The Fringe Five: Major-League Draft Edition

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple 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.

What follows is not that usual weekly exercise, but rather a version of it designed to identify the most compelling fringe prospects in the draft. As that same draft enters its second day, the discussion of fringe-type prospects is relevant: while the first round is generally populated by players who will develop into useful major leaugers, even the 100th-overall selection in a typical draft is expected to produce only 1-2 WAR over the entirety of his career. A club that’s able to find a Matt Carpenter (13th round, 2009) or Ben Zobrist (6th round, 2004) out of this interval of the draft is adding considerable value to its franchise where little or none is typically available.

As with the weekly editions of this exercise, central to this one is a definition of the word fringe. For the purposes of this post, a fringe prospect is any draft-eligible player absent from the April edition of Kiley McDaniel’s draft rankings — which document contains roughly 300, or about 10 rounds’ worth, of names.

In addition to McDaniel’s own work, I’ve benefited from that published recently by Chris Mitchell at the Hardball Times in which he examines predictive elements both for hitters and pitchers at the college level.

*****

Eric Cheray, C/2B, Missouri St. (Sr) (Profile)
With the exception of Duke right-hander Michael Matuella, Cheray would appear to be the only member of this year’s draft* to have also appeared on FanGraphs Audio. When that episode of the program was recorded in June of 2013, Cheray was playing infield for the Madison Mallards of the collegiate summer Northwoods League after having just produced a 2:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio during his sophomore season with Missouri State — a mark he repeated in his junior season and more or less replicated this season (his senior one) while missing about half the year’s games to an ankle fracture. Chris Mitchell’s recent work on projecting future major-league performance by means of college numbers doesn’t bode particularly well for Cheray. Senior signs, not unsurprisingly, are less successful than junior ones. Moreover, collegiate second basemen don’t fare particularly well as professionals. That said, Cheray actually was a junior draftee — in the 17th round by Oakland — but opted to return to Springfield. Also, he does possess the ability to play catcher, which skill could benefit his future.

*Or, probable member of it, that is.

Ricky Eusebio, CF, Miami (Jr) (Profile)
Eusebio was invoked within these pages at the end of February when the author, an imbecile, attempted to craft his first pref list. Kiley McDaniel, assessing Eusebio from the scouting point of view, suggested that, were the latter to produce a good season, he might find his way to a sixth- to tenth-round selection, but that the tools were the sort more commonly associated with a fourth outfielder than a future major-league starter. To his credit, Eusebio has parlayed that collection of tools into a strong junior season with Miami, recording regressed walk and strikeout rates both among the top 10% of ACC hitters — this, while producing a roughly league-average ISO figure and playing center field. That’s a promising profile in a difficult conference. He’s scheduled to appear along with the rest of his Miami teammates in the College World Series after defeating Virginia Commonwealth in the Super Regional.

This, in conclusion, is Ricky Eusebio making a nice catch:

Peter Fairbanks, RHP, Missouri (Jr) (Profile)
The two pitches depicted in the footage below are noteworthy for what they reveal about Missouri junior Peter Fairbanks both in terms of process and also product. With regard to the former category, one notes that the first of them is a 94 mph fastball; the second, an 86 mph slider — both pitches, those, which a major-league pitcher might possess. In terms of product, one finds that both pitches result in swinging strikes. And not only that, but swinging strikes against Vanderbilt batters. And not only that, but that they constitute merely two of the 10 strikeouts Fairbanks recorded over 5.2 innings against Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament (box). In addition to already possessing a 6-foot-6 and 225-pound frame, Fairbanks exhibited considerable improvements this year in terms of performance. To wit: after posting just a 33:20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 62.1 innings last season as a sophomore, the 21-year-old recorded a 79:28 mark this season in 76.2 innings. The improvements might be a function of Fairbanks having further distanced himself from Tommy John surgery which basically rendered his entire freshman year moot.

