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 within Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update — and the updates published by Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels at Minor League Ball — 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.
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
This represents Gonsolin’s third consecutive appearance in this weekly exercise, and it’s possibly his most deserving. Since last Friday’s edition of the Five, the right-hander has made two starts. In 13.0 innings between them, Gonsolin recorded a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 18:3 against 50 batters.
Gonsolin’s profile isn’t the most common sort for a future major-league starter. He was a two-way player in college, not drafted till the ninth round, and features some traits on the mound (pronounced over-the-top delivery, effort) that are atypical for starters. He’s made it work thus far, however. He’s also continued to exhibit a strategies for contending with left-handed hitters, six of whom he faced in his second-to-last start (box).
Here’s a 92 mph slider to a lefty from that game for a called third strike:
And a curveball at the back foot for a swinging strike:
And a change with splitter-type action, also for a swinging strike:
Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
Each of the last two times James has been included among the Five, FanGraphs contributor and citizen in the world of ideas Travis Sawchik has pried open the doors to the comments section and left the same message, a message very much like this one from June 15th:
And bearing much in common with this one, as well, from July 20 (i.e. last week):
In his lone start since last week, James was characteristically excellent, striking out 11 of the 25 batters he faced in a game against the Iowa Cubs (box). Is it sufficient, however, to inspire another visit from FanGraphs contributor and citizen in the world of ideas Travis Sawchik? This is what the people (and/or one sad weblogger) want to know.
Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Profile)
There’s a path for Lopez to the majors that doesn’t require much offensive production at all. Because of his defensive acumen, the burden to hit isn’t that great. Eric Longenhagen gave Lopez a 55 FV on both the glove and arm as part of the former’s audit of the Royals system this past April. That’s an above-average defensive shortstop. Above-average defensive shortstops — say, those who record a +3 UZR per season on top of the positional adjustment — are almost uniformly valuable. In 2017, for example, Freddy Galvis recorded roughly a +3 UZR while posting a batting line 20% worse than average. He finished with nearly two wins anyway. Two wins is a good outcome for a fifth-round pick with an underslot bonus.
But Lopez has showed signs of offensive prowess for a while — and particuarly of late. In 105 plate appearances since his promotion to Triple-A Omaha, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 12.4% and 13.3%, respectively, while producing a .157 isolated-power mark. (The Pacific Coast League average is .155.) Since last Friday, he’s been even better, as revealed by this series of numbers and acronyms: 32 PA, 21.9% BB, 3.1% K, .208 ISO.
Here, because the author troubled himself to find and edit it, is video footage of Lopez’s most recent homer:
Isaac Paredes, 2B/SS, Detroit (Profile)
This represents Paredes’ third consecutive appearance among the Five. The first of those was intended to recognize his excellent performance at High-A. The second was designed to recognize his promotion to Double-A in the middle of July. This third one marks an attempt to recognize Paredes’ even more excellent performance — in this case, against players who could be, if not his father, then at least his strangely young uncles.
When Paredes received the call to the Eastern League, he became just the third teenager to play in same this year, the other two being top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and actually good major leaguer Juan Soto. Over the past week, at least, Paredes has rivaled both of them at the plate, recording walk and strikeout rates of 14.3% and 9.5%, respectively, while producing a .235 isolated-power mark. (League average is .139.) He’s split his time with Erie almost evenly between second, third, and shortstop.
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (Profile)
Catchers make for difficult assessments. Any kind of offensive production at the position will create value. If a player ultimately proves incapable of handling all the requirements associated with the job, however, then the tumble down the defensive spectrum is precipitous. This is why Jesus Montero is currently a member of the Mexican League and not an All-Star. This is why Jeff Sullivan replied thusly in his chat the other day when asked about the Cleveland-San Diego trade:
Jeff Sullivan: I think the Indians came out ahead by a fair margin
Jeff Sullivan: Not that I disagree with the idea of the Padres cashing in a couple good relievers, but I don’t think nearly as high of [Francisco] Mejia as so many other people do
Jeff Sullivan: Real chance he doesn’t catch, and real chance he keeps swinging at everything
Stubbs is the rare case of a player for whom there seems to be little risk of such a dramatic turn. For one, he’s well acquitted well at catcher both by scouting reports and also the fielding metrics. And secondly, there seems to be a real sense — as Eric Longenhagen noted in his audit of the Houston system back in February — there seems to be a real sense that Stubbs possesses sufficient athleticism to play elsewhere in the field.
Whatever the case, he’s been excellent with the bat. In 69 plate appearances over the last month, he’s recorded walk and strikeout rates of 8.7% and 10.1%, respectively, while also producing a .258 isolated-power mark (about 100 points higher than the PCL average).
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
LeDarious Clark, COF, Texas (High-A Carolina League)
Andy Ibanez, 2B/3B, Texas (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Tyler Ivey, RHP, Houston (High-A Carolina League)
Connor Justus, 2B/SS, Los Angeles AL (Double-A Southern League)
Taylor Widener, RHP, Arizona (Double-A Southern 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.