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Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.05

This is the Fantasy Fringe Five, but is no longer named as such. This is the last time you’ll see Brad or me use that alliterative phrase to describe this series. And that’s it! Keepin’ it cryptic. This is now, until or unless we come up with something better, Peripheral Prospects. (We welcome recommendations! Leave a comment.)

That said, we might start steering this ship more deliberately in our own direction. In the spirit of Carson Cistulli’s series after which this is now loosely modeled, we will sometimes follow its self-imposed restrictions and other times elect to deviate from them — most probably, the one underlined below:

In light of same, eligibility for The Fringe Five will require (for the present, at least) the following:

  • Rookie-eligibility (i.e. fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched), and
  • Absence from a 25-man roster (i.e. not in the major leagues currently), and
  • Absence from any of noted top-100 prospect lists (Baseball America’s, etc.), and
  • The capacity to stir something within the author’s manly bosom.

Mostly because there’s a high probability a future featuree might get the call before Brad or I can feature him. Ideally, we’ll follow up as soon as possible after his call; in some instances, like with a Seattle Mariners pitcher featured below, he will get the call and be optioned back to Triple-A all before one of us can put digital pen to digital paper.

We need a table, so I made a table. It’s not here, though. These are words. It’s at the bottom. By the time the season concludes, I imagine it will be very long. From a design and readability standpoint, that’d just be bad business to feature a several-inch table at the heart of a post.

Also, given the re-brand, we may or may not feature five players in any given weekly installment. This week, I’m compelled to feature five players. In others, I may feature only four. Maybe only three. Sometimes six. It will depend on my, and probably Brad’s, magnitude of inspiration. This is yet another constraint we’ll loosen for the sake of flexibility as we find our wheelhouse.

I will say: I love the lattermost three names I’ve featured here. They have, indeed, stirred something within me, more so than some other names listed prior to them.

Jake Cronenworth | 25 | TBR | SS (AAA)

2nd appearance

Brad featured Cronenworth last week. For the sake of running up a scoreboard, I chose to feature him, too, as he had already cracked my shortlist of players to feature in the near-term. Cronenworth caught my eye with his microscopic 3.9% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) at Double-A last year. His fairly robust strikeout and walk rates (14.7% and 9.1%, respectively) suggest to me he pairs his elite contact skills with a passive plate approach — think, if it were more aggressive, it might look something akin to Willians Astudillo’s batting line. Cronenworth runs enough to be interesting, collecting 21 stolen bases in 470 plate appearances. He’s an unequivocal minus in the power department, and his paltry .254/.323/.344 further illustrates lackluster batted ball authority for a slappy, speedy fella. Should everything break right — low-teens strikeout rates and walk rates, a decently above-average batting average on balls in play (BABIP), maybe half a dozen home runs — he can make himself a worthwhile regular middle infielder in deeper formats.

Frank Schwindel | 27 | KCR | 1B (AAA)

2nd appearance

Again, Brad’s adoration of Schwindel should not preclude my own adoration. (It’s not as if Brad won’t feature his man-crush Luis Rengifo soon!) Unfortunately, Schwindel was recently optioned to Triple-A. He caught my eye with decent power, running isolated power (ISO) marks north of .200 in consecutive seasons at Triple-A while striking out just 14.4% of 962 PAs. His healthy slash line (.302/.338/.516) lays bare his one flaw that, I argue, makes him a tenable hitter. He walks very infrequently — less than 5% of the time — all but guaranteeing him an on-base percentage liability. However, it’s his aggression that masks subpar contact skills, as evidenced by his 11.5% whiff rate, which is neither awful nor particularly good. A Schwindel who, say, at the MLB level, strikes out 18% and walks 5% of the time strikes me as superior to a Schwindel who, say, strikes out 25% and walks 8% of the time. It’s hard to say. Ideally, we’ll have more opportunities to find out.

Erik Swanson | 25 | SEA | SP (AAA/MLB)

1st appearance
(Previously featured by Cistulli)

(Swanson has gotten the call, been optioned, and gotten the call again. By the time this publishes, he may have been optioned yet again. Shrug.)

