The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 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 America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels*, and (most importantly) lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*All 200 names!

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.

*****

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in “Self-Reliance” that it’s essential to “abide by our spontaneous impression with good-natured inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.” Immediately, one senses that Emerson’s words might lack universal application. When the whole cry of voices declares that the building is on fire, for example, it’s wise to hear them out — regardless of the impressions one has previously formed. In the case of fringe prospects, however, the risks associated with such inflexibility are less pronounced.

Which is fortunate, because a brief inspection of things reveals that the present author has abided by his impression that Sherman Johnson is a promising ballplayer. In 2015, Johnson appeared (alongside current major leaguers Matt Boyd and Jharel Cotton) at the top of the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard. Last year, Johnson appeared (by himself) at the top of that same, haphazardly constructed Scoreboard. Three weeks into the current season, Johnson is poised once again to merit similar consideration.

Why? For a few reasons. Johnson’s a capable defender. He’s continued to record roughly equivalent walk and strikeout rates. He’s produced roughly average power numbers at every professional level. It’s a promising, if clearly not elite, collection of skills. Relative to his pedigree, however, it’s pretty impressive.

Josh Morgan, SS/C, Texas (Profile)
In his organizational list for the Rangers, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen writes with regard to Josh Morgan that “[if] a catcher conversion sticks… he could be an everyday player.” Over his first three years as a professional, Morgan started zero games at catcher. Now, roughly three weeks into the season, Morgan has started six professional games at that same position. There’s no telling if the catcher conversion will “stick.” The Rangers are clearly willing to experiment, though.

This is a compelling development for at least two reasons. One: Morgan has a promising offensive skill set, marked by above-average contact skills and serviceable power. Two: he possesses sufficient athleticism to have played roughly a third of his minor-league games at shortstop — including more than a third of his 2017 defensive games. In other words, he likely features certain tools (arm strength, glovework) that ought to ease his conversion to the position.

So, how are his receiving skills so far? It’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. Jeff Sullivan, on the other hand, has dedicated whole actual years of his life to the study of pitch-framing. I edited together a video for Sullivan of some pitches from Morgan’s most recent appearance at catcher.

Here’s the video in question:

And here’s Sullivan’s impression of Morgan’s receiving:

I’d say it doesn’t look great. Clearly the catcher has strong forearms and wrists, since he can stick the pitch where it goes, but there appear to be some technical deficiencies — maybe most significantly, the glove drifts back and away from the initial target, requiring a snapping motion that’s probably distracting. Seems like the sort of thing that can be coached out, in time.

The conclusion, probably: Morgan possesses the physical tools to catcher, if not the necessary refinement.

Nick Pivetta, RHP, Philadelphia (Profile)
Originally selected by Washington in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, the 24-year-old Pivetta was traded to Philadelphia in the deal that sent Jonathan Papelbon to the Nationals. His profile hasn’t changed much over the past few years. Consider: he received a 40 Future Value grade from Kiley McDaniel in 2014 and then another 40 FV from Dan Farnsworth in 2015 and then a third 40 FV from Eric Longenhagen this past offseason. The basic consensus from those three reports? Pivetta has an above-average fastball and at least one decent breaking pitch, but lacks a useful changeup and precise command. The most likely outcome? A career as an up-and-down starter.

Pivetta’s performance early this season, however, suggests that he’s experienced some improvement. He’s recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.3% and 2.8%, respectively, giving him the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential (30.6 points) among qualifiers at Triple-A. It also seems like both the velocity and command might have taken steps for him. The good people of Baseball Prospectus observed Pivetta bumping 97 mph at points during a start against Pawtucket. During my own look, in my capacity as an impostor scout, the slider was serving as an effective out pitch.

Here’s a selection from Pivetta’s repertoire from a recent plate appearance against a hapless Adam Moore:

This might actually serve not only as Pivetta’s first appearance among the Five, but also his last: he’s expected to record his major-league debut in place of the injured Aaron Nola.

