The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

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 in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason 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.

*****

Chad Green, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Depending on one’s concerns, there are two distinct ways of viewing Chad Green’s most recent sojourn to the majors leagues. For those who would prefer the Yankees to win games and not lose them in the year 2016, it was likely a dissappointment. Green conceded five home runs in 10.1 innings, allowing eight runs total over the course of two starts. Not great, in other words. For those looking for indications of Green’s future success, however, it was mostly encouraging. Because regard: against 40 batters, Green recorded 14 strikeouts and merely two walks (rates of 35.0% and 5.0%, respectively) and an average fastball velocity of 95 mph — and, in such a small sample, those are the only numbers likely to reveal anything.

Whatever the case, Green was dispatched back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he promptly cobbled together a dominant performance, recording an 8:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio and conceding a single hit against 25 batters over 8.0 scoreless innings on Thursday (box).

Here’s footage from one of Green’s recent major-league starts — not of him allowing home runs, but rather recording strikeouts by means of a cutter at 92 mph and four-seamer at 95.

Max Schrock, 2B, Washington (Profile)
This past Monday, before the day’s games had started — or before the relevant one involving Max Schrock had started — the author published the following service announcement for the benefit of the public:

Later that day, Schrock recorded a single and a double — what the reader will identify immediately as a two-hit game — against Braves affiliate Carolina. On Tuesday, Schrock unfortunately accumulated zero hits — although this was largely due to how his club had no games scheduled. On Wednesday, though? Two more hits. And yesterday? Another one, as well. All told, Schrock has recorded a hit in each of his first 16 games at High-A. The mode of his hits per game is two — and it’ll remain two until next week’s edition of the Five, at the very least.

As a statistical indicator, however, “hits” aren’t particularly helpful — because they’re a function of three other variables, each of which reveal something like “true talent” at different rates. One of those variables is BABIP — and it’s impossible to extract much information about Schrock’s true-talent BABIP at the moment, other than to say it’s probable that he’s better than average in this regard. Another of the variables is home runs (because home runs count as hits but not balls in play). Schrock’s recorded three of them with Potomac — which is good, considering he’d produced only six of them previously in roughly 500 career plate appearances. He’s quickening his pace! And then the third variable is strikeout rate — or, described positively, contact rate. Putting balls in play creates the possibility of a hit. And this is where Schrock has excelled, striking out in fewer than 12% of his PAs at Potomac and only 8% of his plate appearances in affiliated ball. His capacity for contact appears elite, and allows him a margin for error in other ways.

Brock Stewart, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
There’s a wealth of pleasure available to anyone among us who’s prepared to emancipate him- or herself from the obligation of professional accountability. The author emancipated himself from that particular burden years ago, and ever since he has — which is to say, I have — experienced a wealth of pleasure.

Consider: in the event that I were the sort of person ever to know a thing or two, I’d have included right-handed Dodgers prospect Brock Stewart here some time ago. Like earlier this season, for example, when reports indicated that he’d exhibited a spike in velocity. Or like last week, even, when — despite conceding five runs over 5.0 innings in his major-league debut — he also recorded a 7:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 70 xFIP- and an average fastball velocity of 94 mph. These are all indications of future success. Unlike discomfort in one’s swimsuit area, that is, which is probably more an indication of herpes.

Luis Urias, 2B/3B, San Diego (Profile)
FanGraphs contributor Chris Mitchell is among the sweetest sweethearts who exists in the whole world. On the topic of San Diego prospect Luis Urias, however, he’s unambiguously ruthless. “Include him within your worthless column,” Mitchell is inclined to say, “or suffer the consequences… The consequences being pretty bad and not at all something you’d care to suffer.”

For months this has been Mitchell’s refrain. The present author’s response every time? “When he — which is to say, Luis Urias — when he begins to exhibit the least bit of power, he’ll immediately appear among the Five.”

Last week, Urias hit two home runs for Padres High-A affiliate Lake Elsinore. Immediately, he appeared among that group designated here as the Next Five. This most recent week, Urias even improved his case for inclusion here. Appearing briefly for Triple-A El Paso in the place of Carlos Asuaje, which latter player had been invited to the Futures Game, Urias hit another home run. Over his most recent 38 plate appearances now, Urias — who’s merely 19 years old — has recorded three home runs, 10 walks, and just a lone strikeout.

Here’s video footage of Urias — who, again, is just 19 years old — recording his first Triple-A home run:

Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Milwaukee (Profile)
Here’s how the author spends roughly half his time while preparing to write this weekly post:

  1. Identify pitcher with excellent statistical indicators.
  2. Read report about same pitcher’s underwhelming stuff.
  3. Repeat.

It isn’t either daring or revelatory to note that the minor leagues possess a number of pitchers — many of them products of collegiate programs — who are able to excel against less experienced hitters by virtue more of guile than arm speed. On-again, off-again major leaguer Tommy Milone is the Platonic Ideal of this archetype, but there are a number currently occupying the tops of minor-league leaderboards, too. James Reeves of the Yankees, for example. And Matt Cooper of the White Sox. Recent Pirates debutant Steven Brault represents another such case. It’s totally possible that all three will have major-league careers, but it’ll require something rare.

Which is what makes right-hander Brandon Woodruff such a rare and beautiful bird. In 100.0 innings this year, spread about evenly between High- and Double-A, Woodruff has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 26.1% and 7.3%, respectively. Those are excellent statistical indicators. And where it would be reasonable — given precedent — to expect a report about his underwhelming stuff, this appears instead, courtesy Dan Farnsworth from his Brewers organizational list this winter:

One Brewers source put Woodruff’s status best: his numbers don’t do his talent justice. He still has plenty of potential with a quality delivery and stuff, and has had stretches of real dominance in the past year and a half. He will start in either High-A or Double-A, and the Brewers are hoping this is the year he really puts himself on the map, with his ongoing oblique issue from last year hopefully behind him.

Woodruff has talent, sitting in the mid- to upper-90s towards the end of his most recent start. And now his numbers are doing him justice. His most recent numbers, in particular: over his last two appearances, the 23-year-old has recorded a 16:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 46 batters.

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

Greg Allen, OF, Cleveland (High-A Carolina League)
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Kyle Lloyd, RHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Cody Ponce, RHP, Milwaukee (High-A Florida State League)
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (Double-A Texas 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 (which is to say, today). 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, 2016
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B 12 3 39
2 Greg Allen Indians OF 6 4 22
3 Aaron Wilkerson BOS/MIL RHP 5 2 17
4 Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 4 4 16
5 Chad Green Yankees RHP 4 0 12
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B 3 3 12
7 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 3 2 11
Jaime Schultz Rays RHP 3 2 11
Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/SS 3 2 11
10 Joan Gregorio Giants RHP 3 1 10

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

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Shauncore
Member
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Ponce is going to be too easy of a pick! He’s good and should have been better than a 2nd rounder