Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.07

Another week, another installment of Peripheral Prospects. Through six weeks — three from me, three from esteemed colleague Brad Johnson — we have featured 26 different players with whom one or both of us express(es) some degree of infatuation.

The aim is simple: identify players who (1) have little to no hype as a prospect, having missed all major top-100 lists; (2) have not exhausted their rookie eligibility yet; and (3) are reasonably close to the majors, such that you’re not dreaming on talent that projects dubiously from the low minors. The rules are not hard-and-fast; it would be a shame to not mention certain players who we think exceed the credit they’ve been given. Accordingly, we will relax the constraints every now and then to make accommodations.

Before I dive into my weekly five, some quick housekeeping, per usual:

  • Mike Tauchman is the first and only Peripheral Prospect to formally graduate, having exhausted his rookie eligibility April 26. With the Yankees ravaged by injuries, Tauchman’s extended tryout will last longer than his current .186 batting average should allow. He currently sports nearly twice as many extra-base hits as singles and an 8.6% swinging strike rate (SwStr%) that’s notably better than the league average. There’s time yet for some course correction.
  • I won’t feature him, at least not yet, because it would be thrice in four weeks if I did. But, it would behoove me to mention how well Zac Gallen has performed to date. Through five starts, he has struck out almost eight times as many hitters as he has walked while drumming up a ground ball rate (GB%) north of 50% and a robust 13.3% swinging strike rate. He could be up with the Marlins club in short order, if you’re looking for a speculative play that will only stay under wraps for so much longer.
  • Congratulations to Luis Rengifo for his recent call-up.
  • Apologies to anyone who started Erik Swanson during his two-start week last week.

I’m definitely relaxing some constraints this week, featuring the 99th-ranked hitter from Baseball America’s 2019 top-100 prospects and two Cleveland players below Double-A. I do not bear this burden lightly; I know if I must feature anyone that forces a relaxation of the constraints, I must have a damn good reason for doing so.

Josh Naylor | 22 | SDP | 1B/OF (AAA)

1st appearance

Naylor caught my eye last year prior to him cracking a top-100 list (although, in fairness, he is a former 1st-round draftee, so it’s not like he was ever some unknown). With 17 home runs and nearly as many walks (11.1%) as strikeouts (12.0%) underpinned by a 6.9% swinging strike rate, Naylor exhibited a certain polish one doesn’t typically see for 21-year-old first basemen at Double-A. With a little bit of speed, he kind of reminded me of Jake Bauers, who offensive profile also doesn’t quite fit the typical first base mold.

Fast-forward to 2019: he has already hit seven home runs in 112 plate appearances while walking more than he has struck out (14.3% to 12.5%) with an isolated power identical to his current batting average (.305). For the mathematically disinclined, that shakes out to a .305/.402/.611 slash line. Hitting 39% better than the league ain’t bad for kid who has yet to turn 22.

The Padres moved Naylor from first base to the outfield. While this seems like it would be a positive development, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel see Naylor’s outfield defense as legitimately prohibitive. Some McDongenhagen snippets:

  • “His speed, defense, position, and thick frame have always been below average, but luckily Naylor’s bat has carried him this far and it appears it will carry him to a big league career of some consequence.” (2/13/19)
  • “If he learns to attack the right pitches, he’ll hit so much that it won’t matter that he doesn’t really have a defensive home.” (4/9/19)

Here’s how my editor feels about Naylor:

Matt Beaty | 26 | LAD | 1B/3B/OF (AAA)

1st appearance

Quick, a blind résumé of two hitters from the same farm at the same level in different years:

Dodger Blind Résumé
Season PA HR SB BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ FB% SwStr%
Player A (2016) 529 13 2 8.3% 12.7% 0.273 0.336 0.407 113 31.9% 6.3%
Player B (2017) 481 15 3 7.3% 11.2% 0.326 0.378 0.505 147 34.6% 6.0%

For all intents and purposes, those season are identical. The plate disciplines are effectively carbon copies of each other; the latter demonstrated more power and a higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP), both of which might be legitimately acquired skills. That’s a discussion for a subsequent paragraph. This paragraph seeks to reiterate how much Beaty (Player B!) resembled, at one point, a potentially superior statistical version of Alex Verdugo (Player A!), not just at Double-A but since then, too.

Normally a third baseman, the Dodgers have moved him all over at Triple-A as he continues to walk nearly as often as he strikes out and sports a home run-to-fly ball rate (HR/FB) twice as high as his swinging strike rate. Longenhagen wasn’t quite was impressed with Beaty’s bat — realistically, Verdugo is an upside version of Beaty, not the other way around — and has reservations about ongoing health concerns. The Dodgers are notorious for burying their talent, especially outfield talent, but a way out of L.A. (or a desire to have two Verdugos at once) could make Beaty a decent high-average, modest-power hitter, and possibly an adequate fantasy bat.

Joshua Rojas | 25 | HOU | 2B (AA)

1st appearance
(Previously featured by Cistulli)

Rojas could be judged almost exclusively by the company he shares in this particular Fringe Five post from Carson Cistulli: David Fletcher, Josh James, Chris Paddack, Cedric Mullins, Rengifo, and Swanson. That is the Chamberlain dream right there.

Rojas continues to do what he does best: run like hell while minimizing the difference between his strikeouts and walks. If that’s Rojas’ modus operandi, he has perfectly optimized thus far in 2019, walking exactly as often as he has struck out (14.6%) through 82 plate appearances with eight stolen bases and a home run to boot. While there’s not a lot of power there, a career minor league ISO of .163 is nothing to sneeze at for a speedster.

