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)
With the promotion this past week of San Diego prospect Jace Peterson to the majors (which transaction renders him unavailable for the Five) and the demotion, for largely arbitrary reasons, of other San Diego prospect Robert Kral to the Next Five, Houston left-hander Josh Hader now has the distinction of having been the only player to appear in all four editions of this weekly column in 2014. One hopes that this isn’t the highest of his achievements. One hopes, as well, that Hader appears in a televised game at some point this season, thus providing footage which might then be rendered into GIF form and embedded into a post not unlike the present one. In his most recent and not-televised game, Hader produced the following, very excellent line (box): 3.0 IP, 9 TBF, 6 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 H.

Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Given his performance thus far in 2014, it’s difficult — at this point, at least — to conceive of a scenario in which Lively is omitted from midseason top-prospect lists. Over five starts and 29.0 innings, the right-hander has recorded a 40:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while conceding just a single home run in the typically very offensive High-A California League. As he was omitted from preseason top-100 lists, however, Lively is entirely eligible for the Five right now. Regarding the 22-year-old, here’s a fact: he was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft by the Reds out of the University of Central Florida. Here’s another fact: he recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.6% and 8.2%, respectively, over 37.0 innings last year — against probably a lot of younger hitters, however, in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. According to a recent report by MiLB.com’s Ashley Marshall, Lively “sat between 89-94 mph with his fastball and 83-85 mph with his changeup” during a recent start against Stockton.

Here’s an example of Lively’s fastball from a more recent start — in this case, against Giants prospect Brian Ragira:

Lively FA Ragira

And here’s a slider from later in that same plate appearance to strike Ragira out:

Lively SL Ragira

And here’s a slower version of that slider, for some reason:

Lively SL Ragira Slow

Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Profile)
For reasons that won’t be explored at any length here, but which probably merit the attention of a trained professional, the author is the sort of person who’s predisposed to favoring those who either (a) possess some manner of affiliation with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (b) bear conspicuously Italian names (sur- and otherwise), or (c) have attended not lesser, but greater, Ivy League universities. To the extent that Saugus native and Columbia graduate Dario Pizzano is well-acquitted by all three of these criteria, the author is then predisposed to favoring him. One notes that Pizzano’s virtues don’t stop there, however: the outfielder has recorded a 17:12 walk-to-strikeout ratio (along with a home run) in 103 plate appearances with Seattle’s High-A California League affiliate — this, after having produced a positive walk-and-strikeout differential last season, as well, in the Midwest League. Because he’s currently playing in his age-23 season and also confined to a corner-outfield spot, the reasons for his omission from top-100 prospect lists are clear. His control of the strike zone and compelling biographical data, however, merit attention.

Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS, Cleveland (Profile)
Some probably wrong math by the author reveals that, in the Triple-A International League, only four players (Dan Johnson, Jesus Aguilar, J.D. Martinez, and Roberto Perez) have produced a more impressive regressed, defense-independent batting line than Jose Ramirez. All of them, one notes, are at least three years older than Ramirez. Ignoring BABIP entirely is ultimately poor form. After a month of plate appearances, however, a batter’s defense-independent numbers are starting to become reliable, whereas his batted-ball profile is still very much subject to the vagaries of randomness. Regardless of all that, what is clear at the moment is that Jose Ramirez (a) is merely 21 years old and (b) has produced one of Triple-A’s most promising offensive lines thus far. Since last week’s edition of the Five, he’s recorded a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a homer in 29 plate appearances, giving him walk and strikeout rates of 8.6% and 7.6%, respectively — plus also four home runs — in 105 plate appearances this season.

Thomas Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
There are times when it’s appropriate to discuss Thomas Shirley at some length. There are other times when it’s perhaps more appropriate to drink Marsala with some people from Sicily. This appears to be the former of those times. With regard to Shirley, however, one can say conclusively that he (a) has recorded one start since making his debut on last week’s edition of the Five and (b) produced a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 22 batters over 6.0 innings in same (box).

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

Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Stephen Landazuri, RHP, Seattle (Double-A Southern League)
Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland (High-A California League)
Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Cincinnati (High-A California League)
Roberto Perez, C, Cleveland (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.

Name Team POS FF NF PTS
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 0 12
Robert Kral Padres C 3 1 10
Jace Peterson Padres SS 3 0 9
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 2 0 6
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 2 0 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Ben Lively Reds RHP 1 1 4
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 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
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Billy McKinney 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
Roberto Perez Indians C 0 1 1
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 0 1 1
Stephen Landazuri Mariners RHP 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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Glad to see another edition of the Marcus Semien Memorial Scoreboard.