Chris Keck, 3B, UCLA (Sr) (Profile)
The senior Keck appeared within the author’s attempt, following the first week of the NCAA season, to identify the top collegiate players by means of (maybe) predictive stats. Keck also appeared in every subsequent iteration of that same exercise, ultimately finishing sixth among all Pac-12 batters by the methodology employed there. It represents an exercise in understatement — and perhaps even in the rhetorical device litotes — to suggest that Keck doesn’t precisely overwhelm observers with his physical tools. What he does do, though — or, at least, what he did this year — was to produce a positive walk- and strikeout-rate differential while also recording among the conference’s top-ten regressed ISO figures. That’s a strong offensive profile for a player, such as Keck, who also occupies a place on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum. He’s a senior, which earns him a penalty in terms of likely future value. But he’s also a senior who’d received just 250 plate appearances over his first three years in UCLA. Betting on the most current version of Keck with a second-day draft pick would seem to be a reasonable risk.

Jordan Stephens, RHP, Rice (RS-Jr) (Profile)
Not unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to identify college pitchers who feature a notable combination both of performance and physical tools and yet are considered anything less than a top draft prospect. Missouri State junior left-hander Matt Hall, for example, led all of Division 1 with 171 strikeouts. He also rarely (if ever) touches 90 mph, however. As a result, there are few scenarios in which one might expect him to successfully prevent runs in the majors. Meanwhile, those pitchers who exhibit elite arm speed are drafted early almost without regard to polish, as the selections of Cody Ponce (55th) and Josh Staumont (64th) illustrate. Meanwhile, those collegiate pitchers who possess both qualities are selected within the top 10, like Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer. The right-handed Stephens doesn’t feature the same velocity as either Fulmer or Ponce or Staumont — nor were his numbers this season as impressive as either Fulmer’s or Hall’s. He does sit in the low-90s, however, and he did record strikeout and walk rates of roughly 31% and 7%, respectively — multiple standard deviations, that first mark, above the Conference USA average. The concern with Stephens, as with Fairbanks, is health: he missed nearly all his 2014 season to Tommy John surgery and the subsequent rehab. He returned this year, however, and eventually worked his way back to a starting role.

Here’s footage from the NCAA tournament of Stephens striking out Louisiana Lafayette shortstop Blake Trahan — a favorite originally to be selected within the first two rounds.

The Next Five
Five players also worthy of attention.

Adam Choplick, LHP, Oklahoma (RS-Jr)
Very giant (6-8, 260) redshirt junior left-hander who’s had the pleasure of not one, but two, Tommy John procedures. Nevertheless, produced impressive strikeout numbers (28%) over 43 innings for Oklahoma this year while recording over half of appearances as starter.

Landon Cray, CF, Seattle (Jr)
The Western Athletic Conference hasn’t supplied much recently in terms of advanced major-league talent. Consider: between 2010 and -14, only one player produced by the WAC (Lance Berkman in 2011) recorded a season of three wins or better (out of 128 such seasons) — and, in the meantime, Berkman’s school (Rice University) has moved to Conference USA. In consecutive seasons, however, Cray has posted nearly 3:1 walk-to-strikeout ratios while exhibiting reasonable power and playing center field. He has some pedigree, as well, having played for Chatham in the Cape Cod League this past summer.

Drew Ferguson, CF, Belmont (Sr)
As a senior from a conference (the Ohio Valley) that produces few accomplished major-leaguers, his odds of succeeding at that level are naturally limited. Produced excellent plate-discipline figures (11% BB, 9% K), though, while posting significantly above-average .288 ISO and 26-for-28 stolen-base record. Altogether, possesses a combination of offensive and defensive skills that can sometimes translate unexpectedly well to professional ball.

John Kilichowski, LHP, Vanderbilt (So)
The only pitcher among the four here not to have undergone Tommy John surgery, draft-eligible sophomore Kilichowski actually produced better strikeout and walk rates than first-round selection and Vanderbilt teammate Walker Buehler over 10 starts (and 14 total appearances) for the Commodores this season. Nor does he lack physical tools: at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Kilichowski is a candidate to improve on his already roughly average fastball velocity.

Alex Perez, 2B/SS, Virginia Tech (Sr)
After beginning his sophomore year at Virginia Tech as the club’s starting shortstop, Perez was moved off the position following a string of errors. He returned to short during the middle of this year, however, and acquitted himself well, recording a .967 fielding percentage between there and second base. Like many of the hitters featured here, he produced among the best walk and strikeout figures — plus reasonable power numbers — in his respective conference. That the conference is the ACC and that the ACC is responsible for producing the second-most above-average major-league seasons over the last five years — this is promising.





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

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Adam Choplick: 75-grade last name.