The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels*, and (most importantly) lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on any updated list — such as the revised and midseason lists released by Baseball America or BP’s recent midseason top-50 list or Longenhagen’s summer update — will also be excluded from eligibility.

*All 200 names!

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Ryan Helsley, RHP, St. Louis (Profile)
With this appearance, Helsley now ascends to first place on the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard presented at the bottom of this post. He recorded one start since last week’s edition of the Five and was predictably effective, producing a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7:2 against 21 batters over 5.2 innings (box). Through five starts with Springfield, the right-hander has produced a better strikeout- and walk-rate differential at Double-A (18.1-point K-BB%) than he did at High-A (16.3).

In that most recent appearance, Helsley exhibited both the plus fastball and effective breaking-ball combinations that’s typical for him. Here’s an example of three pitches in the cutter/curveball continuum, all to the back foot of a left-handed batter:

Danny Jansen, C, Toronto (Profile)
The present author included Jansen among the last week’s edition of the Five while simultaneously noting that Jansen was unlikely ever to appear in another edition of the Five. Naturally, a week later, one finds Jansen present again.

Here are my Official Remarks on Jansen as of last week, provided in brief, numbered sections:

  1. Danny Jansen’s offensive indicators are impressive. He has consistently recorded better-than-average strikeout rates and average-ish power numbers as a professional. This is particularly noteworthy, given the low offensive demands of his position
  2. For this reason, Jansen has not only appeared previously as part of the Next Five but has also become the subject of his own segment during a weekly Blue Jays podcast that I conduct with managing editor Dave Cameron.
  3. Nevertheless, there remain very real concerns about Jansen’s defensive capacities. The reports from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen are not optimistic. The numbers support these observations: according to the methodology used by Baseball Prospectus, Jansen has recorded roughly -7 runs as a catcher already this year.
  4. If he’s unable to remain at catcher, Jansen’s slide down the positional spectrum will be dramatic. To first base, likely. That’s a swing of roughly 2.5 wins per season. It’s unlikely he’d be able to compensate for that offensively.
  5. Therefore, I’m unlikely to include him among the Five in the foreseeable future.
  6. That said, I am frequently wrong.
  7. Perhaps even usually wrong.

Jansen’s offensive profile has, perhaps, gotten even stronger somehow since last week. Over the course of his 20 most recent plate appearances, the catcher has recorded more home runs (three) than strikeouts (two). This is promising.

As for my concerns regarding Jansen’s defensive capacities, I’m confident about only thing — namely, that I’m not a dependable resource for catcher evaluation. The numbers remain mediocre. That’s true. But as recently as this week, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen has characterized Jansen as “a solid defensive catcher, an average receiver with an average arm and a good ground game.” If that resembles the consensus view of Jansen’s defense, I’m not prepared to dissent from it. And as a catcher, his offensive skills ought to be above average.

Nate Orf, 2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
Earlier this week, managing editor Dave Cameron authored a paean to Rhys Hoskins, suggesting that the Phillies prospect had a profile not unlike the sort possessed by Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner. In addition to having never appeared on a top-100 list, each of those players share two other traits in common: both (a) very high contact rates and (b) very low ground-ball rates.

When the present author attempted, on Wednesday, to identify the next Rhys Hoskins (or next-next Matt Carpenter), Orf emerged as one of only three players at all of Triple-A to meet the requisite criteria. The other two? Human curiosity Willians Astudillo and then Hoskins himself.

Conveniently for this narrative, Orf has been fantastic of late. In 22 plate appearances since last week’s edition of the Five, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates both of 9.1% plus a .684 isolated-slugging figure.

Given their surprising proximity to the top of the NL Central, Milwaukee isn’t ideally positioned to allocate playing time to a 27-year-old rookie infielder just to evaluate him. There are indications he’d have his uses, though.

Zack Short, SS, Chicago NL (Profile)
Of those minor leaguers who possess what might best be characterized as the “Matt Carpenter profile,” Milwaukee infielder Nate Orf (above) is the one in closest proximity to the majors. Zack Short, however, appears most likely to produce wins at the major-league level.

A brief introduction to Cubs prospect, from the aforementioned post:

Just a 17th-round pick in last year’s draft, Short has nevertheless exhibited a rare combination of contact and elevation while playing in High-A as just a 22-year-old and while recording all of his defensive starts for Myrtle Beach at shortstop. He’s produced an isolated-power figure of .170, about 40 points higher than the Carolina League average. That profile would be encouraging were it to belong to a former first-round selection. From a 17th-round pick — especially one who was selected just last year — it’s rare.

Of the 475 players across all of High-A who’ve recorded at least 100 plate appearances at that level, Short has produced swinging-strike and ground-ball rates that sit in the 94th and 98th percentile, respectively. These is obviously not the only means by which to assess a player, but again, the combination is typically rare and also typically effective.

Here’s Short recording a home run earlier this month:

David Thompson, 3B, New York NL (Profile)
The author’s professional opinion regarding Thompson hasn’t changed much since he was featured among the Five back in June, nor since this offseason when he received the designation of Cistulli’s Guy in Eric Longenhagen’s organizational prospect list for the Mets.

That opinion, summarized by way of a brief, numbered list?

  1. As a collegiate, Thompson exhibited prodigious offensive skills but less prodigious defensive ones.
  2. As a professional, he’s exhibited more or less the opposite of that.
  3. Given his track record, though, any sign of those prodigious offensive skills is cause for note.

Thompson has recorded basically the same numbers this year as last, the only real difference in his slash line facilitated by a corresponding difference in his batted-ball success. Regard:

David Thompson, 2016 vs. 2017
Season Level Age PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG BABIP wRC+
2016 A, A+ 22 481 6.0% 18.7% .280 .333 .444 .324 123
2017 AA 23 488 7.6% 17.8% .260 .324 .426 .289 102

Over the last week-plus, however, Thompson has been the most dangerous version of himself, demonstrating real power without sacrificing anything in the way of contact. In his last 36 plate appearances, he’s recorded a strikeout rate of just 11.1% while also producing a .394 isolated-power figure — on the strength, that latter number, of four home runs.

The video footage below allows one not only to observe the most recent of those home runs but to experience all the sights and also sounds of an August day in Binghamton, New York.

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Sandy Baez, RHP, Detroit (High-A Florida State League)
Jose Cardona, OF, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS, Colorado (High-A California League)
Joe McCarthy, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Michael Russell, 2B/3B/SS, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here is the top-10 list of players who have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season. For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.

Fringe Five Scoreboard, 2017
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Ryan Helsley Cardinals RHP 6 2 20
2 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 6 1 19
3 Max Schrock Athletics 2B 5 2 17
4 Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/OF 4 3 15
5 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B/SS 3 4 13
6 Nik Turley Twins LHP 4 0 12
7 Danny Mendick White Sox 2B/SS 3 2 11
8 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 2 5 11
9 Zack Granite Twins OF 3 2 11
10 Jose Miguel Fernandez Dodgers 2B 3 1 10
Scott Kingery Phillies 2B 3 1 10
12 Yonny Chirinos Rays RHP 3 1 10
Highlighted rows denote player who was ineligible for selection this week.





Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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