The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise (introduced a half-decade ago) conducted by the author with a view to identifying and monitoring the most notable of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly!) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* — and all their attendant midseason lists, as well. Nearly every week during the minor-league season — except for those during which the vagaries of life have interfered — 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.
*Note: Baseball America’s list was excluded this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.
Generally speaking, the word compelling has been used to designate those prospects who possessed some combination of the following:
- Promising offensive indicators; and
- The ability to play on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum; and
- Youth relative to minor-league level; and
- A curious biographical or statistical profile.
With the minor-league regular season having been complete now for over a month, the author has finally escorted his carcass to the keyboard with a view towards presenting this document, a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2018.
The author’s process for selecting the Five each week is relatively consistent over the course of a season and is summarized as follows:
- 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.
- 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 the prospect lists named above — with an emphasis on recent performance.
- Read scouting reports on and watch video of the players present on that shorter list of notables. Probably also call Eric Longenhagen.
- Consult own fallible intuition.
- 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, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is 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 are also excluded from eligibility.
Why use prospect lists like BP’s and MLB.com’s and John Sickels’ and (most importantly!) FanGraphs’ 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 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 is accompanied by an arbitrarily calculated scoreboard. For each appearance among the Fringe Five proper, a player is assigned three points; among the Next Five, one point. Players who graduate to the major leagues are ineligible for consideration — unless they then return to the minor leagues having recorded fewer than 50 career innings or 130 career at-bats, in which case they remain eligible.
The entire scoreboard appears below. Notes on specific players can be accessed by means of their player pages. Here are some general notes on this year’s effort:
- Houston right-hander Josh James earns the distinction of Fringe Five champion for the 2018 season. Selected originally in the 34th round of the 2014 draft out of Western Oklahoma State College, the right-hander signed for just $15,000. Despite producing reasonably strong indicators over his first three professional campaigns, he was never young relative to his levels, nor did he separate himself by means of arm speed or repertoire. Treatment for sleep apnea, however, appears to have unlocked hidden physical talents. This year, James’ velocity increased dramatically, his fastball sitting at 97-98 mph, for example, during his brief tenure with the parent club in September. Before his successful run in the majors, he also authored successful runs at in the Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. All in all, James produced the highest strikeout- and walk-rate differential among minor-league pitchers with 100-plus innings. His season was an unambiguous success.
- The Angels’ David Fletcher, who appears second on the end-of-year scoreboard, translated his success at Triple-A Salt Lake into roughly two wins at the major-league level in almost precisely a half-season’s worth of play. While the minor-league data don’t suggest the addition of any real loft to his swing, Fletcher nevertheless produced an isolated-power figure roughly three times his previously established levels — the result, it would appear, of some mechanical changes made with the Bees hitting coach Donnie Ecker. Predominantly a shortstop in the minors, Fletcher took most of the second-base reps following the departure of Ian Kinsler. He’s a candidate to occupy that role in the 2019.
- Fletcher and James would have likely appeared in additional installments of the Five were it not for their promotions to the majors. The same can be said for the Mets’ Jeff McNeil, Orioles’ Cedric Mullins, and Angels’ Taylor Ward. The Rays’ Vidal Brujan and Padres’ Chris Paddack, meanwhile, lost eligibility after appearing on one or more midseason list.
- What’s the significance of appearing atop or near the top of this arbitrarily calculated scoreboard? That’s a question I attempted to answer this past offseason for the Hardball Times Annual. The short is that players who’ve appeared within the top-five spots on end-of-year scoreboard have produced wins at a rate more typical of a 20th-ranked prospect. The longer answer, meanwhile, is available by means of this hyperlinked text.
- Here are links to previous results pieces like this one: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.
And, finally, here’s the completely Fringe Five Scoreboard for 2018:
|11||Cavan Biggio||Blue Jays||2B||2||3||9|
|15||Danny Mendick||White Sox||SS||2||2||8|
|27||Santiago Espinal||Red Sox||2B/SS||1||2||5|
|42||Jalen Beeks||Red Sox||LHP||1||0||3|
|60||Esteban Quiroz||Red Sox||2B||0||1||1|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||Blue Jays||2B||0||1||1|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.