The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous 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 the exercise, of course, 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) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists* and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

*In this case, those produced by Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, and our own Marc Hulet.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.


Josh Hader, LHP, Houston (Profile)
The extant reports on Hader entering the season generally all suggested that he (a) featured a promising repertoire but also (b) needed to exhibit considerable improvements in command. Those sentiments are what made his first three appearances — over which he recorded a 20:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.0 innings — simultaneously confounding and exciting. They’re also what provided a sense, perhaps, that his fourth appearance — during which he produced just a 2:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 16 batters and also conceded a home run and six hits and five total runs — that his fourth start somehow might represent the “real” Hader. That’s probably not the sense it should provide, however. For one: it’s not unheard of that even the most promising of 20-year-old pitching prospects will produce the occasional disaster. And also, for two: Hader was once again excellent in his fifth appearance — in this case, just last (Tuesday) night at Inland Empire. His line in that fifth game: 5.0 IP, 17 TBF, 7 K, 1 BB. And his overall line now in the (typically) very frightening California League: 20.2 IP, 83 TBF, 34.9% K, 6.0% BB.

Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Profile)
Kral first appeared among the Fringe Five owing to how he was absolutely the most obscure player to appear among the top-50 prospects in baseball by projected WAR. He second appeared among the Finge Five because his lack of playing time — relative to his optimistic projections, certainly — allowed one to regard him somewhat wistfully as simultaneously beautiful and tragic. This, his third appearance among the Five, occurs as a combination of the two — and also because, 17 games into Double-A San Antonio’s schedule, Robert Kral has recorded his first hit. A double, is what kind of hit it was, and it came to pass during the fifth inning of the Missions’ game at Rangers affiliate Frisco on Tuesday (box). In response to the next and obvious question: “Yes, the author has rendered footage of that double into GIF form.”

Regard, said GIF:

And also regard, Kral himself on second base:

Kral on Second

Despite his lack of playing time and also lack of actual-actual results, Kral’s defense-independent numbers are still totally admirable. To wit: 21 PA, 0 HR, 4 BB, 3 BB.

Jace Peterson, SS, San Diego (Profile)
Because all humans are basically 99.9% alike genetically, Jace Peterson is pretty much Robert Kral. They’re even more alike, on account of they both play for the same baseball organization and even same actual baseball team — which is to say, the Double-A San Antonio Missions. Also, their preseason prospect rankings might not entirely represent their like future major-league production. So, “basically clones” is how one might reasonably refer to Jace Peterson and Robert Kral. A way they’re different, however, is that Peterson isn’t prohibited from recording plate appearances with the Missions. He’s produced a 9:9 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 79 of them (i.e. plate appearances) while also adding a home run and playing shortstop. Furthermore, he continues to have appeared within this one post regarding a entirely arbitrary means by which to identify a talented future major-leaguer.

Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS, Cleveland (Profile)
Given his offensive skills and position and age relative to level — and also the entirely satisfactory line he produced with Cleveland following a promotion last September — Ramirez seems like the sort who would have appeared among top-100s of prospects this offseason. He’s on the small side, however, and belongs to an organization that boasts almost only middle-infield prospects, it seems, so there are reasonable explanations for his absence from those same lists. What he did last season, however, was to record walk and strikeout rates of 7.3% and 7.7%, respectively, in 533 plate appearances at Double-A as just a 20-year-old. This season, as just a 21-year-old at Triple-A, what Ramirez has done is to record walk and strikeout rates of 7.9% and 7.9%, respectively, in his first 76 plate appearances — while also adding three home runs. The power is very possibly a product of his home park, which features home-run factors of 163 for lefties and 169 for righties — both of which figures benefit the switch-hitting Ramirez.

Here’s what Ramirez looks like hitting a home run not at his home park, but at Toledo instead, on April 17th:

Thomas Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
Among the people who probably wouldn’t mind if you kept calling them Shirley is the above-named Astros pitching prospect. At 25 years old and also in Double-A, the left-handed Shirley doesn’t profile as a classic prospect. At 6-foot-5, however, and also with a fastball that reaches 95-96 mph apparently and also as the owner of a 22:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just 17.1 innings thus far in 2014 — there appears to be something of interest here. A ninth-round selection by Houston in 2010 out of Xavier, Shirley has made fewer than 50% of his 60 professional appearances as a starter. He appears to have missed most of 2011 with an injury and then produced decent numbers in 2012 and -13.

A brief inspection of Shirley at work reveals that he possesses decidedly unusual mechanics — perhaps one reason why it’s quite easier to locate strikeout footage of Shirley in which batters are looking and not swinging.

Like here, for example, to Cardinals minor-leaguer Matt Williams:

And also to James Ramsey:

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

Tyler Goeddel, 3B, Tampa Bay (High-A Florida State League)
Tommy La Stella, 2B, Atlant (Triple-A International League)
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (High-A California League)
Bryan Mitchell, RHP, New York AL (Double-A Eastern League)
Aaron West, RHP, Houston (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.

Jace Peterson Padres SS 3 0 9
Josh Hader Astros LHP 3 0 9
Robert Kral Padres C 3 0 9
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 1 0 3
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 0 2 2
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 2 2
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 0 1 1
Ben Lively Reds RHP 0 1 1
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Brett Eibner Royals OF 0 1 1
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 1 1
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers MI 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Tyler Goeddel Rays 3B 0 1 1

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

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Ben Suissa
10 years ago

is Cistulli a synonym for Fringe ??