When then-Angels first baseman C.J. Cron was traded to the Rays in mid-February to free up plate appearances for a dual-threat Shohei Ohtani, the consensus among the baseball community was that Cron would not bring back a notable return. In a market in which position-limited power bats went for pennies on the dollar, front-office executives prizing versatility saw the 108 OPS+ Cron from 2014-17 as respectable yet unexciting and underwhelming. In an offseason defined by accusations of collusion and depressed contracts, Cron had little to no surplus value. It is precisely for this reason the return was expected to be menial, highlighted by salary relief.
For all intents and purposes, it was. A measly PTBNL far from the major leagues, who if one lucky, will turn into a useful reliever or a utility piece.
Enter Luis Rengifo.
Signed as a teenager out of Venezuela by the Mariners in 2014, Rengifo put up eye-popping numbers in the Dominican League the following year with a .418 wOBA and a 146 wRC+ (and a K-BB% of zero, to boot). Once stateside, though, the offensive production took a nosedive.
Luis Rengifo, Offensive Performance by Season
Since the trade, the 21-year old switch-hitter has rocketed up depth charts, taking himself from an interesting to must-know prospect in the farm system. Like Jaime Barria and Michael Hermosillo the year prior, Rengifo has climbed through three levels of the Angels’ organization this season: High-A Inland Empire, Double-A Mobile, and Triple-A Salt Lake, with exceptional performance at each stop.
His overall line on the year?
.315/.420/.482, a .902 OPS with a 150 wRC+
The 5-10, 165 pound infielder has recorded better contact (a sub-12% strikeout rate), plate discipline, baserunning, slugging percentage while continuing to play a premium position up the middle (mostly shortstop, though he has been getting some looks at second lately in lieu of a logjam).
In 2018 Rengifo has walked seven more times than struck out and has stole 37 bases at a 78.7% clip. Given that minor leaguers need to steal successfully approximately four-fifths of the time to get the green light in the major leagues, this could be an indication that Rengifo creates positive value on the basepaths with not only his speed but his smarts.
Admittedly, he does not lift the ball much. Even in 2018, Rengifo hits balls into the ground over half the time (51.1% in High-A, 52.8% in Double-A). For one of the speediest guys in the minor leagues, though, such an approach may not be a bad thing.
Take this triple from last Monday, for example. Though not a ground ball (a shame that there is not already such a highlight), the play demonstrates Rengifo’s speed as he races around the bases after erroneously believing his deep drive to left field had left the yard. With wheels like those, a more ground ball approach is not only acceptable but perhaps necessary, too. In light of his 2016 and ‘17 struggles, it appears the infielder has found a happy medium.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Rengifo’s meteoric rise is the inherent lack of coverage that his performance is being given by more noteworthy outlets. However, that is not the case for Fringe Five enthusiast Carson Cistulli who, and I’m paraphrasing here, intends to recognize prospects who are receiving less recognition than is deserved (i.e. not appearing or have not appeared on Top 100 Prospect lists). From last Friday:
After beginning the season with High-A Inland Empire, Rengifo has ascended two levels, now essentially playing the same precise role for Salt Lake that Fringe Five alumnus David Fletcher, who’s recorded roughly a half-win in his first month as a major leaguer, occupied at the beginning of the season.
Fletcher is actually a pretty reasonable comp for Rengifo overall, both players featuring paassable shortstop defense, contact-heavy approaches, and improbable power output. Just as with Fletcher, Rengifo seems to be creating more damage on contact without the benefit of a more fly-heavy approach. Whatever the case, it’s working: over his first 38 plate appearances at Triple-A, the Venezuela native has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 10.5% and 5.3%, respectively, while also producing a .265 isolated-power figure.
Rengifo ranks third on the Fringe Five leaderboards for the entire season, a system that has successfully identified Mookie Betts and Jose Ramirez, among others.
Roster Resource’s MiLB Power Rankings is even more bullish, with Rengifo sitting in first.
With above-average defensive tools, the ability to make contact and run the bases, Rengifo is someone who could easily surprise to the upside. It appears the Southern League has noticed.