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 previous 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.

That said, it should also be noted that in cases where the collective enthusiasm regarding a player’s talent becomes very fevered — like how the enthusiasm collectively right now for Philadelphia third-base prospect Maikel Franco has become very fevered, for example — that will likely affect said player’s likelihood of appearing among the Five, given that the purpose of the series, at some level, is to identify prospects who are demonstrating promise above what one might expect given their current reputations within the prospect community.

With that said, here are this week’s Fringe Five:

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston (Profile)
This marks the sixth consecutive week in which Betts’ name has appeared within this column. During that interval, the author has considered often the second baseman’s various strengths, which include (a) excellent command of the strike zone, (b) more power than one might otherwise expect from a player listed at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, and (c) baserunning numbers which almost certainly suggest future above-average production in that regard. Despite having gone 0-for-2 on stolen-base attempts this past week, Betts more than compensated for it by his demonstration of the first two skills. Indeed, over his last 32 plate appearances, the 20-year-old has recorded three home runs and a 3:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Overall now, he’s posted walk and strikeout rates of 10.0% and 8.9%, respectively, in 190 plate appearances at High-A Salem, while also hitting seven home runs and succeeding on 17 of 19 stolen-base attempts. One is compelled to note, as well, his excellent slash-line at that level, as follows: .315/.386/.530 (.317 BABIP).

Jabari Blash, OF, Seattle (Profile)
In a post regarding Blash from almost precisely a year ago, prospect analyst to the stars John Sickels wrote of the outfielder that he has “very impressive raw power” (italics Sickels’). Blash has exhibited that tool this season, hitting 23 home runs over 428 plate appearances between two levels — seven of those (i.e. those home runs) coming in just 96 PAs with Double-A Jackson, to which club he was promoted at the beginning of August. In that same piece, Sickels noted that, while Blash appeared to have some idea of the strike zone, that he was frequently drawn outside of it by breaking or offspeed pitchers. It’s in this capacity which Blash appears to have shown more promise of late. After recording a differential of 14.9 percentage points between his strikeout and walk rates in 2010-12, and then of 13.6 points in 332 Cal League plate appearances earlier this year, Blash has now posted a 6.2-point (i.e. a much better) differential in the Southern League. Over the course of the last week, he’s been completely impressive, recording a 13:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio (and three home runs) in 39 plate appearances.

Speculating on whether Blash’s recent demonstration of improved plate discipline will continue is an errand for a fool. Instead of endeavoring to do so, what the author has done instead is to embed this video footage of the 23-year-old* Blash hitting a home run last week:

*Denotes baseball, as opposed to actual, age.

Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis (Profile)
The left-handed Cooney has actually appeared four times already in the present column this season — most recently as a member of the Next Five (on July 31st), but once, also, as part of the Fringe Five proper (on July 17th). An excellent run of late is responsible for Cooney’s return to the Five this week. Over his last three starts (an amount which the Thinking Reader will recognize immediately as a “mostly arbirary” one), the 22-year-old has recorded a 24:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 79 batters in 21.1 innings. As was the case a month ago, coverage of Cooney’s repertoire remains something less than robust, but reports generally point to a fastball at somewhere around 90-93 mph. Animated GIFs by the author generally point to the presence of rather a good curveball, as well.

Animated GIFs not unlike this one, that is, of Cooney striking out Kansas City minor leaguer Matt Fields on August 21st:

Cooney Fields CU SS K

C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago NL (Profile)
In June of 2011, the right-handed Edwards was the 48th-round pick by Texas out of a South Carolina high school. About a month ago, he was an integral part of the deal which sent him (and Justin Grimm and Mike Olt) from Texas to Chicago in exchange for Matt Garza. Generally speaking, 48th-round picks — unless they’re draft-and-follows, which Edwards isn’t — aren’t integral pieces of deadline deals merely two years after being drafted. Some combination of physical maturity and mechanical refinement, however, appears to have conspired in helping Edwards throw harder. The results have been striking: two years into his professional career, Edwards has recorded a strikeout rate greater than 30% and a FIP below 2.00 at all four levels at which he’s pitched. Both Thomas Belmont of Prospect Instinct and RotoGraphs’ own Nathaniel Stoltz note that Edwards’ reliance on the high fastball as an out pitch is unlikely to work so well against more experienced/talented hitters. For the moment, however, Edwards has distinguished himself as perhaps the best pitcher currently at High-A, having posted a 28:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 18.2 innings there.