It would like garnish Rojas with far too much praise to say he’s a very poor man’s Jose Altuve. Yet, with flashes of the same power and a similar speed-contact profile, it’s not crazy to consider Altuve a 99th-percentile outcome for Rojas. More realistically, Rojas pairs excellent speed with solid on-base skills that could make him substantially more impressive than the typical one-dimensional speedster.

Jacob Wilson | 28 | WAS | 2B (AAA)

2nd appearance

Yeah, Wilson’s going HAM. A long time ago, Wilson appeared on such lists as “The Top-Five Cardinals Prospects by Projected WAR” and “Looking for the Next Paul Goldschmidt.” Both were published in 2015, which says a lot about Wilson’s stock in the last half-decade. At his best — in short, fleeting 100- to 150-PA bursts — he hit for impressive power (.200+ ISO) with a strikeout rate south of 20%. More recently, he hit three home runs in 364 PA as a 27-year-old.

Then 2019 happened. Wilson has already accrued 10 home runs in 91 PA, already eclipsing his 2018 total and more than halfway to 2017’s tally of 17, which he accumulated in more than 500 PA. More importantly, he has swung and missed only 8.1% of the time, thereby keeping his strikeouts to a minimum (14.3%) while taking walks in the double-digits (12.1%). Not all small samples are noise. I think it’s fair to see such a substantial improvement and attribute it to a tangible change.

What that tangible change is, I have no idea. But there’s enough evidence for me to have faith in a late-career synthesis of the power and contact skills that once moved our Chris Mitchell to utter Wilson and Goldschmidt in the same breath. Most interestingly, Wilson is a natural second baseman, and middle infield is where the Nationals have suffered most mightily this season. Trea Turner is due back eventually, Brian Dozier is owed some money, and Cater Kieboom recently got the call, but none of those occurrences preclude the possibility of a Wilson call-up.

Eli Morgan | 23 | CLE | SP (A+)

1st appearance

It stands to reason there’s a tree somewhere in Cleveland where pitches of Morgan’s ilk simply grow, and the front office wanders outside every now and then, plucks one from the branches, jams him up the pipeline, and turns him into a bona fide mid-rotation starter. Morgan has held my attention for years now, posted gaudy strikeout numbers with tidy walk rates. As a 23-year-old in High-A ball, I can no longer wait for him to reach Double-A to satisfy my “proximity to the majors” criteria. (Realistically, he should get promoted any day now.)

Through five starts, Morgan has struck out 38.1% of hitters and walked just 4.1%, good for a robust 9.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB). In 37 career minor league starters, his numbers appear as follows: 30.6% K, 5.7% BB (24.9% K-BB), 5.34 K/BB, .210 average allowed, 2.62 ERA, 2.82 FIP. No matter how you slice it, Morgan has been excellent, with the caveat that he has faced exclusively lower-level competition. Regardless, few pitchers exhibit this kind of command and whiff aptitude at any level. His only knock against him might be a low ground ball rate (GB%), but low ground ball rates and professional success are not mutually exclusive.

Per McDongenhagen, Morgan has “one of the better changeups in the minors,” which helps mask subpar fastball velocity. He also appeared on a McDaniel list intriguingly titled “The Next Prospects Who Could Pull a [Tyler] Glasnow” as a pitcher who possesses above-average command and “some funk/deception which, during the third time through the order, becomes less effective against MLB hitters.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Morgan is averaging under six innings per start this year (and barely more than five innings per start at High-A last year). Perhaps he is most effectively deployed in spurts. He sounds like a prime candidate for an opener. Regardless of his fate, he has acquired this author’s long-lasting attention.

* * *

The Table

2019 Peripheral Prospects
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
Zac Gallen 23 MIA SP AAA W4, W6 2
Jacob Wilson 28 WAS 2B AAA W6, W7 2
Mike Tauchman 28 NYY OF MLB W1 1 Exhausted rookie eligibility 4/26
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 AAA W2 1
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 MLB W3 1 Recalled 4/25
Brett Sullivan 25 TBR C AAA W3 1
Enyel De Los Santos 23 PHI SP AAA W4 1
Luis Barrera 23 OAK OF AA W4 1
Erik Swanson 25 SEA SP MLB W5 1 Recalled 4/15
Denyi Reyes 22 BOS SP AA W5 1
Nick Solak 24 TBR 2B AAA W5 1
Rhett Wiseman 24 WAS OF AA W6 1
Tyler Beede 25 SFG SP MLB W6 1 Recalled 4/10
Lucas Sims 24 CIN SP AAA W6 1
Josh Naylor 22 SDP 1B/OF AAA W7 1
Matt Beaty 25 LAD 1B AAA W7 1
Josh Rojas 25 HOU 1B/2B AAA W7 1
Eli Morgan 22 CLE SP A+ W7 1
Orange = graduated
Yellow = on 25-man MLB roster

Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Featured in Lindy's magazine (2018, 2019), Rotowire magazine (2021), and Baseball Prospectus (2022). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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3 years ago

re: Jacob Wilson. Barring injury cataclysm, where the heck would he play?

2B: Dozier/Kendrick/Kieboom
SS: Turner/Kieboom
3B: Rendon/Kendrick

Plus Difo and Sanchez as glove men who can play any of the above, and Jake Noll who’s twice been called up as a backup 3B