The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 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 Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on any updated, midseason-type list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Austin Davidson, 2B, Washington (Profile)
For some time, Davidson has been among that class of players perpetually in contention for a place among the Five. He earned a couple of appearances here back in 2016 on the strength of some impressive batting indicators and, it seemed, sufficient defensive skill to remain on the infield. He was absent all last year, though — not because his profile changed (it didn’t) but because his own organization seemed reluctant to advance him through the system. Indeed, Davidson passed the entirety of his 2017 campaign as a 24-year-old in the Carolina League. That is not typically line item found on the resumes of major leaguers.

In an even less inspiring development, Davidson opened this year at High-A Potomac, as well. An impressive start to the season, however, earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 13.9% and 16.7%, respectively, while producing a .290 isolated-power mark — or more than double the league average of .128.

Here’s what a home run by Davidson looks like on a dreary day in Trenton and also you got seats just to the third-base side of home plate:

David Fletcher, 2B/SS, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Up till the point of last week’s edition of this column, what David Fletcher had done is to complement his typically strong contact rates with some atypically strong power numbers. “Such a development couldn’t possibly continue,” is what a reasonable person would have uttered — perhaps even did utter — at that time.

Yet here we are, seven days in the future, and what David Fletcher has done over those seven days is to continue complementing his typically strong contact rates with some atypically strong power numbers. Over a span of 27 plate appearances since last Friday, Fletcher produced walk and strikeout rates of 14.8% each and a .273 isolated-power figure. Has the typically inflated run environment of the Pacific Coast League aided Fletcher? It’s quite possible. That said, PCL batters have recorded just a .155 ISO collectively — or, about 80 points lower than Fletcher’s current mark.

Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
James has previously been selected for this weekly column largely on account of how many strikeouts he’s compiled relative to how many walks. He’s been selected again this week largely on account of how many strikeouts relative to walks he compiled in his most recent appearance.

This past Sunday, against the Rangers’ Texas League affiliate, James recorded a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while facing 14 batters in a four-inning piggyback appearance (box). Where the average major-league pitcher records roughly nine swinging strikes per start, James produced five of those in just his first inning of work.

Here’s footage of all five:

And here’s a haphazard attempt at classifying those pitches, in order:

  1. High fastball.
  2. Inside breaking pitch with more glove-side movement.
  3. Inside breaking pitch with more depth.
  4. First-pitch, back-door changeup?
  5. Middle-middle breaking pitch.

Nate Orf, 2B, Milwaukee (Profile)
The Orff Approach is a method, developed by composer Carl Orff, of introducing children to music by utilizing their own innate sense of play. The Orf Approach, meanwhile — with just one -f-, in this case — is a method, employed by Brewers infield prospect Nate Orf, for achieving success as professional ballplayer. The Orf Approach has worked well at Triple-A: in almost 1,000 plate appearances at that level now, Orf has produced walk and strikeout rates of 9.7% and 14.0%, respectively, and a roughly league-average .143 isolated-power mark. In a more recent sample, Orf has also put fewer balls on the ground and recorded some of the top baserunning numbers in the Pacific Coast League. Would the Orf Approach succeed at the major-league level? A trial of some sort seems to be called for.

Josh Rojas, 2B/3B, Houston (Profile)
This is the third appearance for Rojas so far. Among the roughly 1,000 qualified batters in the minors this season, only a handful have performed a better imitation of Matt Carpenter (or Ian Kinsler or Daniel Murphy or Justin Turner) than Josh Rojas — and even fewer, if any, have done so while offering the sort of defensive and baserunning value that Rojas provides.

Here, by way of illustration are the top-10 minor-league hitters by a combination of ground-ball rate (where lower is better) and swinging-strike rate (where lower is also better):

Matt Carpenters of the Minor Leagues
Rank Name Team Level Age PA SwStr% GB% zSwStr zGB zTotal
1 Ian Rice Cubs AA 24 76 8.8% 22.9% 0.7 2.4 1.5
2 Tyler White Astros AAA 27 114 7.2% 26.6% 1.1 2.0 1.5
3 Zack Short Cubs AA 23 90 11.3% 19.0% 0.1 2.8 1.4
4 Cavan Biggio Blue Jays AA 23 89 7.4% 28.3% 1.0 1.8 1.4
5 Brett Sullivan Rays AA 24 80 4.0% 35.9% 1.9 0.9 1.4
6 Josh Rojas Astros A+, AA 24 113 4.8% 34.2% 1.7 1.1 1.4
7 Jason Vosler Cubs AA 24 96 10.0% 22.8% 0.4 2.4 1.4
8 Gordon Beckham Mariners AAA 31 72 8.1% 27.5% 0.8 1.9 1.4
9 Austin Listi Phillies A+ 24 88 10.2% 23.3% 0.3 2.3 1.3
10 Luis Carpio Mets A+ 20 87 7.9% 28.6% 0.9 1.7 1.3
Out of ca. 1,000 qualified minor-league batters.

Since being selected for last week’s column, Rojas has been excellent, striking out just twice and also producing a .474 isolated-power figure in 22 plate appearances. What else he’s done since last week’s column is earn a promotion to Double-A, where he is now playing alongside Josh James (above).

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

J.T. Brubaker, RHP, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern League)
Santiago Espinal, SS, Boston (High-A Carolina League)
Sam McWilliams, RHP, Arizona (High-A California League)
Keury Mella, RHP, Cincinnati (Double-A Southern League)
Luis Rengifo, SS, Los Angeles AL (High-A California 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, 2018
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Josh James Astros RHP 3 1 10
2 David Fletcher Angels 2B/SS 3 0 9
3 Josh Rojas Astros 2B/3B 3 0 9
4 Nate Orf Brewers 2B/3B 2 1 7
5 J.T. Brubaker Pirates RHP 1 3 6
6 Luis Rengifo Angels SS 1 1 4
7 Max Schrock Cardinals 2B 1 1 4
8 Zack Short Cubs SS 1 1 4
9 Austin Davidson Nationals 2B 1 0 3
10 Brian Howard Athletics RHP 1 0 3
11 LaMonte Wade Twins OF 1 0 3
12 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 1 0 3
13 Sandy Baez Tigers RHP 1 0 3

We hoped you liked reading The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli!

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

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FrodoBeck
Member
FrodoBeck

I watched Orf hit a walk off double in Biloxi a couple years ago. Hadn’t paid much attention to him the whole game (was more interested in seeing Arcia), but when I looked I saw that he had been on base 3/4 times. I’ve been an Orf fan ever since