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 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.

*****

Jake Hager, SS, Milwaukee (Profile)
Despite having been selected out of high school in the first round of a relatively recent draft — or, as recent as one is prepared to consider 2011 — Hager isn’t really a prospect. After contending with a knee injury that forced him to miss all of the 2015 season and then stumbling through his 2016 and -17 campaigns, Hager was not only granted minor-league free agency this past winter but was sufficiently pessimistic about his chances of finding work in affiliated baseball that he signed with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association.

Eventually, though, the 25-year-old received a minor-league deal with the Brewers. The results thus far have been very promising: in roughly 250 plate appearances with Biloxi, he produced the equivalent of the second-best WAR in the Southern League. His performance over the past month, in particular, has been exceptional: since May 30th, he’s produced a .310 isolated-power mark but just 13.1% strikeout rate in 99 plate appearances — and has also, meanwhile, recorded every defensive start this season at shortstop, where the defensive numbers suggest he’s been totally fine. Hager was promoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs last week. He’s on the old side, certainly, but could have some value in the majors if he’s able to translate any of his Double-A success to higher levels.

Dean Kremer, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Most available coverage of Kremer concerns less his merits as a ballplayer and more the significance of his origin story. While Kremer is himself a native of Stockton, California, both of his parents were born in Israel and he possesses Israeli citizenship, as well. After being selected out of UNLV in the 14th round of the 2014 draft, he became the first Israeli signed by a major-league club.

The right-hander has actually distinguished himself by means of his on-field exploits, though, entering the season with strikeout and walk rates of 27.6% and 8.7%, respectively, in 111.2 innings as a professional — all at age-appropriate levels. A combination of average stuff, relief risk, and the absence of any real pedigree, however, appears to have kept his profile relatively modest.

Whatever the case, Kremer has been excellent this season, recording strikeout and walk rates of 37.2% and 7.4%, respectively, in 73.1 innings across 15 starts. His K-BB% is the best among qualified pitchers at High-A or above. The stuff appears to be something less than exceptional. According to lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen, the fastball sits at 90-95 mph and the curveball is the only pitch to receive an above-average grade. Nevertheless, the physical talent is probably sufficient not to become a liability at higher levels.

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Profile)
Lopez was a fixture among last year’s weekly Fringe Five posts, ultimately placing eighth overall (in a tie with Danny Mendick, below) on the haphazardly calculated end-of-season Scoreboard. A talented defender with elite bat-to-ball skills, Lopez has nevertheless failed to exhibit much in the way of power as a professional. Following a promotion to Double-A last year, for example, he produced just a .034 ISO over 253 plate appearances.

While his power numbers at that same level have been almost as modest so far this season, the 23-year-old has been more productive on that front of late, recording a double, triple, and two home runs — his first two of the campaign — in 35 plate appearances since the last edition of the Five. He also struck out just once during that same interval.

Here’s the first of those homers:

And also the second:

Danny Mendick, SS, Chicago AL (Profile)
Prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel characterized Mendick this spring as a “familiar type amongst fringe prospects: a later-round, small-school, senior-sign middle infielder with good makeup who compensates for a lack of tools by hitting more than expected.” Indeed, many of the traits cited by McDaniel in that passage apply to the players who occupy this weekly column. Mendick himself is one of them: as noted above with regard to Nicky Lopez, the White Sox prospect appeared eighth overall on last year’s end-of-season Scoreboard.

Lopez actually serves as a good useful means by which to understand Mendick’s value. While the latter continues to play shortstop and has actually produced strong numbers by Clay Davenport’s methodology, his defensive reputation isn’t as strong as Lopez’s. Offensively, however, he’s generally been superior. Over the last couple of weeks, the results have been particularly encouraging: over 38 plate appearances, Mendick has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 15.8% and 18.4%, respectively, while producing a .323 isolated-power figure

Luis Rengifo, SS, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
With this appearance among the Five, Rengifo now sits in fifth place on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard located at the bottom of this post. Promoted to Double-A in the middle of last month, Rengifo has actually improved upon his Cal League numbers in multiple areas, including in that one area the Cal League typically benefits hitters mostly — namely, in power on contact.

Consider:

Luis Rengifo Power, High-A vs. Double-A
Level PA Rengifo ISO League ISO ISO+
Cal League 190 .143 .143 100
Southern League 132 .205 .138 149

The numbers suggest that, whatever the reputations of the respective circuits, Cal and Southern League hitters have actually recorded extra bases with similar frequency this season. Even so, Rengifo has had better results relative to his peers since his promotion, producing an ISO roughly 50% better than the Southern League average. He’s been proficient in basically every possible way since the last edition of the Five, posting walk and strikeout rates of 17.0% and 12.8%, respectively, a line of .342/.468/.500 and a 9.2 speed score.

Here’s how a home run by Rengifo looks if you’re watching the game by way of a surveillance camera, I guess, atop one of Mobile, Alabama’s tallest buildings:

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

Abiatal Avelino, SS, New York AL (Triple-A International League)
Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore (Triple-A Interntaional League)
Lewis Thorpe, RHP, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League)
Luke Williams, 3B/OF, Philadelphia (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.

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 Luis Rengifo Angels SS 3 3 12
6 Erik Swanson Yankees RHP 2 4 10
7 Cedric Mullins Orioles OF 2 2 8
8 Nate Orf Brewers 2B/3B 2 1 7
9 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 2 1 7
10 Zack Short Cubs SS 2 1 7
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.





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

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Damaso
4 years ago

For Your Consideration….

SS K.Smith (21)

A+: 117pa, 8.5b%/28.2k%, .373babip/.288avg, .202iso 141wrc+
A: 204pa, 8.3b%/16.2k%, .397babip/.355avg, .284iso, 185wrc+

Defense at SS is good to plus.

bit of a worrying jump in k%, but still a great line for a 21yr old legit defensive SS in A+.

Damaso
4 years ago
Reply to  Damaso

and now you missed your chance, Carson!

Smith just cracked BA’s updated Top-100 at #91.

You coulda had bragging rights!