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)
This now represents Helsley’s fifth appearance among the Five proper this season, moving him into a tie for second on the haphazardly calculated scoreboard located at the bottom of this post. Following his promotion to Double-A Springfield, the right-hander has continued to post impressive indicators. In the two starts and 12.0 innings he’s recorded since last week, for example, Helsley struck out 30% of batters faced, producing an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the latter (and most recent) of those efforts, against Padres affiliate San Antonio (box).

Helsley recorded a number of swings and misses with his plus fastball and also cutter in that game. What else he did was utilize an objectively less impressive but still useful curveball for first-pitch strikes and awkward swings.

Consider three such curves from that contest:

The ability to extract value from a third or fourth pitch, even if it lacks the effectiveness of other offerings, is almost certainly of some benefit to a pitcher’s ability to assume a starting (as opposed to relief) role.

Danny Jansen, C, Toronto (Profile)
The comments section of last week’s edition of the Five was populated mostly by kind remarks concerning the birth of the present author’s son. It was populated second-mostly by readers very concerned about the continued absence of Toronto prospect Danny Jansen from this weekly column.

The purpose of this entry is to address the concerns of those readers and to provide my Official Remarks on Danny Jansen, offered below in brief, numbered sections, much like a difficult text by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

  1. Danny Jansen’s offensive indicators are impressive. He has consistently recorded better-than-average strikeout rates and average-ish power numbers as a professional. This is particularly noteworthy, given the low offensive demands of his position
  2. For this reason, Jansen has not only appeared previously as part of the Next Five but has also become the subject of his own segment during a weekly Blue Jays podcast that I conduct with managing editor Dave Cameron.
  3. Nevertheless, there remain very real concerns about Jansen’s defensive capacities. The reports from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen are not optimistic. The numbers support these observations: according to the methodology used by Baseball Prospectus, Jansen has recorded roughly -7 runs as a catcher already this year.
  4. If he’s unable to remain at catcher, Jansen’s slide down the positional spectrum will be dramatic. To first base, likely. That’s a swing of roughly 2.5 wins per season. It’s unlikely he’d be able to compensate for that offensively.
  5. Therefore, I’m unlikely to include him among the Five in the foreseeable future.
  6. That said, I am frequently wrong.
  7. Perhaps even usually wrong.

Tim Locastro, 2B/OF, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Locastro first appeared among the Five in July of 2015, shortly after having been traded to the Dodgers from Toronto in exchange for an international bonus-pool slot. At the time, he was much more fringe than prospect. The infielder had been selected in the 13th round of the 2013 draft out of leafy Ithaca College, a school whose most recent major leaguer, Glen Cook, recorded 40.0 innings and a -0.7 WAR in 1985, a year that marked not only his rookie campaign but also his final season. Whatever its virtues, in other words, Ithaca hasn’t proven much as a “baseball factory.”

Locastro, for his part, has proven to be a pretty useful ballplayer. The combination of contact skills and defensive ability that first earned him a place among the Five remain. Currently, however, he’s exhibiting them not for Division III school or Cal League team but rather the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. In 82 appearances for Oklahoma City, he’s produced walk and strikeout rates of 6.1% and 13.4%, respectively, plus a .181 isolated-power figure and 10-for-11 stolen-base record. The 168 wRC+ mark he’s posted would place second of all qualified Triple-A batters — ahead, for example, of power-hitting Rhys Hoskins, who was just basically given Philadelphia’s left-field job. Despite sliding a bit down the positional spectrum as he’s ascended minor-league levels, Locastro appears capable of still providing positive defensive value.

Josh Morgan, C/SS, Texas (Profile)
While absent in recent weeks from the Five, Morgan is perpetually in contention for inclusion here. The reason, largely? His movement back and forth, basically every other day, from shortstop to catcher back to shortstop in the Wood Ducks’ defense.

Anecdotally, the defensive skills of catchers who’ve converted from the middle infield are quite strong. Buster Posey was a collegiate shortstop. Tony Wolters played second base and shortstop exclusively over his first three professional seasons. Austin Barnes alternated between second and catcher throughout the minors. All three players have recorded above-average career fielding numbers at catcher according to the methodology employed by Baseball Prospectus.

The prospect not only of the catcher positional adjustment but also of added fielding runs creates a very low bar for Morgan’s offensive production — a bar that, given his statistical indicators, he’s likely to surpass. Morgan currently possesses the third-lowest strikeout rate among qualified batters in the Carolina League — and an isolated-power figure (.116) approaches league average (.131). Over the last week, he’s recorded a 14.3% strikeout rate and .160 ISO in 28 plate appearances.

Mike Tauchman, OF, Colorado (Profile)
With his appearance among the Five this week, Tauchman has ascended (temporarily, at least) to the top of the haphazardly calculated leaderboard that appears at the bottom of this post. This renders him (temporarily, at least) what one might characterize as the “top” fringe prospect of 2017.

It’s happened almost by accident. While the present author has been moved periodically to eulogize certain players, Tauchman has mostly eluded these unsettling ministrations.

That’s not to say he’s been entirely ignored, either. Tauchman appeared within this column at least once both in 2014 and 2016. He’s also been designated as Cistulli’s Guy in the Rockies organization each of the last three years. His combination of above-average contact skills and passable center-field defense has always been promising.

This year, however, Tauchman has been much more productive on contact. His isolated-power figure of .234 sits in the 77th percentile among the Pacific Coast League’s qualified batters. Last year, he appeared in the 5th percentile of PCL qualifiers by that measure.

In the 26 plate appearances since last week’s edition of the Five, Tauchman has continued to exhibit promising numbers, producing walk and strikeout rates of 11.5% and 15.4%, respectively, and a modest but useful .130 ISO. His athleticism, documented in the following video footage, remains an asset, as well.

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

Pedro Avila, RHP, San Diego (High-A California League)
B.J. Boyd, OF, Oakland (Double-A Texas League)
Kody Eaves, 2B/3B, Detroit (Double-A Eastern League)
Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota (Triple-A International League)
Garrett Hampson, 2B/SS, Colorado (High-A California 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 Mike Tauchman Rockies OF 6 1 19
2 Max Schrock Athletics 2B 5 2 17
3 Ryan Helsley Cardinals RHP 5 2 17
4 Tim Locastro Dodgers 2B/OF 4 3 15
5 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B/SS 3 4 13
6 Nik Turley Twins LHP 4 0 12
7 Danny Mendick White Sox 2B/SS 3 2 11
8 Nicky Lopez Royals SS 2 5 11
9 Zack Granite Twins OF 3 2 11
10 Jose Miguel Fernandez Dodgers 2B 3 1 10
Scott Kingery Phillies 2B 3 1 10
12 Yonny Chirinos Rays RHP 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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Matt Brown
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Matt Brown

I’m a Jays fan who wasn’t sure where all this Jansen love was coming from; glad you addressed him further.