Peripheral Prospects, Ep. 1.12

Yo! It’s been a hot minute (read: a month) since Brad or I published a Peripheral Prospects piece. Sometimes, life gets in the way. Such distinct absences aren’t so bad, after all — it allowed us a little more time for some of the season’s early conquests to flesh out in larger samples.

Around this time last year, I became enamored with a hitter about whom no one knew hardly anything at the time but of whom everyone has heard now: Jeff McNeil.

At the time, Pete Alonso was slaughtering Double-A pitching. But so, too, was McNeil, with a strikeout rate (K%) below 10% — and a higher isolated power (ISO) than that of Alonso, the Mets’ premier power-oriented prospect. Between Double-A and Triple-A, Alonso finished with the higher ISO (.295 to .274), but McNeil, thanks to superior contact skills and (non-homer) batted ball efficacy, produced a wRC+ almost 20 points higher.

Fast-forward to today: McNeil is accomplishing Wade Boggsian feats, hitting an absurd .340/.398/.494 (144 wRC+) through his first 526 plate appearances with nine home runs and stolen bases apiece. The full-season line is a kind of Lite version of Michael Brantley at his peak, when he was averaging something like 15 homers, 15 steals, and an average well over .300.

McNeil is the quintessential Peripheral Prospect: unloved by top prospect lists, too old for his level, his late-career breakout disregarded by most (and for as long as the Mets could reasonably do so, until he forced their hand).

Let’s find ourselves another McNeil. (Although — spoiler — there isn’t really anyone like him right now.)

Ty France | 24 | SDP | 3B (AAA/MLB)

1st appearance

Another day, another Padres fringe prospect going HAM. France already has 107 PA at the Major League level, but let’s focus instead on his Triple-A accolades. In 165 PAs in El Paso, France hit .386/.467/.857 with 18 home runs, good for a 210 wRC+ — the highest mark of any hitter with at least 150 PA between all of Double-A and Triple-A this year.

Of course, what catches my eye, aside from the video game numbers, is something that suggests sustainability: a 14.5% strikeout rate, underpinned by a tidy 8.9% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). The 6.1% walk rate (BB%) leaves something to be desired, but when you’re ripping covers off of baseballs, it’s hard to complain.

What’s interesting to me, beyond the fact that his 54.5% home run-to-fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is utterly ridiculous, is it comes with a career-low 28.4% fly ball rate (FB%). Neither seems like a harbinger for success, but the shallower launch angle suggests to me there might be a legitimate change in approach here that fantasy owners can bank on long-term — that is, it’s not all Pacific Coast League (PCL) smoke and mirrors. Per our Eric Longenhagen: “He’s exactly the kind of hitter to whom the PCL is extra nice, but he’s hit at every level since college and, save for one season, has also hit for power, and his current SLG% is more caricature than mirage.”

Jake Cronenworth | 25 | TBR | SS (AAA)

3rd appearance

Cronenworth deserves yet another appearance if only to disprove my own libelous excerpt. Back in April, I attributed to Cronenworth a fundamental lack of power — which was fine, because Cronenworth’s calling card was plus-plus contact and above-average speed. What I obviously underestimated was the missing piece to the puzzle: since April 15, Cronenworth has amassed nine home runs in 264 PA, good for a .223 ISO. His .330/.428/.554 line in that span, with nine stolen bases and absolutely glowing strikeout and walk rates (13.6% and 12.9%, respectively), rolls up to a 152 wRC+.

Maybe I stand corrected. Maybe Cronenworth is my McNeil for 2019. Because if Cronenworth can put together 15-15-.280 seasons at the big-league level, that’ll do, pig, that’ll do.

D.J. Stewart | 25 | BAL | OF (AAA/MLB)

1st appearance

Stewart’s journey to Major League relevance has been circuitous, and he’s still not quite there yet. As a 1st-rounder out of Florida State, Stewart pretty much failed to immediately make himself a standout prospect in a weak Baltimore farm system. Per FanGraphs’ team prospect pipelines, Stewart fell from 8th to 2015 to 16th to 2017 to, well, 16th again in 2019, but out of 18 total prospects. For comparison, Longenhagen and McDaniel ranked, like, 50 prospects in the Rays organization — and it stands to reason most of them would have outranked Stewart were he in the Rays’ system, too. (In his defense, KATOH, my favorite proprietary “projection” system, still liked Stewart a fair amount as recently as 2018.)

That said, it’s fair to think, or at least hope, that Stewart has turned a corner this yaer. He has shown his usual combination of power and speed, but with a little more balance. Most importantly, he walked more than he struck out in 187 Triple-A PA while tallying a career-high ISO (.270). The convergence of long-dormant power and plate discipline could make for a kind of Daniel Vogelbachian breakout — and allegedly at 6 feet, 230 pounds, the comparison wouldn’t be limited strictly to stats.

Stewart recently began a minor-league rehab assignment and could rejoin the Orioles fairly soon. He has squandered the 25 PA allocated to him thus far, but it’s unreasonable to judge a man on a week’s worth of performance. Keep an eye on Stewart — he might put together an out-of-nowhere Dwight Smith Jr. type of breakout, too.

Ashton Goudeau | 26 | COL | SP (AA)

1st appearance

Something I don’t see often (or maybe I don’t pay close-enough attention): Goudeau elected free agency as a minor-leaguer, having never pitched a Major League inning. He signed with the Colorado Rockies and, after years of mediocrity, has been nothing short of a revelation. Granted, it’s only 11 starts, but they’re the best 11 starts between Double-A and Triple-A this year: a 32.6% strikeout rate and a 3.5% walk rate (the 2nd-best K-BB% in the Minors, just a hair behind Brendan McKay), and a 2.07 ERA, underpinned by a 14.5% swinging strike rate…

… And a gaudy 2.00 xFIP. You probably don’t have a good frame of reference for that last number, so: it’s the best xFIP in a span of at least 60 inning since 2013, when Yimi Garcia compiled a 1.98. The 3rd-best mark on the list belongs to one Tyler Glasnow. Other names littering the list include A.J. Ramos, Glasnow (again), Kirby Yates, Brandon Snell, Brandon Beachy, Ross Stripling, Jameson Taillon, Brad Peacock, Chad Green, among several others — a mixed bag, certainly, but all generating non-zero value for their ballclubs at one point or another.

