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)
Last week, the author of this post included Hager among the Fringe Five for the first time. Just this morning, meanwhile, Travis Sawchik dedicated some internet words to Minnesota infielder/outfielder/little potato Willians Astudillo. The relevance of those two events? Like Astudillo, Hager appears to be experimenting with a zero-true-outcomes approach. Since last Friday, the Brewers prospect and brief resident of the independent American Association, has compiled 19 plate appearances without recording a walk or strikeout or home run. With a couple doubles and a triple, though, he still managed to produce an isolated-power mark above .200. At a very basic level, players are most successful when they are making meaningful contact. Hager, who continued to make the vast majority of his defensive starts at shortstop, has done that.
Dean Kremer, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Generally speaking, the pitchers who appear in this space aren’t mere performers. Cardinals right-hander Ryan Helsley, for example, who finished first on the haphazardly calculated Scoreboard last year, recorded excellent rates in 2017 but also throws really hard. Josh James, who currently resides atop this year’s haphazardly calculated Scoreboard, has recorded excellent rates in 2018 but also throws really hard.
Like those two, Dean Kremer has produced excellent rates. Unlike them, however, he doesn’t throw very hard. Last night, Kremer sat 90-93 according to the Tulsa Drillers broadcast. He also struck out 11 of 26 batters in what represented his Double-A debut (box). Nor did velocity appear to be an issue at for Kremer. The right-hander, for instance, threw what appeared to be 11 fastballs in the first inning, eliciting swings and misses on four of them, or roughly 36%. The major-league swinging-strike rate on four-seamers, by comparison, is just 8.5% and 9.6%, depending on whether one counts foul tips.
Eric Longenhagen has mentioned that Kremer might benefit from higher-than-average spin rates, allowing him to miss bats with greater frequency than his arm speed would suggest. Whatever the case, he now possesses the second-best strikeout- and walk-rate differential (behind Fringe leader Josh James) among qualified pitchers at High-A or above.
Jeff McNeil, 2B, New York NL (Profile)
For most of the season, Jeff McNeil was a 26-year-old producing excellent indicators at Double-A. Now, he’s a 26-year-old producing excellent indicators at Triple-A. Neither profile is ideal: you generally want your 26-year-olds in the majors. All things being equal, though, the latter scenario is preferable to the former.
McNeil has produced even more excellent indicators than usual recently, recording walk and strikeout rates of 9.1% each plus a .414 isolated-power mark over his last 33 plate appearances. Overall, he’s produced the equivalent of about 1.5 WAR as a member of the Pacific Coast League in just 87 plate appearances.
Cedric Mullins, OF, Baltimore (Profile)
Mullins is different than many of the players typically found here, on account of he possesses plus speed. Five-tool athletes aren’t generally omitted from top-100 lists and, relative to hitting and power and defense, speed translates less directly into runs and wins. So when endeavoring to “to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball,” one must accept that said prospects are unlikely to go fast.
But Mullins, who has posted the third-highest speed score among the 184 hitters in the International League with 100-plus plate appearances, can hit and hit for power and play defense. Since last week, for example, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 10.0% and 13.3%, respectively, while also producing a .296 isolated-power mark. That’s a strong profile all around.
LaMonte Wade, OF, Minnesota (Profile)
This brief entry serves two purposes, both (a) to document LaMonte’s Wade’s fine work at Triple-A and also (b) to briefly acquaint those readers who live outside New England with a pair of that region’s strange merchants. The following video clip is essential to both ends.
That’s Twins outfield prospect LaMonte Wade hitting a home run at Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s McCoy Stadium this past Monday. Wade has been excellent since earning a promotion to the International League, recording walk and strikeout rates of 18.1% and 13.8%, respectively, in 94 plate appearances while also producing .184 isolated-power figure in a league whose hitters have posted a collective .137 mark. Defensively, he has a tweener profile, something worse than average in center but better than average in an outfield corner. Overall, Nick Markakis is probably a decent comp.
Also, in this video, one finds ads both for Jordan’s Furniture (top left on the backstop) and Sullivan’s Tires (a yellow sign just over the right-field wall). Both companies run frequent commercials on local broadcasts and those commercials typically star the company’s executives themselves.
Jordan’s Furniture ads, for example, feature a ponytailed senior citizen named Eliot Tatelman, who frequently appears on television to reveal the lies Big Mattress would have you believe…
… while Sullivan Tire ads are brought to you by means of Paul Sullivan (left), a disheveled Irish ghost:
This, in conclusion, is a brief entry that has served two purposes.
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Mandy Alvarez, CIF, New York AL (Double-A Eastern League)
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Hector Perez, RHP, Houston (High-A Carolina League)
Tyrone Taylor, OF, Milwaukee (Triple-A Pacific Coast 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.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.