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 any updated list — such as the revised top 100 released in by Baseball America or BP’s recent midseason top-50 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.

*****

Sandy Baez, RHP, Detroit (Profile)
Signed for just $49,000 out of the Dominican in 2011, Baez is the rare example of a pitcher with both strong statistical indicators and physical tools who doesn’t also occupy a place near the top of industry prospect lists. The 23-year-old right-hander has had strong 2017 campaign, especially of late. Over his last five starts — a span of 29.2 innings and 117 batters — Baez has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 35.9% and 8.6%, respectively, never striking out fewer than 30% of opposing hitters in any individual start.

When Eric Longenhagen assessed the Detroit system this offseason, he cited Baez’s fastball as a strength but the secondaries as a weakness. Velocity remains an asset. According to Baez and his coaches, however, both his changeup and slider seem to have exhibited some indications of improvement.

Yonny Chirinos, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
The right-handed Chirinos was signed for an undisclosed amount (which typically indicates a mostly inconsequential amount) out of Venezuela right at the end of the 2011-12 international signing period. It was sufficiently late that he was excluded from Ben Badler’s review of Tampa Bay’s signings from that year. Until this season, he’d experienced only modest success — mostly as a function of throwing strikes, that, as opposed to any real physical excellence.

Over his first four starts at Double-A this season, however, Chirinos recorded a slightly better strikeout rate than usual — and, following a promotion to Triple-A Durham in early May, he’s actually missed bats even more frequently. While the 23-year-old Chirinos typically sits at 91 mph, he also has the capacity to reach back for more.

For example:

That’s Chirinos hitting 95 mph in ninth inning of a complete game this year. He complements the fastball with two offerings that can serve as out pitches. Both his changeup:

And his slider:

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Profile)
With this appearance among the Five, Lopez ascends to fourth place — along with the White Sox’ Danny Mendick — on the arbitrarily calculated scoreboard located at the bottom of this post. Lopez’s inclusion here this week is informed, in no small part, by his recent promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas. After recording the lowest strikeout rate among qualified batters in the Carolina League, Lopez has begun his Texas League career in much the same fashion, posting a 9.4% mark that would rank second among all of that league’s qualifiers.

While major-league shortstops tend not to have attended college as amateurs, Lopez might represent an exception to that half-law. His defense was reviewed favorably by Eric Longenhagen this offseason, and the defensive numbers indicate above-average run prevention at shortstop.

Danny Mendick, 2B/SS, Chicago AL (Profile)
Only five players have recorded both a strikeout rate and isolated-power figure a half-standard deviation or better above the Carolina League average. Here are those five.

Contact and Power Among Carolina League Qualifiers
Name Team Age PA K% ISO zK% zISO zAVG
Austin Hays Orioles 21 280 14.3% .263 1.3 2.1 1.7
Ryan Mountcastle Orioles 20 340 15.9% .235 1.1 1.6 1.3
Danny Mendick White Sox 23 275 11.6% .183 1.8 0.7 1.3
Victor Robles Nationals 20 293 18.4% .222 0.6 1.4 1.0
Troy Stokes Jr. Brewers 21 348 17.8% .193 0.7 0.9 0.8
Metrics preceded by -z- indicate z-scores relative to mean produced by Carolina League qualifiers.

Austin Hays (who appears among the Next Five below) was recently promoted to Double-A based on his performance this season. Ryan Mountcastle and Victor Robles just appeared on Baseball Prospectus’s midseason top-50 list. As for Stokes, he’s a corner outfielder who’s main tool is his bat. Finally, there’s Mendick. A bit older than the other four listed here, he’s also exhibited an offensive profile that one doesn’t typically expect of a 22nd-round pick. What else he’s exhibited is markedly above-average defensive value. He’s struck out just once over his last 30 plate appearances, dating back to June 29th.

Max Schrock, 2B, Oakland (Profile)
Schrock has been absent from the Five for some time, not because the present author has lost any belief in the future MVP’s talents, but mostly because that same future MVP has been contending with injury. Since returning to the lineup on June 18, Schrock has failed to exhibit much in the way of power, producing just a .055 isolated-power figure — that’s three doubles, no triples, no homers — in 63 plate appearances. He’s recorded a strikeout rate of just 7.9%, however, and parlayed a high-ish BABIP into a .309/.397/.364 (120 wRC+) anyway.

Here’s Schrock recording a hit on America’s birthday:

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

Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota (Triple-A International League)
Garrett Hampson, SS, Colorado (High-A California League)
Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore (Double-A Eastern League)
Nate Orf, 2B, Milwaukee (Triple-A International League)
Freddy Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee (Double-A Southern 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 4 2 14
2 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B/SS 3 4 13
3 Nik Turley Twins LHP 4 0 12
4 Danny Mendick White Sox 2B/SS 3 2 11
5 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 2 5 11
6 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 3 1 10
Scott Kingery Phillies 2B 3 1 10
8 Zack Granite Twins OF 3 1 10
9 Austin Hays Orioles OF 2 3 9
10 Brandon Lowe Rays 2B 2 3 9
11 Tim Locastro Dodgers SS/CF 2 3 9
Tzu-Wei Lin Red Sox SS/CF 3 0 9
13 Wilmer Font Dodgers RHP 3 0 9
Highlighted rows denote player who was ineligible for selection this week.





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

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Does Mountcastle have too much prospect clout to make the fringe 5?
Austin Hays just appeared for the first time at 99 on BAs top 100. Does that disqualify him?
Finally, ever considered Cedric Mullins? Seems like a fringe 5 guy.
Thanks for the great work!