Since the start of 2017, Swanson (henceforth “Swanny”) has made a habit of handing out scarcely any walks. To attest: he walked just 3.4% of hitters in 100-plus innings at high-A in 2017 and 4.8% of hitters at Triple-A last year. When his walk rate spiked at Double-A last year, so, too, did his strikeouts, jumping to an enormous 34.8% mark. Despite a lack of ground ball efficacy, he allows few home runs. It appears Swanny’s primary debit as a minor leaguer has been the high BABIPs he allows — an indictment of his defense or, perhaps, his fastball. Per FanGraphs’ prospect report, the fastball aforementioned grades out 60/60 and was once described by our Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel as “the archetypal modern fastball” that “exhibits several of the nuanced traits that aid velocity in missing bats.” They concluded by saying “it’s possible the secondary fastball characteristics are so strong that we’re underselling him a bit.” Their primary concern was Swanny’s command; I’m optimistic past outcomes might foreshadow future outcomes of similar baserunner prohibition.

Denyi Reyes | 22 | BOS | SP (AA)

1st appearance

If I applaud Swanson’s walk prevention, I must laud Reyes’ absolute walk aversion. In 333-ish professional innings, he has walked just 2.6% of hitters, good for a 0.92 walks per nine innings (BB/9) and, coupled with modest strikeout ability, a 8.53 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB). Not more but at least equally impressive is his ability to consistently suppress opponent BABIPs despite evidently living in the zone, allowing a combined .270 mark to date and no higher than .280 at any level and/or in any season since the start of 2016. The result is a pleasing-to-the-eye career 2.11 ERA and 2.70 FIP. McDongenhagen have foretold of Reyes’ “super long arms that help him generate big extension, which help his upper-80s fastball play like one in the low-90s.” To them, he profiles “as an efficient backend starter.” This kind of polish leaves me hoping for something slightly more.

Nick Solak | 24 | TBR | 2B (AAA)

1st appearance

Fewer fruits could be lower-hanging, yet Solak has yet to grace any prominent top-100 prospects list. (He came dang close in FanGraphs’ version, clocking in at 111th, and ranking 9th among Rays exclusively.) Be still, my heart: a power-speed threat with above-average contact skills and a line-drive stroke. By the time Solak debuts, the Rays may have squandered the best of his baserunning days. Still, a 20-homer, 10-steal second baseman who hits for average plays in all formats. McDongenhagen say Solak has “drawn some of the most vociferous makeup raves from scouts of any of the players in the minors,” which, again, makes it feel like I’m practically cheating (he was a 2nd-round draft pick, after all). The full scouting report is an absolute must-read. His biggest problem: that Tampa Bay’s farm is simply too good. Fear not: cream (not always, but often) rises to the top.

Here’s that table.

Players who actively reside on Major League 25-man rosters but have not permanently exhausted their eligibility (and could therefore be featured in future iterations of this series) are highlighted yellow. Players who have exhausted their eligibility by cracking a top-100 prospect list, accruing 60 innings or 130 plate appearances, or otherwise making it impossible to not be ineligible in the future, are highlighted some other color. I have yet to pick the color because no one has yet become permanently ineligible.

Through Five Weeks
Name Age Team Pos Level Weeks Points Notes
Cavan Biggio 23 TOR 2B AAA W3, W4 2
Jake Cronenworth 25 TBR SS AAA W4, W5 2
Frank Schwindel 27 KCR 1B AAA W2, W5 2 Optioned 4/11
Mike Tauchman 28 NYY OF MLB W1 1 Acquired from COL 3/23
Zack Granite 26 TEX OF AAA W1 1 Acquired from MIN 3/3
Myles Straw 24 HOU OF AAA W1 1
Nick Neidert 22 MIA SP AAA W1 1
Matt Swarmer 25 CHC SP AAA W1 1
Ildemaro Vargas 27 ARI 3B MLB W2 1 Recalled 4/5
Drew Jackson 25 BAL OF MLB W2 1
Spencer Turnbull 26 DET SP MLB W2 1
Drew Anderson 25 PHI SP MLB W2 1 Promoted 4/15
Garrett Cooper 28 MIA 1B/OF MLB W3 1 Injured List 4/1
Ryan Hartman 24 HOU SP AAA W3 1
Luis Rengifo 22 LAA 2B/SS AAA W3 1
Brett Sullivan 25 TBR C AAA W3 1
Zac Gallen 23 MIA SP AAA W4 1
Enyel De Los Santos 23 PHI SP AAA W4 1
Luis Barrera 23 OAK OF AA W4 1
Erik Swanson 25 SEA SP AAA W5 1 Optioned 4/12
Denyi Reyes 22 BOS SP AA W5 1
Nick Solak 24 TBR 2B AAA W5 1

Fantasy Fringe Five, 2019 Season, Ep. 3

Consider this the low-hanging fruit Fantasy Fringe Five (FFF). I’ll endeavor to make future installments more fringy. However, given the circumstances — namely, that the season started and folks are already thinking about future waiver wire pursuits — I wanted to highlight some MLB-ready fringe prospects for your dynasty (and potential redraft) consumption. One (or more?) of these guys check the box of almost too good to not be top prospects, which, uh, I guess is the entire premise of this series.

