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 first appeared here among the Five on July 30th and has been omitted only once from this weekly column during that interval. Nor has he provided any reason not to be included in this current edition of the Five. Regard, by way of illustration, his line with Double-A Jacksonville since last Tuesday: 24 PA, 3:3 BB:K, 2 HR, .333/.417/.667 (.313 BABIP). And regard now even harder, if possible, his line since July 22nd, the point from which his production started to demand maximum attention: 170 PA, 12.9% BB, 5.3% K, 9 HR, .317/.426/.612 (.285 BABIP).

Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
With the exception of Toronto left-hander and Fringe Five graduate Daniel Norris, there’s been no more effective starting pitcher in the high-ish minors over the last month than Arizona’s Blayne Weller (discussed below). Not completely distant from Weller, though, is the Virgin Island native Cotton. The production has been excellent. Regard: over 25 appearances (20 starts) and 126.2 innings, Cotton has produced almost precisely the same strikeout-walk differential (about 20 percentage points, in each case) as considerably more celebrated Dodgers prospect (and Cotton’s High-A teammate) Julio Urias*. The point which separates the pair, besides Urias’s considerable youth, is that, while Urias features three plus pitches, Cotton’s fastball and breaking pitches are inferior to his changeup.

Here’s an example of that same — or, at least, a similar — changeup from last year, when Cotton was in the Midwest League, it appears:

Cotton Change

And largely identical footage, except in slower motion:

Cotton Change Slow

*An observation helpfully made by Dustin Nosler of Dodgers Digest.

Dixon Machado, SS, Detroit (Profile)
In multiple recent editions of the Five, the author has suggested that — owing to his combination of plate discipline, possibly developing power, and universally praised shortstop defense — the author has suggested that Dixon Machado probably ought to be regarded more widely. The purpose of this brief paragraph is to note that Machado has continued mostly to exhibit that same collection of skills since last Tuesday, recording a 6:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio over 36 plate appearances while also starting at shortstop in eight consecutive games. And while he produced zero home runs over that same interval he did post a stolen-base record of 4-for-4.

Dwight Smith Jr, OF, Toronto (Profile)
Smith, son of the former major leaguer, is compelling not merely on his own merits, but also for how his profile compares to that of the recently promoted Dalton Pompey. Having entered the season (like Pompey) as a 21-year-old with the Blue Jays’ High-A affiliate Dunedin, Smith actually played alongside Pompey (in left usually, with Pompey in center) for the first three months of the Florida State Leauge season. While the latter received subsequent promotions to Double- and Triple-A, however — and then, two days ago, to the majors — Smith has remained behind, most often occupying that same center-field spot vacated by his former teammate. While the scouting reports might ultimately offer wildly different portraits, the most readily available information invites comparison. Pompey has played more center field and produced a more impressive stolen-base record this year (43-for-50, compared to Smith’s record of 15-for-19); Smith, however, has produced a better walk-strikeout differential (-2.0 percentage points, compared to Pompey’s mark of -6.2 points while with Dunedin) and a stronger home-run rate. Smith has been particularly impressive over the last two weeks, recording an 8:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio and three home runs in 45 plate appearances.

Here’s what appears to be the most recently available video of Smith doing anything — in this case, of Smith recording a single at some point this spring — courtesy MLB Prospect Portal:

Smith Hit 1

And here’s a single frame from the above footage of Smith at the most improbably moment during his swing:

Smith Hit 1 Freeze

Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
Over two appearances since last week’s edition of this same column, Weller recorded 14 strikeouts against just 30 opposing batters — the sort of strikeout rate, that, typically only ever approached by Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel. What wasn’t recorded, however, was any video of either start or even any scouting-type notes. In fact, a search merely for any sort of record on Weller’s velocity (previously reported at 95 mph on his fastball) over the last month returns almost exclusively just other editions of the Fringe Five. Why one bothers even to wake up in the morning remains a mystery.

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

Taylor Cole, RHP, Toronto (High-A Florida State League)
Ryan Cordell, OF, Texas (High-A Carolina League)
Sherman Johnson, IF, Los Angeles AL (High-A California League)
Brett Phillips, OF, Houston (High-A California League)
Richie Shaffer, 3B, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern 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 3 21
2 Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 6 1 19
3 Jace Peterson Padres SS 5 2 17
4 Austin Barnes Marlins C/2B 5 1 16
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 4 4 16
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B 5 1 16
7 Ben Lively Reds RHP 4 3 15
Blayne Weller D-backs RHP 5 0 15
9 Billy Mckinney Cubs OF 3 5 14
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 2 14
Michael Reed Brewers OF 4 2 14
Robert Kral Padres C 3 5 14
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 4 2 14

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

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M.S. Solstice
M.S. Solstice

Cotton’s changeup floats like a knuckleball, then drops like a splitter