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.
Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
This marks James’ seventh appearance among the Five proper, and he continues to occupy the top spot on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard found at the bottom of this post. Of note regarding James’ season isn’t simply how well he’s performed on the whole but also how little decay his rates have experienced following the right-hander’s promotion to the Pacific Coast League.
As the table below reveals, the differential between his strikeout and walk rates is almost precisely the same at Triple-A as it was in a similar sample at Double-A.
James’ lone appearance from the past week is included in that second line. Facing Milwaukee’s affiliate in Colorado Springs, he produced a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters over 7.0 innings (box). The most recent reports on his velocity continue to place his fastball in the mid-90s.
Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Signed out of Nicaragua by the Giants in 2012 for a bonus too modest to report, Loaisiga was released by that same organization in 2015 following an extended stay on the disabled list. Picked up by the Yankees in February of 2016, he was forced to endure a Tommy John procedure almost immediately. When he returned last year, he impressive, Kiley McDaniel citing a fastball in the “93-97 range” and a “hard slider with short but tight vertical break.”
The stuff translated into on-field success and that has continued into 2018. After 20 impressive innings with the Yankees’ Florida State League affiliate, Loaisiga has now basically replicated that performance in the Eastern League.
Footage from one of Loaisiga’s most recent starts appears to reveal not only the vertically oriented slider noted by McDaniel above, but also an even more impressive two-plane breaking ball.
Here’s an example of the former:
And the latter:
Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Lux belongs to a class of player that also includes Gavin Cecchini, Levi Michael, and Joe Panik — that is, first-round middle infielders more notable for the height of their floors than of their ceilings. It’s not a profile that lends itself much to dreaming. Indeed, the aforementioned triumvirate accounts for just a single appearance on a notable top-100 list (Cecchini on the 2016 edition of MLB.com’s dispatch). That the group has produced only one legitimate major leaguer so far suggests that the lack of enthusiasm for this type of prospect might be justified.
Whatever the case, Lux appears here this week not merely for those qualities he has traditionally exhibited but also for another one he hasn’t — namely, power on contact. As the table below indicates, the 20-year-old Wisconsin native has been excellent in a way one wouldn’t expect from a player assessed a 40 FV on raw power by FanGraphs’ prospect team.
|4/5 to 5/22||183||1||13.7%||20.8%||.308||.404||.417||.398||131|
|5/23 to 6/7||59||7||5.1%||16.9%||.321||.356||.821||.282||208|
While the inflated run environment of the California League can’t be ignored, logic dictates that it’s not the lone factor in a tenfold increase in home-run rate. Notably, Lux’s home park actually features just a modest home-run boost for left-handed batters.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore (Profile)
Mullins hasn’t been particularly great since appearing last week among that section designated as the Next Five, striking out in nearly a third of his 24 plate appearances while adding only two hits, both singles. What’s notable, however, is the level at which he produced those numbers — namely Triple-A, to which he was promoted before play on June 1st.
A 13th-round selection out of Campbell University in 2015, Mullins has produced strong indicators at every level since signing with Baltimore for $100,000. At Double-A this season, he finished in at the 80th percentile or above both by strikeout rate (where lower is better) and isolated power among qualifiers across the entire level. To this, he adds center-field defense that has been generally well acquitted by the advanced metrics. Below is an example of center-field defense that is well acquitted by the Platonic ideal of Wonder.
Chris Paddack, RHP, San Diego (Profile)
Paddack has faced no more than 23 batters in any of his seven appearances this season. He has also, at the same time, recorded 10 strikeouts in three of those appearances and at least seven strikeouts in all of them. He has, in other words, struck out at least 30% of the batters he’s faced in every start this year. By way of reference, consider that only 10 major-league qualifiers have recorded an average strikeout rate of 30% or better overall.
Overall, Paddack has produced the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential among minor-league starters who’ve recorded at leas 30 innings. In his lone appearance of the last week, he was customarily good, posting a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 21 batters in 5.2 innings (box).
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Santiago Espinal, 2B/SS, Boston (High-A Carolina League)
Andy Ibanez, 2B/3B, Texas (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Dean Kremer, RHP, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Jared Oliva, OF, Pittsburgh (High-A Florida State League)
Justin Twine, 2B/3B, Miami (High-A Florida State 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||2||5|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.