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 any updated list — such as the revised top 100 released last week by Baseball America — 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.
Jose Miguel Fernandez, 2B, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
In the context of other deals the Dodgers have given to Cuban players over the last decade — players like Erisbel Arruebarrena ($25 million) and Alex Guerrero ($28 million) and, of course, Yasiel Puig ($42 million) — their $200,000 commitment to Fernandez this offseason is notable for its modesty. Indeed, there were some clear risks with Fernandez: because of a failed attempt to defect, the infielder hadn’t played since 2014. He was also an older prospect (now 29) whose defense at second base, according to Ben Badler, remained questionable.
Whatever the risks, the rewards have been abundant so far this season. In just over 200 plate appearances with Tulsa, Fernandez has recorded the lowest strikeout rate among all qualified Double-A hitters. His .167 isolated-power mark, meanwhile, is nearly 40 points greater than the Texas League average. Overall, Fernandez has recorded a 138 wRC+, and Steamer projects a 96 wRC+ at the major-league level.
As for the defense, the methodologies employed both by Baseball Prospectus and Clay Davenport do rate it as slightly below average. In the context of his various impediments, however, Fernandez has been excellent thus far.
Here’s Fernandez hitting a home run this past week by means of a swing that does not appear to be the sort typically employed by batters distinguished for their contact skills:
Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota (Profile)
Last July, when Chris Mitchell released a top-100 list using an updated version of his KATOH projection system, Granite appeared surprisingly close to the top of it, in between Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson (now in the majors) and Cleveland’s Bradley Zimmer (now also in the majors). Whatever the flaws in Granite’s profile, Mitchell’s computer suggested that the strengths — excellent contact skills, elite baserunning, promising center-field defense — correlated strongly with future success.
Now, slightly further into the future, it’s difficult to argue with that Mitchell’s computer math. Granite was an above-average hitter and runner and fielder last year with Double-A Chattanooga. After missing roughly the first month of the season to an oblique injury, Granite has been an above-average hitter and runner and fielder with Triple-A Rochester this year.
Here, for illustrative purposes, is the very slender Granite hitting a triple recently:
Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS, Colorado (Profile)
I first observed Hampson — then just a sophomore — at a game between Long Beach State and Arizona State in the spring of 2015 while sitting beside former lead prospect analyst and current Braves front-officer Kiley McDaniel. At the time, I suggested to McDaniel that Hampson might be promising for his combination of contact skills and foot speed and defensive ability. McDaniel’s response, as best as I can remember it, is summarized by this looping audio-video clip:
As for Hampson, he continues to exhibit promising contact skills and foot speed and defensive ability — now, as a member of the Rockies’ Cal League affiliate. He’s been particularly good of late, producing a 4:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio, four doubles, and a homer over his 37 plate appearances since last week.
Ryan Helsley, RHP, St. Louis (Profile)
Because this weekly column is dedicated only to those rookie-eligible players who’ve been omitted from top-prospect lists and because those top-prospect lists are informed, in no small part, by scouting data and/or personal observation, it’s rare that a pitcher who possesses both (a) elite velocity and also (b) reasonable command is ever featured here. Such pitchers tend, rather, to populate the very tops of the aforementioned lists.
Helsley, however, might represent an exception. He hit 100 mph at the end of last season for Low-A Peoria while also recording strikeout and walk rates of 28.8% and 5.0%, respectively, in 95.0 innings. He’s continued to produce similar numbers over the first 11 starts of his 2017 season.
As for why the 22-year-old might have received less attention than his tools might otherwise suggest, both size and pedigree are likely factors. At 6-foot-1, he lacks the height of a typical power-pitching starter. Also, he’s a product of Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, a school whose most notable baseball alumnus is former pitcher Steve Crawford.
Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Profile)
Entering play on Thursday, Tauchman had recorded 24 plate appearances since being included within last week’s edition of the Five. What he hadn’t recorded, however, was any strikeouts over that same time frame. Nor is this sort of command over the strike zone necessarily anomalous for Tauchman. Consider: Tauchman has recorded nearly even walk and strikeout rates (11.0% and 14.2%, respectively) in roughly 250 plate appearances this season with Triple-A Albuquerque. He’s also recorded a .210 isolated-power figure. By way of comparison, one finds that the Pacific Coast League averages by those three measures are 8.7%, 19.8%, and .157, in that order. Both Tauchman’s seasonal numbers continue to fall on the better side of those benchmarks.
Here’s some video of Tauchman from the past week, featuring a triple to right field and also a triple to left-center:
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Randy Arozarena, OF, St. Louis (High-A Florida State League)
Scott Kingery, 2B, Philadelphia (Double-A Eastern League)
Tim Locastro, SS/CF, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas League)
Danny Mendick, 2B, Chicago AL (High-A Carolina League)
Ildemaro Vargas, 2B/SS, 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.
|12||Tzu-Wei Lin||Red Sox||SS/CF||2||0||6|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.