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.

*****

Greg Allen, OF, Cleveland (Profile)
Two prominent members of the Five, right-handers Junior Guerra and Aaron Wilkerson, have been acquired by the Brewers since that club hired David Stearns as its general manager. Outfielder Greg Allen very nearly became the third. Widely reported to represent one part of Cleveland’s offer to Milwaukee in exchange for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, Allen ultimately remained with Cleveland after the Brewers catcher vetoed the trade.

Allen was recently promoted to Double-A Akron and appears to have adapted quickly to that level. In the 22 plate appearances since last week’s edition of this column, Allen’s recorded a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio plus also a double and two home runs — while making all five of his starts in center field for Akron. He remains second on this season’s haphazardly calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard.

Yency Almonte, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
This represents Almonte’s first appearance among the Five. Originally selected out of a Miami high school by the Angels in the 17th round of the 2012 draft — and signed for a considerably above-slot $250,000 — Almonte was traded to the White Sox as the player-to-be-name in the deal that sent Gordon Beckham to Anaheim. He was traded again this past offseason — in this case, to his current organization — for right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle.

As a member of the Rockies organization, the 22-year-old has been excellent — and even more excellent of late. Regard: over his last five starts, Almonte has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 29.2% and 7.3%, respectively, in 32.0 innings. (Cal League averages are only 21.6% and 8.5%.) And most encouragingly, Almonte seems to possess impressive physical tools, as well, sitting 94-98 mph during a recent start observed by Bobby DeMuro of Today’s Knuckleball.

Here’s the most recent strikeout by Almonte available by way of streaming video. It features a fastball of indeterminate (but, it would seem, considerable) velocity featuring indeterminate (but, it would seem, considerable) arm-side movement.

Austin Davidson, 2B/3B, Washington (Profile)
Davidson, who makes his debut among the Five this week, was selected out of Pepperdine University in the 13th round of the 2014 draft. That was the same round in which Max Schrock was selected by the club the following year — which probably isn’t meaningful in any larger way, but is significant to the extent that the two possess profiles marked by decidedly above-average contact rates and (it would seem) competent infield defense. Since his promotion to High-A Potomac (where he plays in the same infield as Schrock), Davidson has recorded a strikeout rate of just 7.6% while producing an isolated-power mark just under .200 — both figures much better than the Carolina League average. Strangely, Davidson was never this good in college. While Schrock acquitted himself as one of the SEC’s best hitters, Davidson recorded a 13% career strikeout rate and .129 ISO in the West Coast Conference.

Ildemaro Vargas, 2B/SS, Arizona (Profile)
Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings have accounted for 93 starts at shortstop this year for an Arizona club that’s played 108 games. As a pair, they’ve produced exactly zero wins (+0.1 and -0.1 WAR, respectively) over 500-plus plate appearances. Nor do their rest-of-season projections offer much in the way of optimism. Which isn’t to suggest that Ahmed and Owing are entirely without merit as ballplayers, but rather that the matter of the D-backs’ shortstop position isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Last May, Ildemaro Vargas was a member of the Bridgeport Bluefish in the independent Atlantic League. By the end of the season, he’d produced the second-lowest strikeout rate among qualified batters in affiliated ball — albeit as a 23-year-old in the Low-A Midwest League. But this year, he’s produced the second-lowest strikeout rate at Double-A and earned a promotion to Arizona’s Triple-A affiliate in Reno, with which club he’s recorded a strikeout of 6.4%, a mark that would represent the top figure in Triple-A. As one might expect given Vargas’s run, he doesn’t possess even average power. But he has an elite offensive skill and the defensive tools to play shortstop, which combination likely renders him useful to a major-league club.

Here’s recent footage of Vargas playing shortstop and second base simultaneously on a grounder struck by a rehabbing Hunter Pence:

LaMonte Wade, OF, Minntesota (Profile)
Wade appeared two weeks ago among the Next Five portion of this column and now graduates to the Five proper on the strength of another promising week at High-A Fort Myers. Selected by the Twins out of the University of Maryland in the ninth round of last year’s draft, Wade signed for the precise slot value of $163,800 before acquitting himself excellently at Rookie-level Elizabethton and then, during the first half of this season, at Low-A Cedar Rapids. Promoted to the Florida State League at the beginning of July, Wade has continued to exhibit the same sort of profile that facilitated his success at lower levels. Wade’s 13.2% strikeout rate and .214 isolated-power mark — not absurd numbers to cite even in a 114-plate-appearance sample — are both markedly better than the league-average figures of 19.8% and .073, respectively.

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

Chance Adams, RHP, New York AL (Double-A Eastern League)
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia (Double-A Eastern League)
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (Double-A Texas League)
Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Milwaukee (Double-A Southern 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 5 41
2 Greg Allen Indians OF 7 6 27
3 Jharel Cotton LAN/OAK RHP 4 6 18
4 Aaron Wilkerson BOS/MIL RHP 5 2 17
Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 5 2 17
6 Tim Locastro Dodgers SS 4 3 15
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B/OF 4 3 15
8 Max Schrock Nationals 2B 4 1 13
9 Chad Green Yankees RHP 4 0 12
10 Jaime Schultz Rays RHP 3 2 11





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

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Cleveland’s AA team is in Akron, not Biloxi.