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 omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen — and all their attendant midseason lists, as well. Nearly every week during the minor-league season — with the exception of those immediately following the birth of his loud, new son — the author has submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.
Generally speaking, the word compelling has been used to designate those prospects who 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 now complete, the author presents here a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2017.
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, is 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 Longenhagen’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 was accompanied by an arbitrarily calculated scoreboard. 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.
The entire scoreboard appears below. First, some notes on same:
• The highest score among all eligible prospects this year belongs to right-handed St. Louis prospect Ryan Helsley. A product of Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, Helsley was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and signed for $225,000. A combination both of that modest amateur pedigree and probably also his modest height appear to have earned him only modest reviews in the industry. Nevertheless, he’s exhibited elite arm speed, hitting 100 mph as a member of Low-A Peoria last season and sitting comfortably in the mid-90s this year. He recorded considerably above-average statistical indicators this year in nearly 130 innings between High-A and Double-A. He throws a cutter and changeup that both earn swings and misses plus a curveball that has some use as a change of speed or for a first-pitch strike.
• The next four players on the board are as follows: Colorado outfielder Mike Tauchman, Oakland second baseman Max Schrock, Arizona middle infielder Ildemaro Vargas, and Dodgers infielder/outfielder Tim Locastro, in that order.
• A few players would have likely appeared more frequently among the Five but were rendered ineligible by earning a place either on a midseason prospect list or a major-league roster. Philadelphia second baseman Scott Kingery is an example of such a player, as is Baltimore outfield prospect Austin Hays.
• What’s the significance of appearing atop or near the top of this arbitrarily calculated scoreboard? While inconclusive, I examined that question in this past offseason’s Hardball Times Annual. I found that, of the top-10 players on the first edition of the scoreboard in 2013, five had sustained a level in the majors leagues that one might characterize as a “success.” By comparison, only two of 10 players from the end of an average top-100 list typically reach that level.
And, finally, here’s the completely Fringe Five Scoreboard for 2017:
|8||Danny Mendick||White Sox||2B/SS||3||2||11|
|12||Jose Miguel Fernandez||Dodgers||2B||3||1||10|
|Tzu-Wei Lin||Red Sox||SS/CF||3||0||9|
|24||Danny Jansen||Blue Jays||C||2||1||7|
|41||Matt Cooper||White Sox||RHP||1||0||3|
|51||Donald Dewees Jr.||Royals||OF||0||1||1|
|52||Hoy Jun Park||Yankees||2B/SS||0||1||1|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.