The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly exercise (introduced in April) wherein the author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to this exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe. The author recognizes that the word has different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of this column, however — and for reasons discussed more thoroughly in a recent edition of the Five — the author has considered eligible for the Five any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists.

This week, the reader will find that two players retain their place among the Five — namely, very successful major-league debutant Danny Salazar of Cleveland and entirely promising White Sox infielder Marcus Semien.

Departing from the Five proper — largely because the author, not unlike a three-year old child, demands to be constantly surprised by new wonders — are third-base prospect Maikel Franco (Philadelphia), right-hander Cody Martin (Atlanta), and left-hander Robbie Ray (Washington).

Replacing that triumvirate are entirely able Futures Game participants Arismendy Alcantara (a shortstop in the Cubs system) and Eddie Butler (a right-hander in the Colorado one) — plus also left-handed St. Louis prospect Tim Cooney, who has been excellent of late.

Now, here are this week’s Fringe Five:

Arismendy Alcantara, MI, Chicago NL (Profile)
Would Alcantara appear here among the Fringe Five this week were he not to have hit an impressive second-level home run (video) on Sunday during the Futures Game? “Likely not,” is the present author’s answer to that question; however, that same author will point to how Alcantara has appeared previously among both the Fringe and Next Five. The author will also remark upon how (a) Alcantara’s defense-independent marks (389 PA, 13 HR, 38 BB, 85 K) suggest above-average offensive production, how (b) Alcantara remains quite young (21) for Double-A, and how also (c) he’s likely to continue occupying a place on the strong end of the defensive spectrum.

Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado (Profile)
Relative to league — which, in this case, is the High-A California League — Butler’s defense-independent figures aren’t necessarily so impressive as some other pitchers who’re eligible for inclusion among the Five. That’s not to say his numbers are poor, of course: since his promotion to Modesto in mid-May, for example, Butler has recorded a 55:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52.2 innings. Still, Butler’s appearance here this week has a lot more to do with his impressive inning in this past Sunday’s Futures Game at Citi Field, during the course of which the 22-year-old exhibited three plus pitches consecutively in the same at-bat — in this case, to very talented Boston prospect Xander Bogaerts.

Here’s Butler’s first pitch from that at-bat, a 97-mph fastball to Bogaerts:

Butler 1

Here’s Butler’s second pitch, a slider at 88 mph for a called strike:

Butler 2

And finally, for the strikeout, here’s Butler’s changeup at 90 mph and featuring considerable fade:

Butler 3

Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis (Profile)
The left-handed Cooney has now struck out more batters (67) over 63.2 innings in the Double-A Texas League this season than he did previously (66) in 90.2 innings between earlier this year and last at Low- and High-A. To what, precisely, does one attribute this sort of development? “I have no idea,” is the author’s most insightful answer. Still, the 22-year-old has been excellent of late at Springfield, having recorded strikeout and walk rates of 31.9% and 6.9%, respectively, over his last three starts (16.2 IP). Cooney’s velocity isn’t elite but has reached 93 mph in recent starts with Springfield, it seems.

With regard to he repertoire as a whole, Cooney’s most impressive offering appears to be his curveball — which pitch he’s captured throwing here, during his most recent start, to Yem Prades of Kansas City affiliate Tulsa:

Cooney Prades CU SS K New

And here also to the next batter in that game, Roman Hernandez:

Cooney Hernandez CU SS K

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)
Since last week’s edition of the Five, Salazar has been promoted to the major leagues, made a start against Toronto during which he recorded a 1.93 xFIP while conceding just a single run (box), and then been optioned back to Triple-A Columbus. That last point is what makes him eligible once again this week — by the author’s completely arbitrary rules governing the matter — for the Five.

While Salazar’s strikeout figures continue to be superlative, of particular note during that brief appearance with Cleveland was his split-changeup, an example of which one can find here:

Salazar Split

Marcus Semien, MI, Chicago AL (Profile)
There’s very possibly no minor leaguer right now who both (a) was absent from the preseason’s notable prospect lists and also (b) is producing so excellently at the moment relative to age and level and position as Semien. Since last week’s edition of the Five, the 22-year-old has recorded a 4:3 walk-to-strikeout ratio and home run in 22 plate appearances — and has now produced one of the Double-A Southern League’s most impressive regressed batting lines (per the author’s likely flawed methodology) even while doing most of his work afield on the more demanding end of the defensive spectrum.

Here’s what Semien looks like when he’s batting:

Semien Batting

And here’s what Semien looks like when’s he’s batting and has had Paint.NET’s oil-painting effect applied to him:

Semien Batting Paint

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco (Double-A Eastern League)
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Double-A Eastern League)
Max Muncy, 1B, Oakland (Double-A Texas League)
JR Murphy, C, (Triple-A International League)
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are all the players to have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season. For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.

Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 2 32
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 6 6 24
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 5 5 20
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 6 1 19
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 1 10
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 3 1 10
Chase Anderson Diamondbacks RHP 2 2 8
Nick Kingham Pirates RHP 1 5 8
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 2 1 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 4 7
Cody Martin Atlanta RHP 2 0 6
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Edwin Escobar Giants LHP 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
JR Murphy Yankees C 0 1 1
Nick Delmonico Orioles CIF 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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9 years ago

At some point doesn’t Cardinals SP Zach Petrick need to make an appearance in this feature? featured an article on him this morning, but failed to delve into the stuff, so I’d love to see what you can bring to the discussion.
The Cardinals signed the younger brother of Cubs 2002 3rd round pick Billy as a NDFA. I don’t know that he was short on talent, so much as exposure, as he played college ball in relative obscurity and was nowhere near as dominant. Petrick made his AA debut yesterday, and was dominant per usual. At age 23, he’s finally in a more age-appropriate league. Take his track record with generous helpings of salt.
Still, the numbers this year are even more impressive than his solid debut:
2012 Johnson City 5-0, 2.17 ERA, .195 BAA, 45.2 IP, 33 H, 2 HR, 9 BB, 50 K in 13 games, 7 starts
This year, he’s just silly good.
Peoria 1-0, 7 sv, 0.83 ERA, .200 BAA, 32.2 IP, 24 H, 1 HR, 8 BB, 46 K in 16 games, 0 starts
Palm Beach 3-0, 1 sv, 0.27 ERA, .176 BAA, 33.1 IP, 21 H, 0 HR, 4 BB, 32 K in 9 games, 4 starts
And last night for AA Springfield:
6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR

9 years ago
Reply to  Oliver

He’s a little long in the tooth to have just been promoted to AA. Intriguing none the less.