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 and midseason lists released 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.

*****

Ryan Helsley, RHP, St. Louis (Profile)
The right-handed Helsley has appeared among the Five with some frequency this season. Recently, he’s begun appearing in Double-A games, as well. The 23-year-old recorded his Texas League debut on August 1st and has produced a 28.6% strikeout rate over two starts and 10.2 innings with Springfield.

The advantage of Helsley’s promotion is that it facilitates an opportunity for impostor scouts like the present author to observe him by way of a minor-league broadcast. A couple of sequences from the right-hander’s most recent start reveal those qualities which have facilitated Helsley’s success this year.

First, there’s his fastball, a pitch that has (notably) touched 100 mph. Helsley had the opportunity to throw it to a real major leaguer, the rehabbing Paulo Orlando, in his most recent start. In at least two instances, the results were positive:

So that’s the fastball, but what about secondary pitches? Helsley appears to throw a curve and changeup. From what I’ve seen, the former has its uses — especially against same-handed batters — but it’s the latter that appears to offer considerable promise. Here, by way of example, are consecutive changeups from Helsley’s most recent start, each pitch exhibiting excellent depth:

Ben Meyer, RHP, Miami (Profile)
On the one hand, Meyer features some of those traits commonly found among top pitching prospects. He’s 6-foot-5 and 180 pounds. He touches the mid-90s with his fastball. He’s produced excellent numbers this season.

In other ways, however, Meyer possesses almost no signs of pedigree whatsoever. He attended the University of Minnesota (which, for whatever its merits, isn’t a baseball powerhouse). He wasn’t drafted until the 27th round following his senior season. And now, he’ a 24-year-old who began the season at Low-A… pitching in relief. This is not a recipe for major-league success, typically.

However, as Eric Longenhagen noted in a phone conversation with the author this week, Meyer has some of the qualities typically associated with late-developing pitchers. Specifically, he’s (a) tall and (b) from a cold-weather climate.

In any case, it’s hard to argue with the performance this season. So far, Meyer has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 29.7% and 5.5%, respectively, over 65.2 innings, giving him the second-best K-BB% of any pitcher in the Florida State League. Given the presence of legitimate arm speed and the promise of further development, the overall profile is encouraging.

Wes Rogers, OF, Colorado (Profile)
Rogers appeared among that group designated as the Next Five in an installment of this column published roughly a month ago. He’s a rare sort of player for the Five in that he has actual compelling physical tools. Noted Eric Longenhagen in the Rockies prospect list this offseason, “Rogers… is a plus runner with a projectable frame and a chance to play center field.” “Plus runner” and “projectable frame” aren’t phrases typically used to describe the sort of players who appear here — because those sorts of phrases are typically employed to describe top-100 prospects, is why. Rogers was omitted from Longenhagen’s list and all the other lists, however — likely due to what Longenhagen himself characterized as “very raw” hitting actions.

Rogers’ hitting actions appear to have grown less raw this season. He’s recorded a 16.5% strikeout rate and .175 ISO, figures that are both better than the Cal League average. He’s been even better than that since the last edition of the Five, producing figures of 12.5% and .208, respectively, over 56 plate appearances. Nor is this even to acknowledge his greatest strength, baserunning. Rogers has compiled 60 bases on 70 attempts this year, and his 9.3 speed score is the best such mark among all qualifiers at High-A.

Max Schrock, 2B, Oakland (Profile)
Since the last edition of the Five — published back on July 21st, owing (in the meantime) to the birth of the author’s first child — future MVP winner Max Schrock has provided the sort of production as one has come to expect from future MVP winner Max Schrock. In 74 plate appearances, the Oakland second-base prospect has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 9.5% and 12.2%, respectively, plus a .154 isolated-power figure. Combined with a .436 BABIP over that same interval, the result is a line of .400/.459/.554, a mark which some — not the author, but some people somewhere — might accurately characterize as “lusty.” As for the defense, it remains entirely adequate according to Clay Davenport’s metrics. Adequate is fine.

To become further acquainted with Max Schrock, consider the following slow-motion footage, which documents Schrock’s efficient swing — the result of which swing, in this case, was a home run in May:

Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Profile)
Combining a 139 wRC+ with passable center-field defense, Colorado outfielder Charlie Blackmon (now 31) has already produced more than four wins this year. Nor is this necessarily an aberration for him. Consider: Blackmon recorded at least two wins in every season between 2014 and -16, as well. One is forced to conclude, given the evidence, that Charlie Blackmon is probably an above-average ballplayer.

One is also forced to conclude that this wasn’t the most likely outcome for Blackmon. After failing to reach Triple-A until his age-24 campaign, he then proceeded to compile over 800 plate appearances at that level. At no point did he appear on — or anywhere close to, really — one of the more notable top-100 lists.

That’s not to say he didn’t exhibit indicators worthy of some enthusiasm, however. Blackmon basically always controlled the strike zone as a minor leaguer and also always promised a positive defensive return. At this point, much the same can be said for Tauchman, who’s recorded paired a 14.7% strikeout rate with a .271 isolated-slugging figure in 75 plate appearances since the last edition of the Five. According to Clay Davenport’s metrics, the defense is an asset.

According to the following clip, the defense is also an asset:

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

Yonny Chirinos, RHP, Tampa Bay (Triple-A International League)
Garrett Hampson, 2B/CF, Colorado (High-A California League)
Zack Short, SS, Chicago NL (High-A Carolina League)
David Thompson, 3B, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Mitchell Tolman, 2B/3B, Pittsburgh (High-A Florida State 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 5 2 17
2 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 5 1 16
3 Ryan Helsley Cardinals RHP 4 2 14
4 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B/SS 3 4 13
5 Nik Turley Twins LHP 4 0 12
6 Tim Locastro Dodgers SS/CF 3 3 12
7 Danny Mendick White Sox 2B/SS 3 2 11
8 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 2 5 11
9 Jose Miguel Fernandez Dodgers 2B 3 1 10
Scott Kingery Phillies 2B 3 1 10
11 Yonny Chirinos Rays RHP 3 1 10
12 Zack Granite Twins OF 3 1 10
Highlighted rows denote player who was ineligible for selection this week.

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

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lesjcarter
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lesjcarter

Welcome back, Carson!

CamdenWarehouse
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CamdenWarehouse

And Congratulations!

LHPSU
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LHPSU

“My child, you were the best fringe prospect that I ever scouted.”

Jorge Fabregas
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Jorge Fabregas

Mazel tov!

bunslow
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bunslow

And welcome back Shrock to the top ranking!