Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.09

Behold! Another installment of Peripheral Prospects, the low-price, off-brand fantasy baseball version of Fringe Five. Brad Johnson and I have brought something on the order of five minor leaguers per week who make us feel — like, really feel. These players tend to be unloved and unheralded but very much deserving of love and, uh, herald, not unlike the two authors of this series.

Some quick housekeeping, per usual:

  • The last player to miss the cut for my post two weeks ago, Josh VanMeter had been crushing Triple-A pitching and very deservedly got the call between two weeks ago and today. His MLB opportunities have been scarce to date, but he made the most of his minor league reps, hitting an absurd 13 home runs in just 131 plate appearances. He also tacked on five stolen bases while striking out 17.6% of the time and walking 13.0% of the time. Naturally, he checks all of my boxes: demonstrably above-average plate discipline (and/or contact skills) with one or more other above-average tools.

    That VanMeter not only annihilated Triple-A pitching without sacrificing his plate approach but also chipped in a few steals made him absolutely fascinating. Only 24, it’s easy to see VanMeter carving out a long-term role with the Reds eventually. Even if the power doesn’t pan out (think .150 ISO, not .400), the on-base percentage and run game could play up enough to make him a useful fantasy regular.

    Anyway, VanMeter gets last week’s honorary mention this week.

  • Congrats to Matt Beaty on your fortuitously timed promotion and first Major League hit!

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Devin Smeltzer | 23 | MIN | SP (AAA)

1st appearance

It has become increasingly difficult to ignore Smeltzer. Probably the second-to-last player I cut two weeks ago (there are quite a few players who have piqued my interest this year!), Smeltzer has gained some traction among deep prospectors. Consider this Tweet and post from Prospects 365’s Ray Butler and this scouting report and video from Prospects Live’s (and fellow Tout Wars competitor) Ralph Lifshitz.

My purely statistical, computer-nerd, never-played-a-day-in-your-life stat line scouting: a 30.6% strikeout rate (K%) and 2.8% walk rate (BB%) is really, really good. I know, I know — tough sell.

As always, while Smeltzer’s more immediate performance (which earned him a quick promotion from Double-A to Triple-A) is impressive, even his prior performance deserves merit. Across 2017-18 and multiple organizations (he was acquired from the Dodgers by the Twins in the Brian Dozier trade), Smeltzer struck out more than nine hitters and walked fewer than two hitters per nine innings, good for a robust 4.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K-BB) and 18.7% strikeout-minus-walk rate (K-BB%). In other words, Smeltzer showed what can be characterized as at least modest skills prior to 2019. This year, he may have taken the vaunted next step.

Only Smeltzer can receive such high praise from Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel as “one of baseball’s funkiest deliveries.” They add icing to an already delightful cake: “Repertoire depth, plus fastball and breaking ball spin, and efficient strike-throwing all mix with the mechanical deception to enable Smeltzer’s success despite a lack of velocity.” (Also: Smeltzer was featured alongside Peripheral Prospect Eli Morgan in “The Next Prospects Who Could Pull a [Tyler] Glasnow.”) If that doesn’t scream Peripheral Prospect, I don’t know what does.

Garrett Whitlock | 23 | NYY | SP (AA)

1st appearance

It’s one thing to strike out roughly four times as many hitters as you walk. It’s another thing to do so while inducing ground balls at an unusually high rate. Whitlock struggled in his first taste of Double-A last year, but four more starts against tougher competition has seen him return to the high-K, low-BB, high-GB ways that propelled his success at Single-A last year. A 26.6% strikeout rate and 7.6% walk rate will fly, but it looks even better with a 54.3% walk rate.

I’m not saying Whitlock will crack the big-league rotation anytime soon, but the Yankees have shown a knack for developing (or at least identifying) pitching talent, despite their long-standing reputation for simply purchasing talent. Whitlock, once again, checks all the peripherally peripheral boxes, per McDongenhagen: slightly awkward arm action and release (check); throwing his sinker down in the zone (check); not a ton or starters who look like this or pitch like this (check). The excitement for Whitlock is a completely different kind of excitement that one might feel or have felt for Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga, but excitement is excitement nonetheless.

Danny Mendick | 25 | CHW | 2B/SS/3B (AAA)

1st appearance
(Previously featured in Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five)

After putting together a healthy 14-homer, 20-steal, .247/.340/.395 line (111 wRC+) at Double-A last year, Mendick has more than picked up where he left off, quickly compiling six homers, eight steals, and a 116 wRC+ in 138 PA at Triple-A. Good contact skills and some patience keep his strikeout rate below 20% and his walk rate in the double-digits — a positive development for a hitter whose primary (but not only) tool is speed. Mendick also hits for some power, making him a relevant double-digit power-speed threat.

The batting average will likely always leave something to be desired; Mendick’s career .289 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is decidedly lackluster in terms of Major League projection. For a speedy hitter, it more likely testifies to frequently poor batted ball quality despite a solid plate approach. Perhaps most critical to his success would be a continuously decent on-base percentage (OBP).

