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)
This represents now Allen’s eighth appearance among the Five proper, the best such mark among all players besides Sherman Johnson, for whom the author has exhibited irrational exuberance and for whom the author will likely continue exhibiting irrational exuberance. As for Allen, on the other hand, most exuberance for him at the moment can be supported reasonably well. Since his promotion to Double-A Akron in late July, his plate-discipline numbers have eroded in the way one would expected of a batter who’s facing more difficult competition. His isolated-power figure has actually increased, however.

Regard, those last two sentences in the form of a table:

Greg Allen, High-A vs. Double-A
Level PA BB% K% ISO
High-A 432 13.4% 11.8% .104
Double-A 65 6.2% 13.8% .155
Difference -7.2% +2.0% +.051

A brief examination of the facts reveals that the league-average ISO marks for the (High-A) Carolina and (Double-A) Eastern Leagues are .128 and .129, respectively — basically identical, in other words — which indicates that Allen’s greater number in the latter isn’t merely a product of a more potent run environment.

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Oakland (Profile)
This represents Cotton’s fifth appearance among the Five proper in 2016 and places him third overall on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard that appears towards the bottom of this post. Which, that’s a weird sentence that none of our ancestors would understand, is one point the author would like to make. Followed by a second point, which is that Cotton actually finished tied for first on the 2015 edition of that Scoreboard. In other words, the right-hander has now demonstrated sufficient physical tools and produced sufficient on-field success to continue appearing in this weekly column while also, at the same time, never wandering into the back end of a prospect list.

Traded to Oakland as part of the deal that sent both Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to Chavez Ravine, Cotton has been excellent so far with his new organization, producing a 17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 15.0 innings while conceding just seven hits and only a single run. Indications remain that the fastball is no worse than above-average; the changeup, plus or better.

Let us gaze in open-mouthed wonder — or close-mouthed wonder, either one — at one of Cotton’s changeups from spring training:

Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia (Profile)
Hoskins is a first baseman who, while currently leading the minors in homers, has almost certainly benefited from a home park that features a 149 home-run park factor for right-handed hitters. Which is to say, he’s confined to one end of the defensive spectrum and might very well not possess the requisite offensive skills to compensate for it. The purpose of this brief entry, however, is to call attention to how — after appearing among the Next Five in last week’s edition of this column — Hoskins proceeded not only (a) to record a 1.035 OPS (.200/.435/.600) this week despite also producing just a .100 BABIP, but also (b) to walk five times in a single game, which is also related to the first accomplishment.

Ildemaro Vargas, 2B/SS, Arizona (Profile)
Former Cardinals minor-league outfielder Mike O’Neill finished second on the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard in 2013 — between future real major leaguers Marcus Semien and Danny Salazar — on the strength of probably, at that time, the strongest combination of plate discipline and contact skills in affiliated baseball. In nearly 600 plate appearances that season between Double- and Triple-A, O’Neill produced walk and strikeout rates of 16.0% and 6.5%, respectively. What O’Neill lacked, however, was both power and a position — which is why he’s currently one of the top hitters in the independent Can-Am — and not the National — League.

Vargas, a former member of the indy leagues himself, has exhibited O’Neill-like control of the plate (recording a 9.9% walk and 5.4% strikeout rate) since his promotion to Triple-A Reno while also starting every game at either second or shortstop. He’s been just as excellent since appearing among last week’s Five, producing a 5:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 26 plate appearances while also recording two doubles and a home run.

Brandon Woodruff, RHP, Milwaukee (Profile)
The author was sufficiently moved on Tuesday of this week by Brandon Woodruff’s recent success that he (which is to say: I) summoned the requisite energy to write an actual post for FanGraphs.com regarding that young right-hander’s present and future. The basic gist of that dispatch: Woodruff possesses both excellent arm speed and excellent statistical indicators. When those two variables are present, it’s rare for a pitcher to fail at the major-level.

With regard to the arm speed, multiple reports place it in the 95-97 mph range at the moment. As for the statistical indicators, I am plagiarizing myself when I write all of the following:

After producing one of the top strikeout- and walk-rate differentials (22.2 points) across all High-A, Woodruff has recorded almost exactly the same numbers with Double-A Biloxi. Over the past month, the effect has been exaggerated. In six starts and 38.0 innings since July 8, Woodruff has recorded a strikeout and walk rates of 32.4% and 2.9%, respectively. For reference, consider: Woodruff’s strikeout mark would represent the highest among qualified Double-A pitchers by over seven points; his walk, the lowest by half a point.

In conclusion, here’s achingly slow footage of Brandon Woodruff exhibiting 80-grade command no fewer than one (1) times:

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

Austin Davidson, 2B/3B, Washington (High-A Carolina League)
Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League)
Chad Green, RHP, New York AL (Triple-A International League)
Dinelson Lamet, RHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Garrett Stubbs, C, Houston (Double-A Texas 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 (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 8 6 30
3 Jharel Cotton LAN/OAK RHP 5 6 21
4 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 6 2 20
5 Aaron Wilkerson BOS/MIL RHP 5 2 17
6 Tim Locastro Dodgers SS 4 3 15
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B/OF 4 3 15
8 Chad Green Yankees RHP 4 1 13
Max Schrock Nationals 2B 4 1 13
10 Brandon Woodruff Brewers RHP 3 2 11
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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TrevorCap
Member
TrevorCap

No mention of the fact that Jharel Cotton was one out away from a perfect game this week?

raws
Member
raws

shhhhh! – you are ruining the silent observation