The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple 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 in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) absent from the midseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Keith Law, and John Sickels, and also (c) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing anywhere on McDaniel’s updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Willians Astudillo, C, Philadelphia (Profile)
If one is interested in locating warts on Astudillo, that’s a weird and invasive type of interest to have. If one is interested in locating metaphorical warts within Astudillo’s baseball profile, however, one will succeed both early and often. The 23-year-old is likely both shorter and heavier than the 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds at which he’s listed, he’s produced a speed score this year among the second percentile of all minor leaguers, and his defensive profile has posed such a difficulty for the Phillies that he’s made at least 20% of his professional appearances at three different positions each (catcher, first base, and third base). Despite all that, though, Astudillo possesses what might be called a “carrying skill” (if not tool, precisely): a preternatural and (currently) unprecedented aptitude for making contact. Astudillo recorded just a 2.4% strikeout rate this year in 418 plate appearances with High-A Clearwater, the lowest such figure in affiliated baseball. The advantage of making so much contact, of course, is that if those balls in play turn into hits at something resembling a league-average rate, it naturally leads to a high batting average. Conveniently, in light of that last sentence, Astudillo won the Florida State League’s batting title this season.

Willson Contreras, C, Chicago NL (Profile)
This marks Contreras’s second consecutive, and third total, appearance among the Five this year. What does not seem to be in doubt currently regarding Contreras is the quality of his offensive approach. As noted last week, the 23-year-old Venezuela native produced walk and strikeout rates of 10.7% and 12.4%, respectively, for Double-A Tennessee up till July 29 (the date of his first appearance in this column) and has proceeded to improve upon those marks in the meantime, recording rates of 11.4% and 10.8%, respectively. Combined with at least serviceable power, that control of the strike zone suggests that Contreras is a strong candidate to handle major-league pitching. What’s less obvious from peering into his numbers is the probability of Contreras remaining at catcher, or what sort of value he’ll provide if he does remain there. Contreras started his professional career at third base but moved behind the plate in 2012, his fourth year as a professional. According to lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel, with whom the author dared correspond for the benefit of this post, Contreras has the tools to probably remain — if not necessarily overwhelm — at the position. Otherwise, he appears to have at least one notable supporter in current Cubs catcher Miguel Montero.

Here’s footage of him from earlier this season recording a 1.85 pop time on a throw down to second — equivalent to a grade of 65:

Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland (Profile)
After Diaz — notable already for his advanced discipline and third-base defense — after he recorded five homers over a two-week interval at the beginning of August, the author vowed to include Diaz here with enough frequency that he might appear on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard one finds below. Whom precisely such an endeavor was intended to benefit, it’s not entirely clear. Diaz himself is likely untroubled by his omissions from the Five earlier in the season — nor does the Cleveland ball club appear to be sitting on either pins or needles in anticipation of this weekly column. Perhaps the effort has merely served as an appeal to the abstract concept of propriety. Regardless, with his fifth appearance, Diaz is now tied for ninth overall. Of note, too: he was recently promoted to Triple-A Columbus, starting that club’s last four regular-season games at third base.

Jacob Faria, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
Faria appeared among the Five last week for the third time this season, on the strength (generally) of strong numbers at Double-A Montgomery and (specifically) a pair of starts over which he recorded a 24:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 52 batters in 15.0 innings. His most recent appearance, this past Friday, was similarly impressive. Against White Sox affiliate Birmingham, Faria produced an 8:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 20 batters over 5.0 innings. Over his last three starts now, the 22-year-old right-hander has posted strikeout and walk rates of 44.4% and 5.6%, respectively, in 20.0 innings. Among Double-A starters who’ve thrown at least 50.0 innings, Faria now has the third-highest strikeout rate (31.9%), behind much more celebrated prospects Jose De Leon (Los Angeles NL) and Tyler Glasnow (Pittsburgh).

Adam Frazier, SS/OF, Pittsburgh (Profile)
This represents Frazier’s third appearance among the Five proper and sixth appearance overall this year. He’s included here today not for any sort of extraordinary measures, but rather for having exhibited recently the same skills he’d exhibited previously — just, in this case, in greater volume. Already having demonstrated excellent control of the strike zone this year, Frazier posted a 5:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 34 plate appearance since the last edition of the Five. Already having been deployed at both shortstop and center field this season, he started every game this past week at the former (i.e. more valuable) of those positions. Also, he recorded his second home run of the year. More succinctly worded, he has the possibility to become a major-league shortstop with an above-average hit tool — a profile shared by few others.

Here’s recent footage of Frazier registering the precise sort of hit you’d imagine someone like him to register:

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

Willie Calhoun, 2B, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Edison Frias, RHP, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Yairo Munoz, SS, Oakland (High-A California League)
David Paulino, RHP, Houston (High-A California League)
Matthew Strahm, LHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are the top-10 the players to 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.

# Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 7 4 25
Matt Boyd* Tigers LHP 7 4 25
Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 7 4 25
4 Jose De Leon* Dodgers RHP 7 1 22
5 Max Kepler* Twins OF 5 4 19
6 Austin Barnes* Dodgers C 4 4 16
Ryan Cordell Rangers 3B/OF 5 1 16
Willson Contreras Cubs C 3 7 16
9 Gavin Cecchini* Mets SS 3 6 15
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B 5 0 15

*Currently ineligible for inclusion among the Five due either to (a) promotion to major leagues, (b) appearance on a relevant prospect list, or (c) author’s declaration.

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

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Jorge Fabregas
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Jorge Fabregas

Lower the minimum PAs threshold on that leaderboard, Carson. And heed the gospel of Carlos Perez.