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.

*****

Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto (Profile)
Much of Cavan Biggio’s season thus far has been marked by an unprecedented display of power. With 12 home runs, the 23-year-old not only shares the Eastern League lead by that measure but has already surpassed the career total of homers with which he entered the season (in over 800 plate appearances).

Cavan Biggio’s past week-plus has been marked less by homers, however, and more by a different sort of true outcome, as the following video footage illustrates.

https://gfycat.com/SomberCookedFrenchbulldog

Those five walks are a product merely of Biggio’s last three games. Since last week’s edition of the Five, Biggio has recorded nine free passes in 30 plate appearances, recording walk and strikeout rates of 30.0% and 16.7%, respectively, during that interval. Walks themselves are not a great indicator of major-league success. In this particular case, though, it quite possibly represents an effort among Double-A pitchers to avoid Biggio’s barrel, as well as Biggio’s capacity to pass on pitches he can’t drive.

Chris Paddack, RHP, San Diego (Profile)
One could make a reasonable argument that the selection of Paddack — for the second straight week — isn’t wholly within the spirit of this weekly exercise. Because, while Paddack was technically absent from all the relevant top-whatever lists, there’s also little doubt about his talent or how well it has translated into on-field success. In 2016, before his injury, Paddack struck out nearly 50% of the batters he faced while walking less than 5% of them. This season, in his return from injury, Paddack has struck out nearly 50% of the batters he’s faced while walking only about 2% of them. Since just last week, Paddack has recorded a 17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 40 batters in 10.2 innings. An actual, real talent evaluator recently suggested to me that Paddack is possibly among the top two or three right-handed pitchers in the minors, on par with Michael Kopech — who, incidentally, appeared 20th overall on Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel’s preseason top-100 list.

There’s probably something to be learned from this. The present author isn’t the right person to fully appreciate what that something is, but it almost certainly involves how difficult it is to evaluate pitchers who both (a) are quite talented and yet (b) have contended with a significant injury.

Dennis Santana, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Upon navigating one’s browser to Santana’s player page here at the site, one is confronted not by his excellent pitching numbers, but rather his record as a batter. This is because Santana originally played shortstop as a professional. Signed in March of 2013 for $170,000, Santana didn’t start pitching until 2014. His profile has been on the ascent in the meantime.

To that point, one finds that, just since last week’s edition of the Five, Santana has been promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he’s recorded strikeout and walk rates of 31.1% and 4.4%, respectively, over two starts and 11.0 innings. Below is footage of Santana’s second-to-last start for Double-A Tulsa, during which he recorded no fewer than five swinging strikes on balls in the dirt.

https://gfycat.com/YellowishBruisedBison

Erik Swanson, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
After appearing among the Five last week, Swanson earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and proceeded to acquit himself well. Despite allowing three earned runs over 5.2 innings, the 24-year-old right-hander also struck out a third of the 24 batters he faced while walking just two of them (box). As noted last week, Swanson’s recent of success appears to have occurred alongside — and likely a result of — an improved breaking ball.

Breyvic Valera, UTIF, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Before hitting eight home runs last year as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate, Valera had recorded a total of just six over the course of six years and ca. 2,800 professional plate appearances. This season, he has not only sustained that rate of production, he’s actually managed to improve upon it, reaching the six-homer threshold in just over 100 plate appearances.

Even before the spike in power, Valera had exhibited a reasonably useful skill set, not only possessing the requisite tools to play shortstop on occasion, but also posting the lowest swinging-strike rate among (a) Double-A hitters in 2015, (b) Triple-A hitters in 2016, and (c) Triple-A hitters again in 2017. Since last week, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 16.1% and 3.2%, respectively, while also hitting three homers in 31 plate appearances.

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

Jonathan Hernandez, RHP, Texas (High-A Carolina League)
Jeff McNeil, 2B/3B, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Emilio Vargas, RHP, Arizona (High-A California League)
Daulton Varsho, C, Arizona (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 5 1 16
2 David Fletcher Angels 2B/SS 5 0 15
3 Josh Rojas Astros 2B/3B 3 1 10
4 Erik Swanson Yankees RHP 2 2 8
5 Nate Orf Brewers 2B/3B 2 1 7
6 Zack Short Cubs SS 2 1 7
7 Chris Paddack Padres RHP 2 0 6
8 J.T. Brubaker Pirates RHP 1 3 6
9 LaMonte Wade Twins OF 1 2 5
10 Luis Rengifo Angels 2B/SS 1 2 5





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

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EutawColeslaw
5 years ago

I think Ryan McKenna (Baltimore) should start getting a look.