But first, some housekeeping:

Very Important News

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Alex Chamberlain’s 10 Bold Predictions for 2019

Another year, another set of bold predictions, and another introduction to The ProcessTM. I did well last year, hitting on Matt Chapman and Miles Mikolas out-earning their teammates Matt Olson and Luke Weaver despite enormous divides in National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) average draft position (ADP) as well as Madison Bumgarner being worse than a not-top-20 starting pitcher (with an asterisk for his late start in 2019). I might’ve hit more bold predictions last year than in my previous three seasons combined.

Bold predictions can but don’t have to be a frivolous exercise. As fun as it is to slap a 40-homer projection on Franmil Reyes (…should I do that?), I don’t find it particularly illuminating unless it’s supported by evidence. You can make bold predictions without being outrageously bold — it’s exactly what I intended to accomplish last year simply by leveraging what I observed to be extreme market inefficiencies at play. I stuck my neck out for Chapman and Mikolas and Bumgarner, but not as far as folks might think. There was enough evidence in their (and, where applicable, in their teammates’) bodies of work for me to make objectively bold predictions on the basis of draft price or market consensus without them feeling particularly bold to me.

While endeavoring to go 6-for-10 this year just to match last year’s hit rate would be absurd, I do think I can hit another three, at least, in 2019 if I pick my spots correctly. So, here goes: my 10 bold predictions for 2019.

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Draft Review: Tout Wars Head-to-Head Points

This past weekend was Tour Wars weekend in New York City. The committee extended me an invitation, likely by mistake, into its head-to-head points league auction. I’ll take a moment to self-indulge and say it’s pretty surreal to finally, like, reach the pinnacle, in a sense. I appreciate and am endlessly grateful for the kind words folks have extended my way in the past few weeks and months and years.

Rudy Gamble, of Razzball fame and a delightful human being whom I finally met in person Friday night, passed along to me positive feedback about my recent draft recaps (NFBC, TGFBI, Rotoballer mock), which seem to have been a helpful prep tool this preseason for some folks. I endeavor to provide a recap that goes beyond a simple list and self-aggrandizement — it would fundamentally misrepresent my rampant self-doubt. Besides, I think it’s helpful to articulate a plan and, when a plan falls apart, how a plan changes mid-draft.

This draft review differs from previous reviews in that the Tout Wars head-to-head points league spawns from an auction draft and not a snake. (A classic auction, each of the 12 teams was allocated $260 to fill 24-man rosters.) Thus, the structure will vary and may be a bit rough around the edges. Still, let’s give this a shot.

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Fantasy Fringe Five: A (Re)Introduction

You may recognize this, the Fringe Five, as an exercise Carson Cistulli once established and, weekly, pursued at the main FanGraphs site. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I may have an idea. We — Brad Johnson and I, we — don’t expect or even want to replace Cistulli, nor do we intend to replicate or imitate what he could achieve with the written word. What a colossal mistake that would be. I would be lying if I said I never tried. I can sing his praises for days. He was my favorite, and he was probably yours, too.

What we do intend to replicate, however, is Cistulli’s ability to identify market inefficiencies. Fringe Five, while quintessentially Cistullian, was an ongoing exercise in doing so, often successfully, unearthing a list of prominent names that includes Mookie Betts and Charlie Blackmon (and, maybe, one day, Max Schrock). I’m not sure Cistulli would have ever divulged his exact process; in introducing Fringe Five, he only went as far as to say, with emphasis added editorially, the following:

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Draft Review: “Beat Alex Chamberlain” NFBC Rotowire Championship

Allow me to break the fourth wall (more than I normally break the fourth well) and say I’m glad a few of you have enjoyed my recent (mock) draft recaps, especially the format of them. It can be tough to make that kind of content both interesting and informative, so I’m glad it has achieved at least the minimum thresholds in both regards.

