While Hayes is likely the future, the Pirates should be incentivized to see if Kang can return to his old form. Not only did they commit $3 million to him this off-season, but the Pirates also have the option of trading Kang if they find themselves on the outside of the playoffs.
In 2015 and 2016 Kang performed at least as well as Player A and Player B in both fantasy and Statcast metrics. Player A, Andrew McCutchen, and Player B, Edwin Encarnacion, have been staples in fantasy baseball for years and have earned their high ADP’s by consistently performing at a high level. While Kang doesn’t have the same track record as those two, he has shown similar, if not better, underlying skills which could lead to comparable production.
Ultimately Kang’s value this season will be tied to how well he can bounce back to his old self. There is a path to playing time if he regains his old form and he absolutely has the skill set to be a valuable fantasy player. Come the end of the season Kang could easily find himself in the running for Comeback Player of the Year but just as easily be in a platoon or without playing time. That dichotomy is part of the fun in finding a late round player you believe in. Will Kang perform as well as McCutchen or Encarnacion in 2019? Maybe. Maybe not. But he should at least warrant your consideration late in drafts.
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