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 current season’s 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.


Andrew Aplin, OF, Houston (Profile)
Aplin’s name has appeared in this column six times previously, but only once among the Five proper — a product, perhaps, not of any lack of credentials on the outfielder’s part, but rather of his perpetual competence. After producing a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 1.0 last season as a 22-year-old in the High-A California League, Aplin replicated that feat this season with Double-A Corpus Christi, recording walk and strikeout rates of 15.0% and 12.9%, respectively, over 434 plate appearances. The use of simple past (and not perfect) form of replicate in that last sentence is intentional: Aplin was promoted at the end of last week, and thus will now do any replicating of his promising plate-discipline numbers with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Here’s footage of Aplin, whose center-field defense is widely praised, recording an out from that position in late June:

Austin Barnes, C/2B, Miami (Profile)
Because the latter was one of his generation’s most valuable ballplayers and also because he probably possessed greater athleticism than the former, one should refrain from comparing Miami prospect Austin Barnes to Craig Biggio. The resemblance is more than superficial, however. Like Biggio, Barnes is both a competent catcher and second baseman. Like Biggio, Barnes’ offensive value is tied largely to outstanding contact skills and plate discipline. And like Biggio, he appears to possess the skill of getting hit by pitches. On the subject of that last point, consider: since last week’s edition of the Five, Barnes recorded a hit-by-pitch rate of 11.8% — a figure, that, equal to his walk rate over the same 34 plate appearances and infinitely greater than his strikeout rate of 0% over that interval.

Here’s video evidence, from July 30th, of no fewer than one of Barnes’ recent hit-by-pitches:

Barnes 1

Michael Reed, OF, Milwaukee (Profile)
Reed’s 2014 season, to this point, appears actually to be a collection of three shorter seasons, as follow:

04/03 to 05/13: 150 PA, 23.3% BB, 16.0% K, 17-for-23 SB
06/03 to 07/18: 137 PA, 9.5% BB, 19.0% K, 4-for-6 SB
07/19 to 08/05: 77 PA, 19.5% BB, 7.8% K, 9-for-12 SB

The May 13th date is significant: Reed left that day’s game after injuring his oblique, forcing him to the disabled list for approximately three weeks. The next two intervals are somewhat arbitrary, but are intended to reveal what is likely the product of Reed’s improved health and timing. Absent not only from the relevant top-100 lists, but also Baseball America’s top-30 organizational list for the Brewers, Reed’s combination of plate discipline and athleticism suggest — for the moment, at least — that the 21-year-old could develop into at least an average major leaguer.

Michael Taylor, OF, Washington (Profile)
With regard to Taylor, the editors of Baseball America make this revealing comment in the most recent edition of their Prospect Handbook:

If Taylor can become even a below-average hitter, his other tools could give him significant big-league value. If he can mature into a fringy or average hitter, he can be an all-star.

The 23-year-old outfielder possesses above-average raw power, defensive skills, and speed. Of some concern, however, has been his tendency — due either to poor pitch selection or a lack of contact skills or both — his tendency to strike out. It’s that tendency which likely compelled all the relevant prospect analysts to omit him from their respective top-100 (and others kind of) lists. What else it means, though, is that any indication Taylor provides that he’s understanding the strike zone is a significant one. Recently, Taylor has exhibited a possible indication along these lines. Consider: between July 22nd and August 4th, Taylor recorded walk and strikeout rates of 28.1% and 15.6%, respectively, over 32 plate appearances — about three times the walk rate, that, and half the strikeout rate of his 2014 season as a whole. Whatever walking and striking out he’ll do in the immediate future, he’ll do for Triple-A Syracuse, having earned a promotion at the beginning of the week.

Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
To suggest that the Fringe Five was created expressly for the purpose of celebrating the works and days of Blayne Weller, specifically, would represent an instance of lying. To suggest, however, that this weekly column was created to celebrate players like Weller would be a reasonable instance of suggesting. Here are the pertinent and compelling facts concerning Weller:

  • He was acquired by Arizona last season from the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League (box); and
  • He sustained an average fastball velocity of about 94 mph through the ninth inning of his no-hitter that he threw on July 10th; and
  • Said no-hitter appears to be only his second-most dominant outing of the season, the 24-year-old Weller having struck out 16 of 31 batters faced on July 31st (box).

Here’s a GIF of Weller’s curveball from the aforementioned no-hitter — his last start, that, before earning a promotion to the High-A California League.


And that same pitch, even more slowly:

Weller Slow

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

Andrew Faulkner, LHP, Texas (Double-A Texas League)
Cody Kukuk, LHP, Boston (High-A Carolina League)
Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Double-A Southern League)
Scott Schebler, OF, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Southern League)
Zach Walters, SS, Cleveland (Triple-A International League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are the top-10 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
1 Taylor Cole Blue Jays RHP 6 1 19
2 Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
3 Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
4 Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 5 1 16
5 Ben Lively Reds RHP 4 3 15
6 Billy Mckinney Cubs OF 3 5 14
7 Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
8 Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
9 Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 4 2 14
10 Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 3 4 13

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

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That ball hits the batter, hits the catcher, and the rolls out to the mound. Awesome!