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.
Austin Davidson, 2B/OF, Washington (Profile)
Davidson first appeared among the Five in August of 2016, at which point he was a 23-year-old producing strong indicators at High-A. Somewhat problematically, though, he passed all of last season as a 24-year-old still at High-A and producing less strong indicators. This is not what one would characterize as a “promising trend”; ideally, as a prospect’s “age in years” increases so does his “ability to play baseball.” Davidson’s 2017 season, quite to the contrary, appeared to suggest that Davidson’s ability to play baseball was declining. Discouraging, that.
When he began the present campaign at High-A once again this year, the implication — if not by the Washington Nationals, then at least the abstract concept of Reason — appeared to be that Davidson was unlikely ever to become something greater than organizational filler. Based on his pedigree (he was a 13th-round pick in 2014), that’s not so surprising. Based on his 2016 campaign, however, it seemed like a missed opportunity.
A path to the majors has become somewhat viable again, though. After hitting very well in the Carolina League to begin the season, Davidson has continued doing that same thing in the Eastern League. So far, for example, he’s produced a .450 isolated-power figure over 22 plate appearances in July while recording walk and strikeout rates of 9.1% each.
Here, in conclusion, is video of Davidson homering either on or around June 29th:
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Gonsolin, a ninth-round selection in the 2016 draft, appeared among the Next Five in last Friday’s edition of this column and has produced an excellent start in the meantime, recording an 11:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 20 batters over 5.0 innings this past Tuesday (box). That appearance actually marks the best in series of increasingly impressive performances.
Consider the following graph, featuring strikeout rate by individual game over Gonsolin’s most recent seven starts:
Among the 76 qualified pitchers at High-A, Gonsolin has now recorded the third-best strikeout- and walk-rate differential (23.1 points) — just behind Emilio Vargas, actually, featured below. There’s some reason to believe it’s a product of more than just polish, as well: despite his relatively modest pedigree, Gonsolin touched 100 mph last year and sits in the mid-90s according to multiple reports.
Isaac Paredes, 2B/SS, Detroit (Profile)
Players who are 19 years old at High-A tend not to appear in this space, because 19-year-olds at High-A typically appear in a different space — namely, the sort that’s labeled Top 100 Prospects at the top of it. Consider: this season, 11 different 19-year-old players have recorded 50 or more plate appearances at the High-A level. Of those 11, six appeared on the most recent iteration of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel’s top-prospects list. So even before accounting for actual production, it’s fair to say that such a player at such a level has about a 50% chance of appearing on such a list.
Of those 19-year-olds who aren’t considered top prospects, many are defensively capable infield types without much physical projection. Paredes mostly belongs in that category: he does play infield and he is unlikely to add much useful mass. Where many of his teenage peers are slight of build, however, Paredes is (in Eric Longenhagen’s words) “built like late-career Jhonny Peralta already.” That doesn’t bode well for his own future, although he’s recorded pretty decent translated defensive numbers this season.
Whatever the case, Paredes is hitting. In 30 plate appearances since last Friday, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 10.0% and 6.7%, respectively, while producing a .259 isolated-power figure.
Abraham Toro, 3B, Houston (Profile)
Toro has been among the last players considered for a place here on a number of occasions this season. A fifth-round pick out of Seminole State in 2016, Toro continues to exhibit the same basic offensive profile that he’s previously displayed as a professional. Now, however, he’s exhibiting it as a 21-year-old at Double-A.
Over his first 29 plate appearances in the Texas League, Toro has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 24.1% and 17.2% while also producing a .273 isolated-power figure. He swings and misses a bit more frequently than other players who typically inhabit this space, but his combination of patience and power has compensated for it.
Somewhat uncertain is Toro’s defensive value. As Eric Longenhagen noted this spring in his audit of the Astros system, Toro made some appearances at catcher last year before the organization abandoned that particular experiment. Because Toro possesses, in Longenhagen’s words, a “catcher’s build,” he’s a less natural fit in the field than some players. That said, the translated defensive numbers at third base have been pretty decent at his last couple stops.
Emilio Vargas, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
Vargas has been included a few times among the Next Five portion of this weekly post, but this represents his first appearance among the Five proper. Signed originally during the 2012-13 international period for a sum sufficiently modest for it to elude the author’s haphazard attempts to locate it, the 21-year-old has been excellent this year, complementing a repertoire that includes a fastball that touches 96, an average curve and change with promising indicators.
His most recent start was probably his most impressive of the season. Against Mariners affiliate Modesto, Vargas recorded a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 20 batters over 5.0 innings (box).
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Brian Howard, RHP, Oakland (Double-A Texas League)
Peter Maris, 2B/3B/SS, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Eli White, 2B/3B/SS, Oakland (Double-A Texas League)
Taylor Widener, RHP, Arizona (Double-A Southern League)
Luke Williams, 3B, 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.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.