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In blanking the Giants over seven innings on Tuesday night, Tom Koehler added to a seemingly modest string of strong starts. Over each of his last four turns in the Marlins' rotation, Koehler has not allowed more than a run, and cumulatively, he has registered an 0.67 ERA. While he has been especially effective during this recent stretch, Koehler has actually been an improved pitcher since the beginning of June.
Most notably, Koehler has put an end to the extreme control issues that rendered him unusable in Fantasy during April and May. Over his first 10 starts, Koehler threw 59 percent of his pitches for strikes and issued 35 walks in 54 innings. In 13 starts since then, he has compiled a 2.8 BB/9 ratio and issued more than two walks only three times. One of those occurrences was on Tuesday night, but he settled down after walking two of the first three batters in the game. A key to Koehler's newfound control is his improved ability to throw his slider for strikes. PitchFX data from Brooks Baseball show that, around the same time Koehler was improving his slider control, he was also releasing it lower and closer to the strike zone.
Koehler has been inconsistent as a strikeout pitcher, but since changing his release point, he is getting more whiffs on his slider, and his overall swing-and-miss rate has surged. Since the beginning of June, Koehler has averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. It's a merely average rate for a Fantasy starter, but with improved control, it's good enough for him to be considered for a mixed league rotation.
Has Koehler shown enough to merit inclusion in any mixed league pitching staff? That's going a little too far, giving too much weight to two-plus months worth of performance over the three-plus seasons that preceded it. Even if we can trust what Koehler has done lately, he is not elite as a strikeout pitcher or as a control pitcher. However, he is suddenly trustworthy in two-start weeks in 12-team mixed leagues, and a potential one-start option in any format deeper than that.
Martin Prado, 3B, Marlins (62 percent owned)
Koehler isn't the only Marlin who has taken his production up a notch. Prado has never been a flashy player, having never topped 15 home runs and only once stealing more than five bases. At his peak, Prado's biggest draws for Fantasy owners was his multi-positional eligibility and appeal as a points-league specialist (i.e., low strikeout rate and doubles power).
It's fair to say that the 32-year-old is past his prime, but with even less speed and power than he had a few years ago, Prado is having a resurgent season. The improvement in his Fantasy stats has been dramatic. Prado is batting .321, which is a 33-point increase from last year, and he has already scored more runs than in 2015. The underlying changes behind the improvement are more subtle, as he continues to be a ground ball hitter who effectively uses the whole field. He is still a good contact hitter, though his 10.5 percent strikeout rate is his lowest since 2013.
However, Prado is making higher-quality contact, as evidence by a line drive rate that has surged and a popup rate that has plunged in recent weeks. While Prado was having a good season as recently as three weeks ago, sporting a .313 batting average on July 20, he has been scorching hot since then, hitting .360. He has even shown a little power, bashing three home runs and five doubles over his last 19 games. All of that has made Prado the fourth-highest scoring third baseman in Fantasy points during that span.
This is most likely a streak that will fade over time, but there is little harm in chasing the hot hand in this case. Prado's baseline level of performance is good enough that if you happen to start him just as he cools off, he won't likely bring your team down.
Raisel Iglesias, RP, Reds (40 percent owned)
For the last three months, Tony Cingrani has been closing out games for the Reds, but the flimsy foundation beneath his success to date could be about to crumble. He has been nailing down saves in a mostly reliable manner, even though he offers a dismaying combination of poor control and a vulnerability to contact. Those patterns were apparent in Cingrani's Monday night meltdown at the Cardinals, when he allowed three hits and two walks that turned into five runs and a Reds loss.
On Tuesday, the Reds had another save situation, and with Cingrani unavailable after back-to-back appearances, manager Bryan Price used Iglesias in the final frame. In tossing a perfect inning, Iglesias recorded his first career save. While his future role is cloudy, Iglesias appears to be a closer-in-waiting who will soon shed the "in-waiting" tag. Cingrani does not have the profile of a successful closer, and if Price chooses to replace him, Iglesias has pitched well enough out of the Reds' bullpen to earn the job.
The same can be said of Michael Lorenzen, but Price's choice to use him in the seventh and eighth innings on Tuesday could be a sign of Iglesias having the upper hand for the ninth-inning role. Both of these converted starters are having their usage patterns monitored carefully, so if Iglesias does get more save chances, he may still wind up sharing them with Lorenzen or another reliever. Still, he is worth a pickup, at least in deeper leagues.
Keon Broxton, OF, Brewers (7 percent owned)
Broxton began the season in the mix to become the Brewers' regular center fielder. An 0 for 16 skid to start off the year resulted in a minor league demotion less than two weeks into the season. Now, roughly four months later, Broxton is threatening to become a fixture in center field.
Having started 11 of the last 15 games, Broxton has made a strong case for regular play, going 14 for 38 (.368) with two home runs. He has also struck out 14 times and pulled his grounders at a high rate, so it's not as if Broxton suddenly profiles to be a major force in the batting average category.
It's the four stolen bases that Broxton has tacked on that should be turning the heads of Fantasy owners. Even with sporadic playing time and poor production at the plate, Broxton had already stolen seven bases prior to his most recent callup. Now that he is hitting better and playing more regularly, his total could skyrocket. Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez have already shown that manager Craig Counsell isn't about to hold back the Brewers' running game. The opportunity for steady steals makes Broxton someone to target in deeper mixed and NL-only Rotisserie leagues.