Before Ben Lindbergh departed to Grantland, one of his September traditions was assembling and examining what he called the “All-Fringe Prospect Team.” The team’s purpose was to provide “a position-by-position tribute to the fringy prospects who wouldn’t be able to back up the eye-catching stats on the back of their baseball cards, if they were good enough to have baseball cards.”
Lindbergh plies his trade elsewhere these days but, with his blessing, we’ve decided to revive the feature. The timing is appropriate; not only is the minor-league season nearing its end—meaning more minor-leaguers are taking seats in bullpens and on benches across the majors—but Baseball Prospectus authors have begun culling players for inclusion in next spring’s Annual, leading to questions (and debate) about whose statistics mean what.
For a player to qualify for the team, they must meet Lindbergh’s three ground rules:
The player has to have played in a full-season league. Short-season stats are strange.
The player has to be under 30. I don’t have to tell you that a 30-year-old minor-leaguer is either on a rehab assignment or not a prospect. Sure, 34-year-old Mike Hessman hit a career-high 35 homers, bringing his minor-league total to 370, but no one would confuse him with a prospect at this point.
The player has to be rookie-eligible. For the most part, anyone whose rookie eligibility is up has already had his chance and blown it. Nobody cares what Jeff Clement hit in Indianapolis this season, except for Bill Bavasi, who’s still hoping that third-overall pick pans out.
Additionally, in the name of freshness, we’ve decided to make past honorees ineligible for the team. (Sorry, Johnny Monell and Dean Anna.) Remember that inclusion on the team doesn’t mean the player will never reach or enjoy success in the majors, simply that their statistics overstate their prospect status. Now, let’s meet the 2015 edition of the “All-Fringe Prospect Team.”
Catcher: Dustin Garneau, Rockies
What he did: In his first full season at Triple-A, Garneau batted .274/.335/.475 and led the level’s backstops in home runs. His performance earned him a promotion to the majors in August, following Michael McKenry‘s season-ending knee surgery, and he continues to serve as Nick Hundley‘s backup.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Originally a 19th-round pick from Cal State Fullerton, Garneau has seldom capitalized on being older than the competition throughout his professional career. Prior to 2015, he’d never hit for an average better than .260, and only once before had he posted a full-season ISO better than .200 (in 2010, when he played for Low-A Asheville). Garneau’s raw power is his best attribute, yet his swing-happy approach is certain to hamper his overall offensive production. He’ll need to slug to stick, because his defense is not believed to be enough to atone for his other deficiencies.
First Base: Cody Decker, Padres
What he did: Appeared in more than 100 Triple-A games for the third consecutive season. Homered more than 20 times for the fourth time in his professional career.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Decker could double as the team mascot (and videographer). He’s hit at every turn—his .834 OPS this season is the lowest of his career—yet hasn’t received so much as a shot glass of coffee. Christopher Crawford described Decker as a one-tool player, a power hitter who lacks the bat-to ball skills and athleticism to provide value in other ways. Decker has tried assuaging those concerns by adding third base and catcher to his defensive résumé, but to no great effect: His .838 fielding percentage in 30 games at the hot corner is 64 points worse than the the big-league player with the lowest percentage (min. 100 innings). A career as a pinch-hitter is the best Decker can hope for these days.
Second Base: Colin Walsh, Athletics
What he did: Returned to Double-A Midland after a rough go in Triple-A to close last season. Walsh led the level in walks and finished second in on-base percentage.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Minor-league walk rates are tough to figure. You don’t want a player swinging at everything, but you also don’t want a player walking too often either, because it can signify passivity or some other flaw in the player’s skill set. Having taken the free pass in more than 19 percent of his plate appearances, Walsh belongs in the second camp. It doesn’t help his odds of becoming a big-league fixture that he did so while a year older than the competition, not to mention while lacking the necessary physical attributes to play a more important defensive position. Oh well. Even if Walsh doesn’t reach the majors, at least he appears to be a thoughtful, likable human.
Shortstop: Adam Frazier, Pirates
What he did: Rebounded from a rough 2014 by posting the highest average and on-base percentage among Double-A shortstops.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Like most collegiate shortstops taken in the sixth round of their draft, Frazier features more skills than tools. His power production is limited to the gaps, meaning his offensive game revolves taking some walks and making a lot of contact. Defensively, Frazier is unlikely to stick at shortstop full-time, a fate the Pirates have seemingly accepted by demoing him at second base and, more recently, in center field. If Frazier is to become a big-league fixture, it’s likely to be as a versatile bench player who grinds out at-bats.