There isn’t a single note attributed to Goudeau on FanGraphs, attesting to his lack of luster prior to this year — and how unexpected the magnitude of the breakout really is. I reached out to McDongenhagen for comment; I’ll update when (if) I hear back.

Edit: Longenhagen sent me the following notes on Goudeau: “90-93, plus split, avg slider, fastball has 12:30 tilt so it’s spin-efficient.” You had me at plus split.

Jose Urquidy | 24 | HOU | SP (AAA)

1st appearance

Another day, another overperforming arm in the Astros’ farm system. Prior to 2019, Urquidy has always exhibited command, walking more than 5% of opposing hitters only once at any level (7.1% in a mere 16 innings and change at low-A in 2015, shortly after he began his professional career). He didn’t generate eye-popping strikeout numbers, but with good-enough stuff and excellent command, he got by.

Urquidy flipped the switch at Double-A this year, though, adding three ticks to his swinging strike rate (now sitting at a robust 16.3%) striking out eight times as many hitters as he walked. The Astros appropriately promoted him to Triple-A, where he continued to dominate. Between both levels (76.2 IP), he has compiled 104 strikeouts (34.0%) to just 15 walks (4.9%). He’s a fly ball pitcher, all things considered, which could be an unfortunate development in the long run. Then again, two of baseball’s biggest surprises this year — Matthew Boyd and Lucas Giolito — possess two of the lowest ground ball rates (GB%) in the game.

Like Goudeau, there’s little evidence of anyone having ever cared about Urquidy prior to this year. Unlike Goudeau, Urquidy is on the cusp of cracking the Astros’ rotation. Wade Miley is a ticking time bomb; Brad Peacock has been good, not great; and Framber Valdez and Corbin Martin has disappointed. Valdez are the prospects of note, yet it’s Urquidy who has outperformed both of them at each Minor League level. In the absence of prospect stock — that is, given a blind résumé — I think anyone would pick Urquidy over Valdez or Martin. Keep him on your radar.

A snippet from Longenhagen, pre-2018, long before Urquidy’s success this year: “Another pitchability righty from Mexico, [Urquidy] used a bevy of pitches (headlined by a changeup) to carve up the Midwest League last year. He’s 21 and relatively unprojectable at 6-foot, 210, but has enough stuff and command to project as a depth arm.”

* * *

As always, The Board:

Peripheral Prospects
Name Age Team Pos Level Weeks Points Notes
Zac Gallen 23 MIA SP MLB W4, W6, W8 3 Promoted 6/20
Jacob Wilson 28 WAS 2B AAA W6, W7, W8 3
Jake Cronenworth 25 TBR SS AAA W4, W5, W12 3
Cavan Biggio 23 TOR 2B MLB W3, W4 2 Recalled 5/24
Frank Schwindel 27 DET 1B AAA W2, W5 2 Released by KCR, signed 5/28
Ljay Newsome 22 SEA SP A+ W9, W11 2
Mike Tauchman 28 NYY OF MLB W1 1 Recalled 6/26
Zack Granite 26 TEX OF AAA W1 1 Optioned 5/31
Myles Straw 24 HOU OF MLB W1 1 Recalled 5/29
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 AAA W2 1
Spencer Turnbull 26 DET SP MLB W2 1
Drew Anderson 25 PHI SP AAA W2 1 Optioned 5/24
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 Recalled 5/21
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 AAA W5 1 Optioned 5/17
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 5/30
Lucas Sims 24 CIN SP AAA W6 1
Josh Naylor 22 SDP 1B/OF MLB W7 1 Recalled 5/24
Matt Beaty 25 LAD 1B MLB W7 1 Recalled 4/30
Josh Rojas 25 HOU 1B/2B AAA W7 1 Promoted to AAA 5/29
Eli Morgan 22 CLE SP AA W7 1 Promoted to AA 5/10
Rylan Bannon 23 BAL 2B/3B AA W8 1
Jorge Ona 22 SDP OF AA W8 1
Zach Plesac 24 CLE SP MLB W8 1 Recalled 5/28
Devin Smeltzer 23 MIN SP AAA W9 1 Optioned 6/7
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
Vince Fernandez 23 COL OF AA W10 1
Jake Rogers 24 DET C AAA W10 1
Kevin Cron 26 ARI 1B AAA W10 1 Optioned 6/22
Daniel Palka 27 CWS OF AAA W10 1
Austin Allen 25 SDP C MLB W11 1 Recalled 5/12
Will Craig 24 PIT 1B AAA W11 1
Luis Arraez 22 MIN 2B MLB W11 1 Recalled 5/17
Jack Mayfield 28 HOU 2B/SS MLB W11 1 Recalled 5/26
Ty France 24 SDP 3B AAA W12 1
D.J. Stewart 25 BAL OF MLB W12 1 IL
Ashton Goudeau 26 COL SP AA W12 1
Jose Urquidy 24 HOU SP AAA W12 1

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, 2023). Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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4 years ago

Looks like Urquidy has trouble with righties?

Jordan Rosenblummember
4 years ago
Reply to  equist

15 strikeouts and 2 walks per 9 vs righties in triple-a. slightly unlucky era (3.6)