The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise (introduced a few years ago) conducted by the author with a view to identifying and monitoring the most compelling of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers who both (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and also (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels — and their attendant midseason lists, as well. Every week during the minor-league season, the author submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.
Generally speaking, compelling in this context meant that the prospect in question possessed some combination of the following:
1. Promising statistical indicators; and
2. The ability to play on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum; and
3. Youth relative to minor-league level; and
4. A curious biographical or statistical profile.
With minor-league regular seasons having all been completed, the author presents here a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2016.
The author’s process for selecting the Five each week was relatively consistent over the course of the season, and is summarized as follows:
1. Calculate, for each minor league at the High-A level and above, the regressed lines of all the players (both hitters and pitchers) in that league.
2. Select, from those minor-league hitting and pitching leaderboards, an assortment of rookie-eligible players who both (a) have been productive relative to age and level and position and also (b) were absent from prospect lists named above — with an emphasis on recent performance.
3. Read scouting reports on and watch video of the players present on that shorter list of notables.
4. Consult own fallible intuition.
5. Select five players for Fringe Five. Select five more for Next Five — i.e. players upon whom the author might potentially become fixated.
The author is mostly quoting himself when he states that, central to the exercise, has been a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) was any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from the aforementioned notable prospect lists and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft were also excluded from eligibility.
Why use prospect lists like Farnsworth’s and BA’s and BP’s as a determinative factor? For a number of reasons, probably, but mostly because (a) the players who are absent from those lists are likely to receive less coverage/attention than those present on them, and also because (b) the likelihood of even the 100th-best prospect in any given season developing into a productive major leaguer is already small enough, such that the one realistically ought to expect almost nothing from players absent from those same kind of lists.
Also, there’s a final, and perhaps most relevant, consideration — namely, one of ease, as the top-prospect lists are readily accessible, while other, more nuanced means of designating fringe prospects would almost certainly require a more ornate and tedious methodology.
Over the course of the season, each edition of the Five concluded with a scoreboard of sorts. For each appearance among the Fringe Five proper, a player was assigned three points; among the Next Five, one point. Players who had graduated to the major leagues were ineligible — unless they’d then returned to the minor leagues having recorded fewer than 50 career innings or 130 career at-bats, in which case they remained eligible.
Here is the final and complete iteration of the Fringe Five Scoreboard for 2016:
|32||Jordan Stephens||White Sox||RHP||1||1||4|
|39||Bruce Maxwell III||Athletics||C||1||0||3|
|50||Matt Cooper||White Sox||RHP||1||0||3|
• In the end, 69 prospects appeared at some point on the 23 editions of the Fringe Five this season — that is, three more than last year’s total and 10 fewer than 2015’s count and 19 more than 2014’s final tally of 50 exactly. Phrased differently: the first three seasons of this experiment included an average of 65 prospects; this one, four more than that.
• The highest score among all eligible prospects this season was Sherman Johnson’s total of 41 points. Johnson, notably, appeared atop last year’s list, as well, tied with two current major leaguers, Detroit left-hander Matt Boyd and Oakland right-hander Jharel Cotton.
• Unlike last year, few of this column’s early-season fixtures were rendered ineligible either by an appearance on a midseason prospect list or promotion to the majors. Four of the top six players on the 2015 scoreboard — Boyd, Austin Barnes, Jose De Leon, and Max Kepler — either appeared in the majors or on an industry list. This year, probably only Cotton and maybe Yankees right-hander Chad Green were really affected by those constraints.
• What’s the significance of appearing atop or near the top of this arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard? Here’s a short answer: it’s difficult to say. There have certainly been successes: Mookie Betts, Maikel Franco, Danny Salazar, and Marcus Semien all appeared within the top-five places on the inaugural scoreboard in 2013. They’ve produced a collective 29 wins in the meantime. Which seems impressive. The top player on the 2014 edition of the Scoreboard, meanwhile, was Toronto prospect Taylor Cole — who, for whatever his virtues, becoming a productive major leaguer isn’t one of them yet. A longer answer to the question, meanwhile, is scheduled to appear in the 2017 Hardball Times Annual.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.