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 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.

*****

Cavan Biggio, 2B, Toronto (Profile)
This represents Biggio’s second appearance among the Five proper — and, as in the case of that first appearance, represents an opportunity to appreciate what appears to be his transformation into an actual, legitimate slugger.

Biggio currently possesses an 18.5% walk rate and .268 isolated-power mark, figures which place him second and first, respectively, among qualified hitters at Double-A. Among that same group, he’s the only batter to record walk and home-run rates at least two standard deviations above the mean (relative to that same qualified population).

Walk and Home-Run Leaders, Double-A
Rk Name Team Age PA BB% HR% zBB% zHR% zAvg
1 Cavan Biggio Blue Jays 23 508 18.5% 5.1% 3.5 2.1 2.8
2 Zack Collins White Sox 23 491 19.8% 2.9% 3.9 0.4 2.2
3 Joey Curletta Mariners 24 505 15.0% 4.6% 2.2 1.7 1.9
4 Josh Ockimey Red Sox 22 376 15.7% 4.0% 2.5 1.3 1.9
5 Bobby Bradley Indians 22 421 10.7% 5.7% 0.7 2.6 1.6
6 Zack Short Cubs 23 479 15.4% 3.3% 2.3 0.8 1.6
7 Isan Diaz Marlins 22 356 14.9% 2.8% 2.2 0.4 1.3
8 Yusniel Diaz LAD/BAL 21 374 15.0% 2.7% 2.2 0.3 1.2
9 Corey Ray Brewers 23 556 10.3% 4.9% 0.5 1.9 1.2
10 Jose Rojas Angels 25 352 10.2% 4.8% 0.5 1.9 1.2
Sample: 151 qualified hitters.

Patience and power aren’t wholly independent traits. Players who swing at better pitches tend to have better results on contact. While Biggio might possess only slightly better than average raw power, he appears — by virtue of his selectivity and also by means of his capacity to get the ball in the air — to have translated much of that raw power into games. In combination with second-base defense that grades out as solidly average by the advanced metrics, the overall profile is a promising one.

Vidal Brujan, 2B, Tampa Bay (Profile)
Because only those players at High-A and above are considered for this weekly column, Brujan has just recently become eligible for inclusion here. His profile suggests that he could become a fixture in this space, however.

Signed out of the Dominican by the Rays for just $15,000 during the 2014 signing period, Brujan has already exceeded whatever expectations one could have reasonably possessed. Ranked 12th among Tampa Bay prospects by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel this spring, the second baseman acquitted himself well in 400-plus plate appearances at Low-A this year before earning a promotion to the Florida State League at the beginning of August.

Brujan has posted even better numbers against more advanced competition in the meantime. Over 69 plate appearances for Charlotte, he’s produced walk and strikeout rates of 18.8% and 7.2%, respectively, plus a .309 isolated-power figure, which would place him first by each measure among qualifiers. In the last week, he’s recorded two homers and a 4:0 walk-to-strikeout mark in 18 plate appearances. His defense at second base looks roughly average to slightly below, according to Clay Davenport’s translations. His capacity to flourish in the majors is still somewhat reliant on his ability to play the infield, so remaining in the “roughly average” range is somewhat imperative.

Tim Locastro, 2B/OF, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Locastro appeared fifth overall on last year’s haphazardly calculated end-of-year scoreboard and ninth the season before that. For various reasons — injury, major-league time — this represents his first appearance among the Five in 2018. Whatever the cause of his absence, he continues to exhibit basically the same skillset that has earned him attention here previously.

While Locastro’s fringe bona fides remain beyond reproach, that’s not really the impetus for his inclusion among this edition of the Five. Rather, as noted by Eric Longenhagen earlier this week, Locastro has a curious aptitude for interrupting the flight of a pitched ball by means of his body parts. The utilityman has been hit 23 times in 325 plate appearances this season, including five times over the past week alone. Does Locastro’s appearances here represent merely an excuse for the author to locate and watch and edit together all five of those hit-by-pitches? One can’t say with any authority. What one can do, however, is watch the video below, which features all five of Locastro’s hit-by-pitches from the past week, edited together by the present author.

Joe Palumbo, LHP, Texas (Profile)
Signed for just $32,000 as a 30th-round pick out of a Long Island high school in 2013, Palumbo benefited from an uptick in velocity in 2016 (as noted by Eric Longenhagen here) that he was able to sustain after joining the rotation at Low-A that same year. After three promising starts to begin the 2017 campaign — during which he recorded a 22:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.2 innings — Palumbo was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.

The left-hander returned to game action this June, appearing a few times at the Rookie-level Arizona League before going back to the Carolina League, where he’d originally sustained his injury. Over six starts there, Palumbo was excellent, recording strikeout and walk rates of 29.6% and 5.2%, respectively, in 27.0 — a performance which earned him a promotion to Double-A Frisco, for which club he debuted this past Wednesday and produced an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 19 batters over 5.0 innings (box). Over the last month, Palumbo has recorded the second-highest strikeout rate (38.0%) among pitchers at High-A or above to face 75 batters, a sample of 445.

Palumbo was opposed in his Texas League debut by Chris Paddack, a pitcher whose path has been somewhat similar to Palumbo’s. Both recorded excellent numbers just before suffering elbow injuries and both have been basically just as excellent in their returns. Where Paddack’s best secondary is a changeup, Palumbo’s is a curve, an example of which one can see below from Wednesday’s start.

Tyrone Taylor, OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
A second-round selection out of a California high school back in 2012, Taylor actually appeared at No. 93 on Baseball’s America’s preaseason prospect list before proceeding to spend that campaign and the two after it either at Double-A or injured or both. Taylor emerged from spring training with Triple-A Colorado Springs this year, however, and has shown signs of his earlier promise — even after accounting for the benefits of the park and league.

Taylor has been particularly great recently. In 21 plate appearances since last week’s edition of this column, Taylor has recorded a 1:2 walk-to-strikeout rate while homering three times. Regarded as somewhat of a tweener defensively, Taylor’s defensive metrics support that assessment. Clay Davenport’s translations indicate he’s been below average in center and above it in left.

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

J.T. Brubaker, RHP, Pittsburgh (Triple-A International League)
Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas League)
Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Erik Swanson, RHP, New York AL (Triple-A International League)
Ildemaro Vargas, 2B/SS, Arizona (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.

Fringe Five Scoreboard, 2018
Rk Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Josh James Astros RHP 11 1 34
2 David Fletcher Angels 2B/SS 6 0 18
3 Luis Rengifo Angels 2B/SS 4 4 16
4 Josh Rojas Astros 2B/3B 4 1 13
5 Zack Short Cubs SS 4 1 13
6 Chris Paddack Padres RHP 4 0 12
7 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 3 3 12
8 Cedric Mullins Orioles OF 3 2 11
9 Erik Swanson Yankees RHP 2 5 11
10 Tony Gonsolin Dodgers RHP 3 2 11

We hoped you liked reading The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli!

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

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darrenasu
Member
darrenasu

I’ve been watching Biggio closely this year and am surprised by the projections continuing to be so skeptical ROS. I’m not sure when or how often they are updated…but they project Biggios’s walk rate to be 11% ROS even though we now have a year and a half straight of him beating that substantially in both High A and Double A. And they only project a 88 wRC+ ROS when he’s beaten that handily in three of four professional seasons. I know projection systems are supposed to be conservative by nature…and not overreact to small sample sizes…but it seems more of his performance over the past year and a half would be baked in by now.

olive dakota
Member

those are MLB projections, it’s natural to assume that he would regress fairly significantly from jumping two levels