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.

*****

Andres Machado, RHP, Kansas City (Profile)
After signing with Kansas City in December of 2010, the right-handed Machado had failed to establish himself as anything like a prospect as of last year, ending the 2016 season as a 23-year-old who’d never ascended above Rookie ball. Following a decent run with High-A Wilmington to begin the present campaign, however, Machado has now recorded a 25.5% strikeout rate in seven appearances (all starts) for Omaha.

A brief examination of the film reveals little in the way of secondary stuff. What else it reveals, though, is an impressive fastball with plus velocity.

The video below documents a series of six swinging strikes — all by way of the fastball — recorded by Machado in just the first inning of his August 22nd start at Rangers affiliate Round Rock (box).

It’s a profile that may be incomplete even for a major-league relief role at the moment. Given Machado’s lack of proximity to the major leagues at this same point last year, however, it’s impressive.

Joe McCarthy, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay (Profile)
McCarthy’s name has been invoked in no fewer than two recent editions of FanGraphs Audio — in both cases, for traits he shares in common with Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins (who, in turn, shares those traits with Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Justin Turner). Selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft, McCarthy bears some resemblance to other hitters (Matt Thaiss, Pavin Smith) recently selected out of the University of Virginia, demonstrating elite control of the strike zone but less power than one would typically associate with a corner profile. He’s been excellent since appearing among the Next Five in last week’s edition of this column, recording walk and strikeout rates 26.1% and 8.7%, respectively, plus a .176 ISO and 2-for-2 stolen-base record, over 23 plate appearances.

Nate Orf, 2B/3B/OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
As recently as a couple weeks ago, Orf appeared to be the precise sort of player — older but with promising indicators nonetheless — who’d receive a September tryout from a club that had fallen out of contention and was attempting to evaluate lesser-known talent. Now, he resembles a player who could actually benefit a club en route to the postseason.

Since August 18th, Orf has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 9.5% a piece in 42 plate appearances while also producing a .556 isolated-power mark. Overall, he’s recorded a line of .444/.476/1.000 during that interval.

The control of the strike zone isn’t unusual for Orf. He’s routinely produced better-than-average walk and strikeout numbers. What’s different is the power. Consider: the 27-year-old infielder has hit two home runs since Tuesday. That’s also the actual number he recorded all of last season in over 500 plate appearances. It also matches his single-season totals from 2015 and -14. Unsurprisingly, Orf has produced one of the lower ground-ball rates among Pacific Coast League qualifiers.

Here’s video footage depicting of those two home runs from this past week:

And other, less helpful video footage of the second homer:

Zack Short, SS, Chicago NL (Profile)
Like few players who’ve appeared among the Five before, Short possesses simultaneously both a real lack of pedigree but also all the indicators of a true prospect. He was selected in the 17th round last year out of a school (Sacred Heart) that has produced just one major leaguer ever. At the same time, however, he’s recording markedly above-average offensive numbers and playing shortstop exclusively as a 22-year-old at High-A. His strikeout rate (17.6%) is a bit higher than the sort typically produced by players who appear in this column. That seems to be a function more of patience, however, and less of an inability to make contact. Consider: while recording one of the highest walk rates in the Carolina League, he’s also responsible for one of the lowest swinging-strike rates.

Ildemaro Vargas, 2B, Arizona (Profile)
One of the residents of the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard both this year and also last, Vargas has appeared here on the strength of elite contact skills and the promise of above-average defensive value. Little has changed in this regard. Consider: among all qualified batters across Triple-A, Vargas has recorded the fourth-lowest swinging-strike rate and second-lowest strikeout rate. Consider also: according to the methodologies employed both by Baseball Prospectus and also Clay Davenport, Vargas has produced roughly a win’s worth of value as a fielder for Triple-A Reno.

Of particular note at the moment is the power on contact Vargas has exhibited recently. Since returning from a hand injury at the beginning of August, the 26-year-old Vargas has recorded a .216 isolated-power figure over 110 plate appearances, producing a total slash line of .373/.409/.588 (.386 BABIP) during that interval. That sort of production isn’t really necessary for Vargas to have use, but it raises the bar for what’s possible if and when he receives extended time in the majors.

Here’s recent video footage of a triple by Vargas from the perspective of one sitting behind the plate at Cashman Field in Las Vegas and also you can’t turn your head for some reason, probably because of an injury or something:

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

Ryan Helsley, RHP, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Freddy Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee (Double-A Southern League)
Wes Rogers, OF, Colorado (High-A California League)
David Thompson, 3B, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Justin Williams, OF, 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 3 21
2 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 6 1 19
3 Max Schrock Athletics 2B 5 2 17
4 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B 4 4 16
5 Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/OF 4 3 15
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.

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

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I can’t say much for the players themselves, but this the best collection of NAMES I’ve ever seen