Third Base: Jamie Romak, Diamondbacks
What he did: Romak made the most of his third full season in Triple-A, hitting .284/.367/.549, with 40 doubles and 25 home runs, and appearing at four other positions. He even spent time in the majors, notching three hits in 10 at-bats.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: This was the last chance at the “All-Fringe Prospect Team” for Romak, who turns 30 in late September. His stats have clashed with his scouting reports forever: Kevin Goldstein decreed him a non-prospect almost four and a half years ago. Why? Because Romak fits the standard Quad-A mold. He has good raw power and a healthy walk rate, but also features the rigid swing and low-grade athleticism that have thwarted many big-league careers. Romak remains on the 40-man roster, so he should return to the majors in the coming days, likely as a designated pinch-hitter.
Left Fielder: Joey Rickard, Rays
What he did: Rickard began the season in High-A after struggling in his first exposure to Double-A, but he didn’t start producing noteworthy numbers until he was promoted. He then tallied more than 300 plate appearances between the minors’ two uppermost levels, where he hit .333 and reached base more than 40 percent of the time. He also went 20-for-24 on stolen-base tries and played each outfield position.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: A person familiar with Rickard praised his professional demeanor and ability to hit to all fields, but conceded that he lacks a standout or plus tool. The person then changed the topic to Rickard’s teammate, shaggy-haired utilityman Taylor Motter, and deemed him “more interesting.” Poor Rickard.
Center Fielder: Brett Eibner, Royals
What he did: Repeated Triple-A and performed much better in his second try, improving from .241/.317/.380 to .310/.367/.524.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: In Baseball Prospectus 2014, we labeled Eibner a grip-it-and-rip-it hitter, one whose power production was obscured by ridiculous strikeout totals. Eibner has since made a few important adjustments, according to those in the know. “His swing is shorter and his two-strike approach is sharper now,” Craig Goldstein said. Those changes have resulted in a career-low 18 percent strikeout rate, notable because his previous career-low was 25 percent. Even with those improvements and his impressive athleticism, Eibner isn’t expected to become a regular. “If he makes it to majors,” Goldstein said, “it’s more likely to be as a defensive replacement than anything else.”
Right Fielder: Jarrett Parker, Giants
What he did: Homered 20 times in his first full season at Triple-A. Made his big-league debut in June.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: “Parker doesn’t know the strike zone well, is prone to swinging and missing, doesn’t hit lefties well, and has looked indecisive in the outfield in my viewings,” Brendan Gawlowski said. Okay, but besides that? While Parker’s power production appears to be a saving grace (his .224 ISO is a career-best), his 33 percent strikeout rate was the worst in the Pacific Coast League. The only players in the PCL to K at a similar rate in the last few years were Carlos Peguero and Brett Jackson, two other outfielders who, tellingly, have failed to find steady footing in the majors. Parker is unlikely to break the trend, and instead figures to spend the next few seasons as an up-and-down type.
Starting Pitcher: Seth Webster, Braves
What he did: An undrafted free agent, Webster signed with the Braves after having previously pitched for the Schaumburg Boomers. He soon reached High-A, where he compiled a 2.75 ERA and 12.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and yielded two home runs in 117 innings.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: Generally, phrases like “undrafted free agent” and “previously pitched for the Schaumburg Boomers” are tip-offs about a player’s poor prospect standing. The Braves have had success with players from similar backgrounds before, however, so a deep dig is required whenever an Atlanta pitcher pops onto the scene with numbers like this. Alas, Webster is no Brandon Beachy. Craig Goldstein compared Webster’s delivery to a right-handed Alex Wood, but noted that his fastball often sits in the mid-to-upper-80s. (Another member of the prospect staff suggested Webster’s arm is the slowest in professional baseball.) Pitchers with more deception than stuff can overcome their meager projections. Still, the odds are against Webster having much of a big-league career.
Relief Pitcher: Oliver Drake, Orioles
What he did: Drake, in his first full Triple-A season, recorded 66 strikeouts and allowed one home run over 44 innings. He made his big-league debut in May, appearing in five games and enjoying considerably less success.
Why what he did doesn’t matter: A 43rd-round pick by way of the Naval Academy, Drake deserves credit for overcoming poor odds to reach the majors. Unfortunately, he may have reached his ceiling. “What really stood out was his weird, huge-back-hip load, catapult delivery,” Albert Skorupa said. “Very deceptive, but at the same time basically impossible to repeat or command your fastball out of.” Skorupa noted that Drake’s deception, pitchability, and results were enough to earn consideration as an up-and-down t ype, but cautioned that he has poor command over his straight fastball, a combination that, more often than not, results in short big-league careers and big ERA.
Special thanks to Ben Lindbergh and to the BP Prospect Staff for scouting insights.
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