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
- Congratulations to Mike Tauchman, an inaugural nominee who, at what amounts to the last minute, was acquired by the New York Yankees and immediately displaced Tyler Wade on the 25-man roster, much to the chagrin of Wade as well as Yankee fans, almost all of whom had never heard of Tauchman. By the transitive property of baseball mathematics, I must resign myself to taking full credit for this acquisition. Best of luck to My Little King. (The Yankees went on the record to express their optimism in a potentially glaring market inefficiency.)
- Congratulations to Frank Schwindel, last week’s headline name, for breaking camp with the Kansas City Royals. It would behoove me to tell you that Brad Johnson (this series’ other author) and I do not share our FFF lists with each other. So it surprised me, pleasantly, to see Johnson mention Schwindel, who also graced my private list. Schwindel caught my eye by pairing admirable power with a combination of contact skills and aggression that results in both low strikeout and walk rates. To attest: 41 home runs in 962 Triple-A plate appearances the last two years while striking out only 13.5% of the time (but also walking only 4.6% of the time). Were there a leaderboard, Schwindel might sit atop it. Alas, I aspire not to repeat too many names unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The Nearly Perfect, but Ineligible, Fringe Fiver
- Few players embody the spirit of the Fantasy Fringe Five more than Nathaniel Lowe. Lowe had adorned my mental fringe prospect list for most of 2018, smacking 27 home runs across 555 A+-AA-AAA plate appearances while slashing .330/.416/.568 (178 wRC+) and walking (12.3%) nearly as often as he struck out (16.2%). He shows uncanny polish, pairing above-average power and contact to assemble a very underrated fantasy (and probably real-life) asset. Lowe finally graced a top-100 prospect list, landing the #97 spot on Baseball America’s pre-2019 list, rendering him ineligible for the FFF. I consider the Rays’ trade of Jake Bauer an implicit announcement of their faith in Lowe as their first baseman of the future.
With that out of the way, let me acknowledge, again, that these names might seem like low-hanging fruit to you. Maybe you haven’t heard of them! That’s fine, too — better, one might say. Most of all, I think one, if not three (or even five, should zaniness ensue), could have legitimate redraft impact this year while checking all the boxes of a (Fantasy) Fringe Fiver. It’s probably best to talk about them before it’s too late to do so.
Garrett Cooper, MIA OF (MLB)
First-time Fringe Fiver
The timing is not particularly fortuitous, given Cooper recently hit the injured list. Coop was one of my bold prediction guys last year. Always a decent-enough bat but nothing special, Cooper out of nowhere torched Triple-A pitching in 2017, collecting 17 home runs in just 320 plate appearances. For comparison, it took him more than three times longer (974 PA) to collect his previous 17 home runs, across two years in lower levels of competition. Of course, what caught my eye was not only power but also contact: he struck out only 15% of the time (underpinned by an above-average 8.2% swinging strike rate) while achieving a double-digit walk rate. The improvement was so sudden, it struck me as more than just noise. Unfortunately, Cooper missed almost all of last year due to injuries and, uh, looks set to miss more time again. Still, when he was healthy, he had the Marlins’ commitment as their primary right fielder — and clean-up hitter.
Luis Rengifo, LAA 2B/SS (AAA)
Cistulli Fringe Fiver
It’s easy to see why Rengifo made multiple Cistulli Fringe Five lists last year; in 590 plate appearances across three levels last year, he hit seven home runs, stole 41 bases, and — you probably guessed it — walked exactly as often as he struck out (12.7%). His 134 wRC+ wasn’t otherworldly, but solid, perhaps excellent, on-base skills (.399 OBP) will get the job done for a guy whose value is tied to his legs. And with non-zero power (.153 ISO) and batted ball efficacy (.339 BABIP), Rengifo could wind up a high-contact, high-average speedster à la Ender Inciarte or, more optimistically, Lorenzo Cain. The Angels are pressed for quality infield options outside of Andrelton Simmons, whose time expires in 2020. It’s not difficult to imagine a future infield tandem of Taylor Ward, Rengifo, and David Fletcher in 2020 or even this year.
Ryan Hartman, HOU SP (AA)
First-time Fringe Fiver
Hartman is a former 9th-round pick with literally zero news items on his FanGraphs page, yet he led all of Double-A in strikeouts minus walks (24.5% K-BB) and swinging strikes (13.9% SwStr) last year. In 18 starts, he compiled a masterful 29.9% strikeout rate compared to a tidy 5.4% walk rate (which, for the arithmetically disinclined, is a 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB)). Only a couple of months ago, The Runner Sports published a feature titled, “A Wacky Southpaw? Astros’ Ryan Hartman Embraces the Stereotype,” which says pretty much all you need to know about the basis of his success and lack of recognition. In 2018, being a pitching prospect in the Astros’ system felt like a nowhere road. But with the team’s rotation in flux, Hartman could find himself making a cameo in the bigs, although most realistically in the bullpen rather than the rotation.
Cavan Biggio, TOR 2B (AA)
Cistulli Fringe Fiver
In terms of low-hanging fruit, this one feels especially so. Biggio posted a bananas 26-homer, 20-steal, .887 OPS campaign in Double-A last year, illustrating his upside. His downside is seen quite clearly elsewhere: he struck out in 26.3% of plate appearances, and his .252 batting average somehow increased from his mark in Single-A. However, his robust walk rate (17.8%) and decent contact skills (9.9% SwStr) paint the portrait of a hitter that’s far more passive than he is contact-deficient. More aggression could whittle away at Biggio’s strikeouts (and boost his average) significantly — i.e., a potentially malleable approach down the road. In the meantime, his .388 OBP and .247 ISO still made him firmly above-average for his level. There’s a strong Joc Pederson flavor here.
Brett Sullivan, TBR C (AAA)
First-time Fringe Fiver
Easily the fringiest of this crop, Sullivan is a 25-year-old former-17th-round catching non-prospect stalled out at Double-A. In 111 games at Double-A last ear, Sullivan hit seven home runs and stole 17 bases while striking out just 11.8% of the time. This is all par for the course for Sullivan: he consistently sports above-average baserunning acumen, (very) modest power, and excellent contact skills. It’s nothing to write home about, even for a catcher, yet Sullivan’s projected .281 wOBA (by Steamer) would rank second behind Mike Zunino among catchers on the Rays’ depth chart. His biggest flaw, unfortunately, is what Baseball Prospectus perceives to be bottom-of-the-barrel framing skills. If he continues to be a massive liability, he will be unplayable behind the plate — and, thus, unplayable anywhere else. But if you are in a preposterously deep dynasty league and need a catcher who can run, can “hit for average” (which, for catchers, means hit .240 or .250), and is absurdly fringy, Sullivan’s your guy.
|3/18/2019||Mike Tauchman||28||NYY||OF||MLB||Acquired from COL 3/23|
|3/18/2019||Zack Granite||26||TEX||OF||AAA||Last man cut in spring|
|3/18/2019||Myles Straw||24||HOU||OF||AAA||Listed as IF on AAA roster|
|4/1/2019||Garrett Cooper||28||MIA||1B/OF||MLB||Injured list 3/31|