Fantasy Fringe Five: Another (Re)Introduction

Astute readers perhaps noted a certain (Re)Introduction of the Fringe Five penned last week by my esteemed colleague Alex Chamberlain. This was a stark departure from previous Fringe Five columns, the totality of which were authored by former FanGraphist Carson Cistulli. Mr. Cistulli has moved on to a better place (Toronto) and so we must carry on his stead.

Alex and I will share this column throughout the year on a bi-weekly basis. Or semi-weekly. Whichever one means we each write once every other week. The internet, in its vast wisdom, seemingly suggests that both words could be correct. Or incorrect.

Anyway. You’ll notice both Alex and I have been infected by an extra helping of writer’s voice, a contagion I am certain can be traced directly to Mr. Cistulli. Behold, relevant words from the breast of Carson himself. To wit, what is this column and how does a player become eligible to participate?

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 three noted top-100 prospect lists (Baseball America’s, Bullpen Banter’s, plus Marc Hulet’s own), and

  • The capacity to stir something within the author’s manly bosom.

Alex described his ideal fringe hitter and pitcher, but I have no such measuring stick. Because I am a fantasy man writing a fantasy column, my only concern is potentiality to provide fantasy production. In this way, the current iteration of Fringe Five is liable to diverge from the past version. Certain attributes such as hitter speed and pitcher strikeout ability may be overrepresented. And, despite this disclaimer, I do have an affinity for the types of prospects described in Alex’s introduction to the series, i.e. Zack Granite.

Mostly, however, this (re)introduced column is a work in progress. For today, I will attempt to use Spring Training data to identify prospects who are presently performing well.

Frank Schwindel

First-time Fringe Fiver

Schwindel, a 26-year-old with nary a plate appearance of major league experience, has consistently performed well against upper minors pitching. This carried into a 54 plate appearance stint with the Royals this spring, during which he batted .327/.379/.531 with three home runs, five strikeouts, three walks, and a stolen base. The following, penned by Kiley McDaniel in 2015, represents nearly the totality of all words written about Schwindel on this internet site.

C Frank Schwindel (favorite of some on the organization, Schwindel is a grinder that was an 18th rounder in 2012 out of St. John’s that’s improved as a receiver and is learning to get to his solid average raw power in games).

Schwindel seemingly discarded the tools of ignorance sometime between 2015 and the present. He’s currently listed as a first baseman. From a statistical perspective, he’s reminiscent of former Phillies fringe prospect Maikel Franco. In 2018, Schwindel posted a .286/.336/.506 batting line at Triple-A with 24 home runs in 556 plate appearances. Notably, and the reason why I compare him to Franco, his power is mixed with an aggressive, low strikeout, high whiff approach (6.1% BB%, 12.8% K%, 10.5% SwStr%).

Ildemaro Vargas

Cistulli Fringe Fiver

Last season, Vargas made one appearance as a part of Cistulli’s Next Five. Notably, Vargas garnered frequent praise from Cistulli prior to last season as evidenced in this Eric Longenhagen dissection of the Diamondbacks farm system, circa May 2018. From the section labeled “Cistulli’s Guy.”

Vargas appeared in this space last year for almost precisely the same collection of reasons he appears here now. Signed by Arizona out of the independent Atlantic League towards the beginning of the 2015 season, he proceeded to record the second-lowest strikeout rate among affiliated hitters who also recorded 300 plate appearances. In 2016, facing Double- and Triple-A opposition, Vargas produced the third-lowest strikeout rate among affiliated hitters who also recorded 300 plate appearances. Last year, faced Triple-A competition almost exclusively and once again recorded the second-lowest strikeout rate among affiliated hitters who also recorded 300 plate appearances. Between his bat-to-ball skills and capacity to play the middle infield, Vargas needn’t do much else to provide an adequate baseline of value.

In continuing to play baseball mostly in the upper-minors, Vargas recorded 572 Triple-A plate appearances through which he posted a .311/.348/.445 batting line with seven home runs, 10 stolen bases, and healthy contact skills (5.2% BB%, 8.0% K%, 5.0% SwStr%). He has performed similarly through 63 spring plate appearances. Vargas is a now 27-year-old ground ball hitter who may need a change in approach if he hopes to be deployed as more than a utility fielder.