While the White Sox can boast about rolling out Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson on the left side of the infield, the outfield and keystone fail to inspire confidence. An infielder by trade, Mendick has seen nonzero time in left field, perhaps foreshadowing a future utility role with the big-league club. Per McDongenhagen: “a versatile infielder with terrific control of the strike zone[…] his career peripherals are strong and may be an indication that we’re sleeping on him a bit because of his age.”

Ljay Newsome | 22 | SEA | SP (A+)

1st appearance

Newsome violates one of the central tenets of Peripheral Prospectdom — he’s a little too far from the bigs to make an impact anytime soon — yet I can’t help but ogle at his current High-A accomplishments. In seven starts (39 innings and change), Newsome has struck out 59 and and walked just four, resulting in a comically good 14.75 K/BB and 35.7% K-BB, underpinned by a very, very, very good 16.9% swinging strike rate (SwStr%).

Not bad for a 22-year-old former 26th-rounder. The 785th pick in 2015, it’s fair to call Newsome an afterthought, about as close to a throwaway pick as you can get. Yet here he is, absolutely terrorizing High-A hitters, communicating there’s absolutely nothing left for him to prove here. He’s a level too low for now, but it’s only a matter of time until he’s in Double-A and, if all goes according to plan, in Triple-A by September.

Little has been written of Newsome at FanGraphs. Longenhagen attended one of Newsome’s starts about a month ago, leading his evaluation with, “We touch base on players like Newsome when we write the org lists.” There are certainly better ways to introduce a player, yet the line that immediately precedes Longenhagen’s introduction described Newsome’s awesome performance: 6.2, 4 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 10 K. Having sat high-80s for years, apparently Newsome took part in an offseason velo program and now sits 91-94. A little velocity can go a long way, especially when you don’t have to sacrifice command to reap its benefits. It appears our resident prospect savant has warmed on Newsome. As our resident idiot savant, I’m unabashedly all in.

Parker Markel | 28 | SEA | RP (AAA)

1st appearance

Would Markel normally classify as a peripheral prospect, let alone a normal prospect? Hardly at all. Having last seen a minor league mound in 2016, he pursued other opportunities in independent baseball. Then, suddenly, the Mariners purchased 28-year-old Markel’s contract prior to the season — and he promptly struck out two thirds of the hitters he faced at Double-A.

Granted, that’s only 27 hitters he faced, but I’m willing to believe a two-thirds strikeout rate in the smallest of samples indicates some statistically significant modicum of proficiency. Between 60 hitters faced at Double-A and Triple-A this year, he has struck out 30 of them. For the mathematically disinclined, that’s a 50% strikeout rate. I’m no doctor, but it seems to me the Mariners brass saw something in Markel, and pounced.

One might be wary to pledge allegiance to a journeyman reliever with hardly 15 minor league innings under his belt in the last three years. Yet, in a sea of unmitigated bullpen disasters, Seattle’s ranks among the most disastrous, making Markel’s presence and lofty achievements on the farm particularly auspicious. Again, the circumstances surrounding his arrival and success make it incredibly difficult to know what the remainder of his season might hold. It’s not hard to imagine, though, that he could eventually be asked to help hold together a floundering relief corps. If you play in deep dynasty leagues or deep redraft formats with thin waiver wires, Markel warrants at least some attention.

* * *

The Table

The Table
Name Age Team Pos Level Weeks Points
Zac Gallen 23 MIA SP AAA W4, W6, W8 3
Jacob Wilson 28 WAS 2B AAA W6, W7, W8 3
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
Mike Tauchman 28 NYY OF MLB W1 1
Zack Granite 26 TEX OF AAA W1 1
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
Drew Jackson 25 BAL OF AAAA 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
Ryan Hartman 24 HOU SP AAA W3 1
Luis Rengifo 22 LAA 2B/SS MLB W3 1
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
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
Lucas Sims 24 CIN SP AAA W6 1
Josh Naylor 22 SDP 1B/OF AAA W7 1
Matt Beaty 25 LAD 1B MLB W7 1
Josh Rojas 25 HOU 1B/2B AAA W7 1
Eli Morgan 22 CLE SP A+ W7 1
Rylan Bannon 23 BAL 2B/3B A+ W8 1
Jorge Ona 22 SDP OF AA W8 1
Zach Plesac 24 CLE SP AA W8 1
Devin Smeltzer 23 MIN SP AAA W9 1
Parker Markel 28 SEA RP AAA W9 1
Garrett Whitlock 22 NYY SP AA W9 1
Danny Mendick 25 CHW 2B/SS AAA W9 1
Ljay Newsome 22 SEA SP A+ W9 1

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

Thanks again for these articles. Could you remind me again about what the difference is between a blue and a yellow row in the table? I imagine it’s about being called up to the big leagues, but don’t quite understand the color significance.