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.


Austin Barnes, C/2B, Miami (Profile)
Barnes makes his third appearance in this weekly column over the last four editions of same not due to an exceptionally strong week, per se, but rather to a moderately strong week which, with its resemblance to Barnes’ full-season numbers, serves to reiterate how excellent those full-season numbers are. By way of illustration, here’s that last week rendered quantitatively: 34 PA, 14.7% BB, 8.8% K, .286/.394/.393 (.320 BABIP). And here’s the full season: 293 PA, 14.3% BB, 10.6% K, .286/.400/.445 (.299 BABIP).

Finally, here’s a very small GIF of Barnes, who’s capable of playing catcher, recording a triple this week:


Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Profile)
There are a number of reasons to suppose that Dario Pizzano won’t be even an average major leaguer. Like, he was drafted in the 15th round, for example. And he’s limited to left field, probably. And, at under six feet, he lacks the physicality necessary to compensate for his defensive shortcomings by means of power. All reasonable points, those. Nor is it the author’s intention to announce that Pizzano definitely will be even an average major leaguer. As Kiley McDaniel noted in these pages on Monday, not even the very best scouting sorts are qualified to make such pronouncements. What Pizzano has done this year, however, is to produce surprisingly capable offensive skills. After posting a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 1.0 in the California League, Pizzano has replicated that achievement in the Double-A Southern League — while also producing home runs at a faster rate.

Giovanny Urshela, 3B, Cleveland (Profile)
While he’s never appeared among the Five, Cleveland third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela — owing to his combination of performance relative to position and age and level — has more than once been the last player cut, as it were, from this recurring exercise. Now, though, after a week in which he’s hit three home runs — and recorded an entirely serviceable 3:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio — he makes his debut. Absent entirely from Baseball America’s top-30 organizational list entering the season, the Colombian has ascended to Triple-A as a 22-year-old. By way of illustrating the significance of that accomplishment, note that only 11 of the 151 qualified batters in the International and Pacific Coast Leagues combined are 22 or younger. Of those 11, only Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson has produced a better batting line relative to league than Urshela.

Here’s Urshela’s most recent home run, from this Monday:


And here’s a slow motion version of that same thing, for some reason:

Urshela Slow

Dixon Machado, SS, Detroit (Profile)
Players who possess Tommy La Stella’s skill set — which is to say, those whose main and/or only offensive asset is controlling the hell out of the strike zone — players who possess that offensive skill set whilst also playing corner outfield are unlikely to produce much in the way of wins at the major-league level. Players who do that while demonstrating come competence at a more challenging position, like second base or third base or center — those players are Tommy La Stella. Meanwhile, those players who capable more or less of approximating La Stella’s offensive approach while also playing above-average shortstop — those are talented players. That said regard these two lines:

323 11.5% 10.5%
288 11.5% 10.1%

One of them is La Stella’s age-24 line at Double-A Mississippi; the other, Machado’s age-22 (i.e. current) line at Double-A Erie. It isn’t necessary to indicate which is which. They’re similar, is the point. The other point is that, should he continue to demonstrate this level of competence offensively, Machado is nearly certain to find himself on a major-league roster.

Here’s a modestly informative GIF featuring Machado’s most recent hit:


Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
All of the facts previous reported in this column regarding Weller remain true. He remains 24 years old. He definitely was signed out of the independent Frontier League. He does still throw 94-95 mph. And he has recorded 12- and 16-strikeout games this year. A new thing is now true of him, too: since last week’s appearance among the Five, Weller made a start in which he recorded a 7:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 24 batters over 6.0 innnings (box).

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

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (High-A Florida State League)
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland (High-A Carolina League)
Sherman Johnson, IF, Los Angeles AL (High-A California League)
Glenn Sparkman, RHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina 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 2 20
2 Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
3 Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
4 Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 4 4 16
5 Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 5 1 16
6 Ben Lively Reds RHP 4 3 15
7 Billy Mckinney Cubs OF 3 5 14
8 Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
9 Michael Reed Brewers OF 4 2 14
10 Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14

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

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8 years ago

Worth mentioning: Urshela’s defense has been touted as his strong suit. Good range, soft hands, strong arm… all the cliches. So the fact that he’s swinging the bat as well as he has (and at such a young age) is just icing on the cake.

Really interested about Yandy Diaz now. Haven’t heard his name mentioned before.