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 Dean, OF, Miami (Profile)
Selected by Miami in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of a Texas high school, Dean appeared — when Eric Longenhagen published the Marlins list in February of 2017 — to have fallen into a sort of prospect netherspace, possessing too little footspeed and athleticism for center field but too little offensive ability to sustain a corner-outfield role. The Marlins’ assignments appeared to indicate a lack of enthusiasm, as well: after passing all of the 2016 and -17 seasons at Double-A, Dean began the present campaign there, as well.
In this case, however, Dean quickly earned a promotion, producing a strikeout rate and isolated-power mark that still rank second and sixth, respectively, among the 97 total Southern League batters to record at least 80 plate appearances. The early returns at Triple-A have been promising for a player in his first exposure to a new level. In particular, Dean’s contact skills have translated well: among batters with 50 or more plate appearances, Dean’s strikeout and swinging-strike rates place in the 91st and 97th percentile. Meanwhile, he’s produced roughly league-average power numbers. While the offensive burden of a corner-outfield role remains high, Dean could probably survive with slightly less power on contact than most given his bat-to-ball skills.
David Fletcher, 2B/SS, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
The qualified batters who rank first and second in isolated power on the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate are both listed at 6-foot-4 or taller and 235 pounds or heavier. David Fletcher, meanwhile — who places third on that particular leaderboard — is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. And while those same large hitters have each recorded a strikeout in over 30% of their plate appearances, Fletcher’s own mark is roughly a sixth of that (or just 4.8% before entering yesterday).
Fletcher doesn’t seem to exhibit any of the qualities typically associated with raw power. He lacks impressive physicality, nor does he appear to feature classic quick-twitch musculature. What he does seem to do — or, at least, what he seems to have done this year — is produce solid contact within a fairly narrow band of largely ideal launch angles. The more he does that, the more (one might reasonably assume) he’ll continue to do that.
Here’s footage from last week of him doing that no fewer than four times over the course of two games:
Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
In James’ debut for Triple-A Fresno last week, he allowed three walks and a home run over 5.0 innings but also struck out seven of the 20 batters he faced (box). While not a dominant start, it was also strong for a pitcher making his first appearance against more advanced competition.
James’ second start for Fresno requires less in the way of qualifiers. Despite conceding two walks and a homer, the right-hander also struck out 10 of the 19 betters he faced last night — which one will immediately recognize as being a number greater than half (box).
James has now recorded almost identical rates over his first two appearances at Triple-A as he had with Houston’s Double-A affiliate. The stuff — or, the arm speed, at least — remains sufficiently impressive to indicate that James isn’t succeeding by mere polish. While one wouldn’t have expected it before the season, James seems likely a candidate to appear both (a) on top-100 lists and (b) in the majors at some point before the end of the season.
Chris Paddack, RHP, San Diego (Profile)
Selected by the Marlins in the eighth round of the 2015 draft out of a Texas high school, Paddack was traded by Miami to San Diego for Fernando Rodney the following summer. After three appearances with the Padres’ Midwest League affiliate, though, Paddack suffered a torn UCL. His three starts in the California League over the past month represent his first professional innings since enduring Tommy John surgery and its attendant rehab.
Before the injury, Paddack had been improbably effective, recording strikeout and walk rates of 46.4% and 3.2%, respectively, over 42.1 innings at Low-A. He’s been improbably effective so far this season, too, producing marks of 46.4% and 1.8%, respectively, in 16.0 innings at High-A.
In terms of stuff, Eric Longenhagen’s report following the Rodney trade still seems relevant today:
A broad-shouldered 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, Paddack has a well-paced, easy delivery. He commands a low-90s fastball – with terrific plane and run, which help the pitch play as plus – to both sides of the plate and has been up to 95. The meal-ticket secondary pitch here is the changeup. It’s already plus and Paddack will use it against both lefties and righties. It’s difficult to identify out of his hand, dies as it reaches the plate.
Paddack recorded a number of swings and misses simply by means of the fastball in his most recent start, but also provided samples of the changeup. Like here:
The curve, which is defined largely by north-south movement, seems less likely to elicit whiffs against advanced competition. Here’s an example of it versus less advanced competition, though:
Erik Swanson, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Swanson has twice been included among the Next Five portion of this weekly column, but this represents his first appearance among the Five proper. Originally selected by the Rangers out of Iowa Western in the eighth round of the 2014 draft, the right-hander was traded to the Yankees in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Texas — a deal headlined (from the Yankees’ point of view) by former fourth-overall pick Dillon Tate. Nearly two years later, Swanson is pitching alongside Tate and has produced better indicators this season.
While the fastball seems to be sitting more in the 92-94 range currently — less than 94-97 cited by Eric Longenhagen in the most recent Yankees list — Swanson also appears to have benefited from improved secondaries.
“My curveball … it was virtually nonexistent last year,” Swanson said. “It was very inconsistent. It didn’t have that sharp break like it had the year before. I spent a lot of time working on it. I went through a few different grips last year and struggled with a few of them.
“This year I went back to what I was doing at the beginning of last year and the year before that, and it just kind of clicked again. It’s way better than it was last year.”
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Josh Rojas, 2B/3B, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Danny Mendick, SS, Chicago AL (Double-A Southern League)
Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
LaMonte Wade, OF, Minnesota (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.
|11||Santiago Espinal||Red Sox||2B/SS||1||1||4|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.