The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Note: both White Sox infielder Marcus Semien and Padres right-hander Burch Smith would likely have appeared in this week’s edition of the Five, but for having been promoted earlier in the week as a result of September roster expansion.

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)
Having temporarily exhausted his store of praise for the Betts, the author has decided this week to utilize the rhetorical device known as “plagiarism” to the end of providing the requisite copy regarding the 20-year-old second baseman. The victim, in this case, is Red Sox beat reporter and very recent podcast guest Alex Speier.

Of Betts, Speier wrote the following on Monday for

The number of players with at least a .400 OBP, 10 homers and 25 steals this year in the minors? That would be three. Aside from Betts, the other two? Byron Buxton, considered the top prospect in all of minor league baseball, who hit .334/.424/.520 with 12 homers and 55 steals as a 19-year-old in Single-A and High-A, and George Springer, the former UConn star who is hitting .303/.411/.600 with 37 homers and 45 steals between Double-A and Triple-A as a 23-year-old.

Betts isn’t Buxton or Springer. But there’s no one else in the minors who’s shown his diverse array of offensive weapons this year (with excellent defense at second base to boot), suggesting that he’s forced a drastic re-evaluation of a skill set that garnered no public attention entering this year.

Jabari Blash, OF, Seattle (Profile)
The 6-foot-5 Blash made his debut in the most recent edition of the Five, having just completed a week during which he recorded a 13:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio (and three home runs) in 39 plate appearances. Largely owing to that line’s absurdity, one supposes, is why he hasn’t repeated it over the course of this past week. Still, the right-fielder endeavored to produce two home runs and a passable 2:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 24 PAs between August 27th and September 2nd — entirely adequate all around, that. Regarding Blash, the author did not invoke last week, but will now, this entirely true fact: a native of St. Thomas, Blash appears to have played the game sparingly through high school, suggesting that his development curve is steeper present than for most other 24-year-old prospects.

Billy Burns, OF, Washington (Profile)
Given his control of the strike zone and what scouting reports suggest is plus-plus speed, Burns is noteworthy on his own merits. He appears in the present edition of the Five, however, largely for the (very brief) thought experiment he facilitates apropos Cincinnati prospect Billy Hamilton and Hamilton’s value. Burns is a year older and playing at one level lower than Hamilton. “Apples and oranges!” announces the reader, perhaps. Utilizing the MLE calculator from Jeff Sackmann’s now defunct Minor League Splits, however, it’s possible to normalize for at least one of those variables. Using said calculator, and prorating to 600 plate appearances, here’s what Burns would have produced at Triple-A Louisville versus what Hamilton actually has produced there:

Billy Burns 154 18 0 0 79 75 84 9 .302 .405 .339
Billy Hamilton 143 20 4 7 42 113 83 17 .256 .307 .343

There are a number of caveats to issue with regard to the comparison here. Like that Burns’ line at Double-A Harrisburg (which consists of 138 plate appearances) is rather a small sample from which to be extrapolating anything very meaningful. And like that Sackmann’s MLE calculator hasn’t been updated for two or three years. And like how Billy Hamilton was a second-round selection, while Burns was a 32nd-round one — and second-round picks are almost always better than 32nd-round ones. Still, even if one widens the error bars on Burns’ MLE line to account for all these variables, it’s still unlikely that we find him producing a worse slash-line or much lower stolen-base rate than Hamilton. Accordingly, here’s a, if not the, thought one is compelled to have with regard to Hamilton: namely, how it’s possible that some talent evaluators have confused that which makes him impressive with that which makes him productive. Either that, or Billy Burns ought also to be regarded as one of baseball’s most exciting prospects.

C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago NL (Profile)
While we’ll take for granted that the author has little idea of what he’s doing, it’s according to that same author’s calculations that Edwards appears already to own the lowest regressed kwERA* in the Florida State League among pitchers who’ve made at least half their appearances as starts. Following his most recent one of those (i.e. those starts) — in this case, against Toronto affiliate Dunedin on August 28th — Edwards has now recorded strikeout and walk rates of 36.3% and 7.7%, respectively, in 23.0 innings for High-A Daytona.

*An ERA estimator based entirely on strikeout and walk rate, and useful insofar as those metrics become reliable in relatively small sample sizes. Click here for more on that.

Severino Gonzalez, RHP, Philadelphia (Profile)
“Who is Severino Gonzalez?” the reader is perhaps wondering. “Who is Severino Gonzalez?” the author himself was wondering not long before that. Here — superficially, at least — is who is Severino Gonzalez: a 20-year-old right-hander signed out of Panama by Philadelphia in 2011 for $14 thousand. Here’s who else he is: the owner of a 119:22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103.2 innings across three levels this season — the last 6.2 of which innings were recorded for the benefit of Double-A Reading. Of Gonzalez, it should be noted, there appears to be some disagreement regarding his future value. While his command of the pitch, Matt Winks of Phuture Phillies is concerned that the right-hander’s fastball (generally averaging 90 mph) might ultimately be insufficient for more advanced competition. Ben Badler of Baseball America appears slightly more optimistic, noting that Gonzalez’s fastball was sitting in the mid-80s just two years ago.

Precisely zero of Gonzalez’s starts have been available via MiLB.TV this season; however, BP’s Jason Cole did take this footage of Gonzalez from a Single-A start in mid-July:

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

Tim Cooney, LHP, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Juan Oramas, LHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit (High-A Florida State League)
Matthew Wisler, RHP, San Diego (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.

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 6 1 19
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Stephen Piscotty Cardinals OF 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 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 4 10
C.J. Edwards Cubs RHP 2 2 8
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nicholas Kingham Pirates RHP 1 5 8
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 2 1 7
Juan Oramas San Diego LHP 1 4 7
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 4 7
Cody Martin Atlanta RHP 2 0 6
Jabari Blash Mariners OF 2 0 6
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Astros 2B 1 3 6
Danny Winkler Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Ji-Man Choi Mariners 1B 1 2 5
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Matthew Wisler Padres RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Billy Burns Nationals OF 1 0 3
Severino Gonzalez Phillies 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
Devon Travis Tigers 2B 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 Brerwers 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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Jeffrey Paternostro
Jeffrey Paternostro

I understand the reasoning, but it is still a little disappointing to not see Japhet Amador here this week.

Well-Beered Englishman
Well-Beered Englishman

Fear not: Japhet Amador is listed in The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Cool Names!