Max Schrock, 2B, Oakland (Profile)
On the one hand, Schrock has produced a slash line of just .233/.303/.333 in 66 plate appearances this season. On the other, he appeared among the Five last week and has proceeded to record three extra bases and just two strikeouts over the 14 plate appearances since then. By way of reference, consider: only eight qualified major-league batters last season (of 146 total) registered one-and-a-half extra bases for every strikeout. Their overall results were impressive.

Regard:

Top Extra-Base-to-Strikeout Ratios, 2016
Name Team PA XB K XB:K wRC+
1 Daniel Murphy Nationals 582 132 57 2.3 156
2 Adrian Beltre Rangers 640 129 66 2.0 130
3 David Ortiz Red Sox 626 164 86 1.9 163
4 Mookie Betts Red Sox 730 145 80 1.8 135
5 Jose Altuve Astros 717 124 70 1.8 150
6 Nolan Arenado Rockies 696 170 103 1.7 124
7 Robinson Cano Mariners 715 154 100 1.5 138
8 Albert Pujols Angels 650 112 75 1.5 111
Average 670 141 80 1.8 138

Is Schrock destined to produce a major-league batting line roughly 40% better than average? Did the author purposely ignore Schrock’s performance from Thursday night — during which Schrock struck out and recorded zero hits — when composing this entry? It’s hard to say what is and isn’t true.

What’s impossible to deny is that the footage here depicts Schrock’s most recent homer in regular and also quite slow motion.

Nik Turley, LHP, Minnesota (Profile)
It’s unreasonable to use Rich Hill’s career arc as a road map for anyone, on account of how Rich Hill’s career arc is improbable. Nevertheless, the most basic facts regarding Turley’s trajectory through baseball bear some resemblance to Hill’s. For example: he’s a tall left-hander largely dependent on a fastball and curveball. And also: he made a brief visit to the independent Atlantic League (in this case, last year with Somerset). And finally: he’s been impossibly good following his return to affiliate baseball.

With regard to that last point, consider: over his first 20.1 innings with Minnesota’s Double-A affiliate, Turley has recorded a 50% strikeout rate. Predictably, that figure is accompanied by some qualifiers. Like, he made his first two appearances (of four total) in a long-relief role, as opposed to a starting one. And like, he’s a 27-year-old in a league where the average pitcher is only 24. But he’s also acquitted himself as well as one could expect. Moreover, his best performance so far is his most recent one, a start against the Cubs’ Southern League affiliate during which he recorded 14 strikeouts against just 24 batters (box).

As noted, Turley depends a lot on a fastball-curve combo, the former pitch sitting in the low to mid-90s — and, as with Hill, often located by Turley in the upper part of the zone. Here’s an example of both pitches from Turley’s most recent start.

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

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League)
Brandon Lowe, 2B, Tampa Bay (High-A Florida State League)
Cameron Perkins, OF, Philadelphia (Triple-A International League)
Michael Russell, SS/1B, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Ildemaro Vargas, UT, 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, 2017
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
1 Max Schrock Athletics 2B 2 0 6
2 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 1 1 4
3 Michael Russell Rays SS/1B 1 1 4
4 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 1 1 4
5 Josh Morgan Rangers SS/C 1 0 3
6 Matt Cooper White Sox RHP 1 0 3
7 Nick Pivetta Phillies RHP 1 0 3
8 Nik Turley Twins LHP 1 0 3
9 Seranthony Dominguez Phillies RHP 1 0 3
10 Brandon Lowe Rays 2B 0 2 2
11 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 0 2 2





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

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AJSKENSTON
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AJSKENSTON

Sherman Johnson?!?! No way!

Doug Lampert
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Member
Doug Lampert

Shocking, no, wait, the shocking thing is that he was only next five last week.

roydjt
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Member
roydjt

Didn’t he play George Jefferson?

free-range turducken
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free-range turducken

I thought he was the professor on Gilligan’s Island.