Here’s an example of that fastball from a Class-A Sally League game this June — for a strikeout against Red Sox prospect David Chester in the first inning of that game:

Edwards Chester FA SS K

And here’s the curve (about which Stoltz is quite optimistic) from that same game — in this case, to strike out Jayson Hernandez in the bottom of third:

Edwards Hernandez CU SS K 3rd

Matthew Wisler, RHP, San Diego (Profile)
The 20-year-old Wisler has already reached (and now pitched 100-plus innings at) Double-A. Anecdotally speaking, a pitcher’s age relative to level isn’t quite so telling as a batter’s, but it’s also not to be ignored entirely, either. Regardless of age, Wisler has been rather successful for San Diego’s Texas League affiliate this season — in particular, of late. In each of his last six starts, the right-hander has struck out at least a quarter of opposing batters, recording a 37:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.0 innings and against 108 batters during the interval. Nor does Wisler appear to lack for stuff: Jason Cole of Baseball Prospectus regards both his (i.e. Wisler’s) “lively 91-96 mph fastball and sharp 82-86 mph slider” as “future plus offerings.”

The edited video footage here (from a longer video of Wisler at spring training) appears to underscore the quality of his breaking balls:

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

Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado (Double-A Texas League)
Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Juan Oramas, LHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Marcus Semien, IF, Chicago AL (Triple-A International 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.

Marcus Semien White Sox SS 11 7 40
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 7 37
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 8 5 29
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 6 1 19
Mookie Betts Red Sox 2B 5 1 16
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 3 4 13
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 3 2 11
Eddie Butler Rockies RHP 3 2 11
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 3 2 11
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Edwin Escobar Giants RHP 2 4 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 1 10
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 2 3 9
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nicholas 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
Juan Oramas San Diego LHP 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
C.J. Edwards Cubs RHP 1 2 5
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Ji-Man Choi Mariners 1B 1 2 5
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Jabari Blash Mariners OF 1 0 3
Matthew Wisler Padres RHP 1 0 3
Zachary Petrick Cardinals RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Ty Kelly Mariners IF 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
John Murphy Yankees C 0 1 1
Josh Vitters Cubs 3B 0 1 1
Nick Delmonico Orioles CIF 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Ryan Brett Rays 2B 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

Here’s an article on Blash and the “lack” of his baseball experience. Not sure how to adjust development arcs for a player whose baseball pedigree includes 4 months of little league per year, then clinics through HS, and 2 years at a community college.

9 years ago
Reply to  Dewey

Only two guys named Jabari in Fangraph’s data base—and both were briefly on the same team until Blash was promoted! I haven’t gotten too high on Jabari Blash, and mark me down as ‘unconvinced’ still. Great tools; good D; excellent power; terrific BB% . . . striking out a consistent one time in four at every stop in the minors. Most guys like that get shrunk to benchwear in the MLB dryer, if they get a jersey there at all. Maybe Jabari Blash will be the exception.

I’m actually higher on Ji-Man Choi, who got a little ray of sun here in Fringeville last week. Choi may have little defensive value, and won’t hit for average, but he has just as much power and walks now more than he strikes out. With a full year of missed development time to back surgery (now behind him), he’s a young 22; maybe not a lot of projection, but still time to continue to refine his skills, he’s not a finished product yet either. Both guys are on the fringe for a reason, but they do enough at the plate to keep a body hoping.