The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli June 15, 2018 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 Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update have also been excluded from consideration. *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) Every time James produces a strong start — an event that has occurred with considerable frequency this season — FanGraphs contributor and traveler within the world of ideas Travis Sawchik sends a note to the present author that reads, “His name is JOSH JAMES.” While I can’t argue with the literal sense of Sawchik’s message — namely, that this right-hander’s given name literally is Josh James — I suspect that my colleague is attempting to communicate something more profound than a single datum from James’s biography. Have I pursued the topic? No. Not because I’m afraid to, either — but rather because I am infested by indifference. James made one start this week, recording an 11:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 23 batters while facing Houston’s affiliate in Fresno (box). Sam McWilliams, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile) Curiously, this post features two players who’ve changed clubs as a result of February’s Steven Souza deal. Arizona right-hander Taylor Widener, traded from the Yankees to D-backs is one of them. McWilliams is the other. After starting the season with the D-backs’ High-A affiliate, he was sent to Tampa Bay as the Rays’ PTBNL. Following three appearances with Tampa Bay’s Florida State League club, McWilliams was promoted to Double-A, where he now resides. McWilliams has been good all season, recording strikeout and walk rates of 24.1% and 6.3%, respectively, in 57.1 innings. His last two starts, however, have been particularly strong — particularly for a pitcher who’s contending with a new level. Over his last 13.0 innings, McWilliams has produced strikeout and walk rates of 31.3% and 2.1%, respectively. McWilliams’ appeal as a prospect, however, isn’t limited merely to the results. One finds in McWilliams an unusual and imposing combination of height and velocity. John Eshleman of 2080 Baseball saw McWilliams sitting at 94-96 mph roughly a month ago. From a 6-foot-7 pitcher with a high-three-quarters arm slot, the effect is unsettling. As a sort of object lesson, consider the following clip from McWilliams’ most recent start: This is obviously a bad pitch. What it forces one to consider, however, is the extent to which McWilliams’ offerings are more or less falling from the sky. This ball has the illusion of have been thrown almost straight downwards. Nor would it be surprising if it were released closer to home than usual, as well. Given his length, McWilliams figures to possess some kind of advantage above and beyond the plus velocity. Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore (Profile) This represents Mullins’ second consecutive appearance among the Five. Last week, he was included here less for what he’d done on he field and more for the kind of field on which he was doing it — an ornate way of saying that he’d been promoted a level to Triple-A. In the week since that, however, Mullins has been fantastic. In 30 plate appearances since last Friday, the center-field prospect has recorded a .286 isolated-power mark (on the strength of five doubles and a homer) while striking out just twice. Luis Rengifo, SS, Los Angeles AL (Profile) Rengifo was included among the Five towards the end of April. At the time, I noted that, whatever his virtues, power wasn’t among them. A contact in baseball noted that Rengifo’s game power and raw power had been graded by scouts as 20s on the 20-80 scouting scale. It’s quite possible that remains the case in a larger sense; however, Rengifo’s observed power is, at this point, unprecedented in the context of his own career. In 85 plate appearances since earning a promotion to Double-A, the 21-year-old infielder has recorded a .230 isolated-power figure for Mobile — in a park that plays neutral at its most forgiving while also suppressing home runs. Among the 120 batters in the Southern League to have recorded 80 or more plate appearances, Rengifo’s ISO and strikeout rate rank eighth and second, respectively. His only real rival in the league by those measures combined is Miami prospect Austin Dean, who (a) is three years older, (b) plays corner outfield, and (c) earned a promotion to Triple-A about a month and a half ago. Rengifo has been particularly excellent of late. Over his last 30 plate appearances, he’s produced a walk and strikeout rates of 13.3% each, plus a .440 ISO. Taylor Widener, RHP, Arizona (Profile) Widener’s presence here oughtn’t necessarily be interpreted as a full professional endorsement of the right-hander. On the one hand, he’s produced excellent statistical indicators this season. On the other, he possesses a repertoire, arm slot, and build that typically profile in relief. Whatever the case, his most recent start was among his best of the season. Facing Miami’s Double-A affiliate, Widener recorded a 12:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 22 batters over 6.0 innings (box). Widener’s fastball, in particular, was effective. Below, for example, are the first six swinging strikes he recorded that were also captured by the telecast. All of them are fastballs. That broadcast cited velocities of 89 and 91 mph for Widener’s fastball, which is below average — and roughly 3 mph slower than the figure quoted by Eric Longenhagen in his recent audit of the D-backs system. In that same post, however, Longenhagen notes the “flat, up-in-the-zone plane” of the fastball that “generates lots of swing and miss.” The assessment seems relevant to the footage above. Finally, because the author took the trouble to manufacture it, here’s an embedded video of Widener’s changeup: And then also another embedded video of Widener’s changeup: The Next Five These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated. Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Double-A Texas League) Peter Maris, 2B/3B, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League) Ryan McKenna, OF, Baltimore (High-A Carolina League) Erik Swanson, RHP, New York AL (Triple-A International League) LaMonte Wade, OF, Minnesota (Triple-A International 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 8 1 25 2 David Fletcher Angels 2B/SS 6 0 18 3 Josh Rojas Astros 2B/3B 4 1 13 4 Chris Paddack Padres RHP 4 0 12 5 Erik Swanson Yankees RHP 2 4 10 6 Luis Rengifo Angels SS 2 3 9 7 Cedric Mullins Orioles OF 2 1 7 8 Nate Orf Brewers 2B/3B 2 1 7 9 Zack Short Cubs SS 2 1 7 10 J.T. Brubaker Pirates RHP 1 3 6 11 LaMonte Wade Twins OF 1 3 6 Highlighted rows represent player who’s ineligible due either to (a) appearing on an updated top-prospect list or (b) currently residing on a 25-man roster.