(Mock Draft Review: RotoBaller Friends and Family Draft)
(Draft Review: The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational)

I was fortunate enough for the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) to sponsor a “Beat Alex Chamberlain” high-stakes league. It was my first time competing in this specific contest: the $350 Rotowire Online Championship. With that kind of buy-in, I knew I would likely face some sharp competition despite having no prior exposure to any of the other owners.

The league specifications are as follows:

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Draft Review: TGFBI

The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational (TGFBI) is a league of leagues in which hundreds of fantasy baseball analysts square off against one another in 15-team leagues and overall. Three hundred and fifteen competitors will face off in 21 separate leagues to test their wits and all that jazz.

I wrote about my performance last year here. After bottoming out in April, finishing the month 12th of 15 with only 63.5 points, I had the 3rd-best team from May onward, finishing the season 4th in my league and 51st overall out of 195 analysts. Of the $900 or so I spent on free agent auction budget (FAAB), roughly half was spent on chasing saves — of which I accrued only 22. It was a preposterously bad performance in that regard. Only one other team above me in the overall standings collected fewer saves, and maybe three others had fewer than 40. Otherwise, everyone had 60 or more. It stands to reason a sharper FAAB performance could have vaulted me up the standings.

This year, I’m running down my picks as they happen, almost like a diary, although I won’t publish this until the draft is complete. Still, you can track my train of thought as if it were real time.

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Mock Draft Review: RotoBaller Family and Friends Draft

For the fourth consecutive year, my friends at RotoBaller invited me to participate in the RotoBaller Friends and Family mock draft. The draft room was, in a word, terrifying:

  1. Vlad Sedler, Guru Elite
  2. Nick Mariano, RotoBaller
  3. Pierre Camus, RotoBaller
  4. Todd Zola, Mastersball
  5. Tim Heaney, RotoWire
  6. Heath Cummings, CBS Sports
  7. Howard Bender, Fantasy Alarm
  8. Nando Di Fino, The Athletic
  9. Scott Engel, RotoExperts
  10. Alex Chamberlain, RotoGraphs
  11. Ray Flowers, Guru Elite
  12. Real Talk Raph, RotoBaller

I drew the #10 pick (as shown in the draft order above), immediately understanding I might have a difficult decision to make very early in the draft.

This doesn’t need much preamble, but I do want to say one thing: I maintain that a good way to improve as a drafter (for lack of a better word) is to try something you might not ordinarily try or force yourself into an uncomfortable position you might not normally get into. I embraced this discomfort with my first two picks, assembling a base from building blocks I might not normally use given the options available to me. As you’ll see in my concluding remarks, I think I did pretty well.

Also: we were all on a 30-second clock. I don’t know about everyone else, but I was stressed. My internal monologue was utter chaos.

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Re-Contexualizing SwStr% for Efficiency

At the beginning of last season, I contextualized the swinging strike rate (SwStr%) (and refreshed those numbers after the season concluded). I had seen other analysts call certain pitches “above-average,” “below-average,” “elite,” etc. using the league-average whiff rate as a baseline. This is neither a criticism nor a judgment, as I absolutely did this before I had my statistically-driven epiphany. But understanding the average four-seamer’s or slider’s or cutter’s whiff rate lends additional context to any assertion one might make about the “elite-ness” of a pitch.

More recently, I wanted to convert discrete outcomes by pitch type into fielding independent pitching (FIP) statistics — namely, FIP and xFIP (expected FIP, which substitutes a pitcher’s rate of home runs per fly ball for the league-average rate). Let me warn you now: the results are very imperfect. It took some brute force on my part to get there, but I got there. I would wager that the the extreme (lowest and highest) values are probably a bit exaggerated. Regardless, it’s an interesting table to ingest:

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This is the Definitive Mike Tauchman Hype Post

Mike Tauchman deserves nothing less than the clickbaitiest of headlines. He’s my favorite player nearly no one has heard of or cares about, a name I draft that genuinely forces people to Google his name, a Triple-A hitter not only too old to be a prospect but also maybe too old to be a post-hype prospect, if he ever were a prospect, which he never was. No one has heard of or cares about him because of any combination of: (1) he is not and never was a prospect; (2) there are a fair number of actual prospects in Colorado’s actual farm system who are actually exciting; (3) prospect status notwithstanding, he has no path to playing time because the Rockies habitually bury their actually exciting talent. At 28, Tauchman ain’t getting any younger, and I ain’t either. He deserves all the hype he can get, and I’m here to dish it out.

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