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.

*****

Beau Burrows, RHP, Detroit (Profile)
Burrows is unusual among the players typically included here. He’s a former first-round selection, for one. And for two, he’s considered one of the top prospects in his organization. These aren’t the sort of qualities shared by residents of this column like Sherman Johnson or Max Schrock. Indeed, including a player here who possesses those qualities would appear to contradict the very mission of this weekly effort.

And yet, Burrows has appeared within zero of the relevant top-100 lists as a professional — was, in fact, omitted from John Sickels’ list of 200 prospects published before the season. A bit of context reveals why that might be. As Eric Longenhagen noted in December, Burrows was “seen as a bit of an overdraft” when he was selected out of a Texas high school in 2015. Moreover, the organization to which he belongs, the Detroit Tigers, has routinely featured fewer high-end prospects than almost every other system. Nor does this year represent an exception to that rule: Detroit placed 25th in Baseball America’s preseason organizational talent rankings, the club’s best ranking since 2012. Being regarded as one of the Tigers’ best prospects, in other words, isn’t equivalent to a similar honor for those minor leaguers employed by Atlanta or the Yankees.

Whatever the reasons for his omission, he’s pitched well this season. After appearing among the Next Five last week, Burrows recorded a 7:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 24 batters over 7.0 innings in a start versus St. Louis’s High-A Florida State League affiliate (box).

Here’s video from last year of the three main pitches in his repertoire, a fastball (usually in the mid-90s), a curve, and then probably a changeup:

Vladimir Gutierrez, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Cincinnati signed the Cuban right-hander for $4.75 million last August. Given the size of that bonus and attendant 100% luxury tax which it elicited, one might assume that the praise for Gutierrez might be something close to universal. That isn’t the case, however. Our own Eric Longenhagen ranked him 20th among Cincinnati prospects this past offseason, giving him a 40 FV. Other outlets were slightly more optimistic. None regarded him as a future star, however.

There’s been little dispute about Gutierrez’s fastball, which generally sits in the mid-90s. There’s consensus that the curveball is impressive, too. The concern has been whether Gutierrez would have a sufficiently diverse repertoire to work in a starting capacity.

Recent developments offer encouraging news, however. According to Doug Gray of Reds Minors Leagues, Gutierrez has been utilizing his changeup more frequently of late. Whether directly related or not, the 21-year-old has proceeded to record the second-best strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) across all three High-A levels — behind only Thomas Pannone, author of a 0.00 ERA. While Pannone rarely breaks 90 mph, however, Gutierrez has the sort of arm speed that allows for a certain margin of error against more advanced hitters.

Tzu-Wei Lin, SS, Boston (Profile)
Listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Lin doesn’t possess the trademark physicality of those major leaguers — Josh Donaldson, J.D. Martinez, et al. — who’ve become evangelists of the fly ball in recent years. And yet, after posting ground-ball rates in the 50-55% range over the course of his career, the 23-year-old has recorded just a 29% mark so far this season — i.e., one of the lowest figures in all of Double-A. At the same time, however, he’s retained his better-than-average bat-to-ball skills. The result? Probably the optimum combination of contact rate and batted-ball type across the level.

Contact and Fly-Ball Combos in Double-A
Name Team Age PA SwStr% GB% zSwStr% zGB% zAvg
1 Tzu-Wei Lin Red Sox 23 81 6.0% 29.1% 0.9 1.8 1.3
2 Max Schrock Athletics 22 120 3.1% 38.4% 2.0 0.7 1.3
3 Nick Martini Cardinals 27 110 3.5% 38.0% 1.9 0.7 1.3
4 Chris Shaw Giants 23 115 5.2% 33.3% 1.2 1.3 1.2
5 Joe McCarthy Rays 23 124 5.2% 33.3% 1.2 1.3 1.2
6 Colin Walsh D-backs 27 140 7.2% 28.6% 0.5 1.8 1.2
7 Charcer Burks Cubs 22 142 6.5% 30.9% 0.7 1.6 1.1
8 Jason Vosler Cubs 23 117 7.6% 27.8% 0.3 1.9 1.1
9 Brett Vertigan Athletics 26 128 4.2% 38.6% 1.6 0.7 1.1
10 Jacob Wilson Cardinals 26 106 7.2% 29.5% 0.5 1.7 1.1
SwStr% denotes swinging-stike rate.
Column headers preceded by -z- denote z-scores, or standard deviations from mean.
Of 215 qualified batters.

The early returns have been exceptional. Over 81 plate appearances, Lin has produced a .214 isolated-power mark — a figure that’s roughly three times his career figure — while also recording a strikeout rate (18.5%) a couple points lower than the Eastern League average. All of this, one notes, from a player who’s recorded strong numbers at shortstop as a professional.

Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Profile)
Tauchman has been designated as Cistulli’s Guy in each of the last three Rockies prospect lists published at this site. Over that time, his profile has remained largely unchanged, marked most notably by good contact skills and the capacity to play some center field.

That profile remains largely unchanged this year, as well. After slightly more than a month of play in the PCL, Tauchman’s strikeout rate (12.3%) resides in the 80th percentile among the league’s qualified batters. He’s also produced average defensive numbers in center; above-average ones in left. What else he’s done, though, is also to record an isolated-power figure (.200) that resides in the 76th percentile among PCL qualifiers — this, after producing a .086 ISO last year in the same league.

Now 26, Tauchman isn’t a “prospect,” per se. Nevertheless, his collection of skills certainly renders him a useful fourth outfielder right now.

Jason Vosler, 3B, Chicago NL (Profile)
The 23-year-old Vosler, designated as Cistulli’s Guy each of the last two years as part of the Cubs lists published here, appeared among the Five last week on the strength not only of those virtues which have distinguished him previously but also an uncharacteristic display of power that has led him to the top of the Southern League charts.

Over the last week, Vosler failed to scale the same frenzied heights of production, but nevertheless continued to exhibit excellent control of the zone, recording a 4:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 22 plate appearances since last Friday. That sort of selectivity, one presumes, helps him to identify ideal pitches — which, one continues presuming, has both aided and abetted his power spike.

Here’s video footage from May 1st of Vosler utilizing his selectivity to good effect:

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

Kevin Kramer, 2B, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern League)
Danny Mendick, 2B, Chicago AL (High-A Carolina League)
Michael Russell, 2B/SS, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Max Schrock, 2B, Oakland (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. 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 3 1 10
2 Michael Russell Rays 2B/SS 2 2 8
3 Jason Vosler Cubs 3B 2 0 6
4 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 1 2 5
5 Beau Burrows Tigers RHP 1 1 4
6 Cameron Perkins Phillies OF 1 1 4
7 Garrett Stubbs Astros C 1 1 4
8 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs SS 1 1 4
9 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 1 1 4
10 Josh Morgan Rangers SS/C 1 0 3
11 Matt Cooper White Sox RHP 1 0 3
12 Nick Pivetta Phillies RHP 1 0 3
13 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 0 3 3
14 Nik Turley Twins LHP 1 0 3
15 Seranthony Dominguez Phillies RHP 1 0 3
16 Tzu-Wei Lin Red Sox SS 1 0 3
17 Vladimir Gutierrez Reds RHP 1 0 3

We hoped you liked reading The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli!

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

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