Drew Jackson

First-time Fringe Fiver

Jackson, 25, is a Rule 5 pick and thus must remain on a major league roster or else be offered back to the Dodgers of Los Angeles. After a breakout season in Double-A, during which he batted .251/.356/.447 with 15 home runs and 22 steals, Jackson has performed ably this spring. Through 59 plate appearances, he has accrued a .327/.367/.400 batting line with a home run and a steal. He has not demonstrated the gap power which may be his carrying trait. Per the McDongenhagen collective:

Jackson has plenty in the way of pure tools: he’s a plus runner with a plus-plus arm and is average defensively at shortstop. He can play all over the diamond and has some raw power and now has lift to his swing, which the Dodgers added over the past few seasons. There isn’t a ton of feel to hit and scouts who were betting that getting away from Stanford — combined with his athleticism –would unlock more offensive potential are running out of time to be proven right, but Jackson could still be a good utility type.

A “good utility type” in the form of Jonathan Villar is arguably the best hitter on the Orioles. By the transitive property, Jackson could be, arguably, the Orioles best hitter. He’s presently battling fellow Rule 5 pick Richie Martin for the starting shortstop job – a role they are likely to share. As such, this may be Jackson’s only appearance in this column.

Spencer Turnbull

First-time Fringe Fiver

Turnbull, remarkably, did not appear in any 2018 edition of the Fringe Five despite possessing the traits of such a player. The 26-year-old was last described as a prospect on this website in 2016 when he ranked 18th of 19 Tigers prospects. Per Longenhagen,

Turnbull’s command makes him a likely bullpen piece and he could be quite good there. He’s been into the upper 90s before and could approach that again in short outings, assuming good health. At that point you hope the slider also plays up and he can be more than just a middle-inning contributor.

Presently, he is a candidate – along with Daniel Norris – to fill a vacant spot in the Tigers rotation. As a starting pitcher in the upper minors, Turnbull posted over a strikeout per inning with a tolerable walk rate. He is a modest ground ball pitcher with a sufficient swinging strike rate to provide some value in starts against the hapless Royals, if not other, better opponents. A future in the bullpen remains likely. Through 15 spring innings, he’s posted a 1.80 ERA with 15 strikeouts and just two walks.

Drew Anderson

First-time Fringe Fiver

Anderson, a command and control righty best known for, erm, command and control, has supposedly tinkered with tunneling and pitch usage this spring. The results include a 0.71 ERA, eight strikeouts, and four walks, in 12.2 innings. A member of the 40-man roster, Anderson will likely receive opportunities to pitch at the Philadelphia level of the Phillies system later this season. And now, words according to McDongenhagen circa this past January:

Anderson was off and on the DL a bunch in 2016, his first year back from Tommy John, but his stuff blossomed anyway and he was a surprise 40-man add that November. The Phillies have continued to develop him as a starter and he’ll likely compete for the rotation’s fifth spot in the spring. He has a four-pitch mix, and can spin a solid breaking ball. He’s a No. 5 or 6 starter type.

In 104.2 innings at the Triple-A level, Anderson posted an acceptable 3.87 ERA with 7.22 K/9 and 2.49 BB/9. He skews towards fly balls which is not an ideal fit for Citizen’s Bank Park. Successful pitchers who fit his statistical profile include Mike Fiers, Tanner Roark, and Trevor Williams. Also, very many unsuccessful pitchers.

Honorable Mention: Jalen Beeks has thrown 50.2 major league innings and thus was ineligible for inclusion. He has performed to mixed results this spring including a 6.23 ERA but also 21 strikeouts in 13 innings.

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Beeks was working on his slider with the Rays coaches this spring, which explains the bloated ERA. He’s always had the goods and was the top Red Sox pitching prospect, coming over in the Eovaldi deal. He struck out 7 of the 9 Braves regulars he faced the other day, so I’m aboard.