The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition 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 the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on any of McDaniel’s updated prospect lists or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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.


Auston Bousfield, OF, San Diego (Profile)
One might have reasonably assumed that, entering the 2015 season, that the Padres would lack almost any talent of note in their system. As lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel observed while evaluating all of that club’s prospects, general manager A.J. Preller et al. traded 11 of the organization’s most talented minor leaguers over less than a two-week span in December — and that was before the early April deal that sent right-hander Matt Wisler to Atlanta. Yet, one finds that Bousfield (pronounced BOSS-field) — who was featured among the Others of Note section on that Padres list — possesses an entirely promising set of skills. Selected in the fifth round of last year’s draft out of Ole Miss, Bousfield (according to McDaniel) exhibits both the speed and instincts to play center field. In addition to his defensive competence, Bousfield has shown the ability so far this season to make contact with above-average frequency (having produced just an 8.8% strikeout rate) while also skewing young for his level (as a 21-year-old in the High-A California League) — two traits which, in concert, are most predictive of future major-league success.

Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Profile)
Like Sherman Johnson below, the left-handed Boyd also appeared within last week’s edition of the Five. All the positive remarks concerning Boyd which appeared there continue to apply this week, as well — as do a pair of new details. First, there’s the entirely proficient start he recorded in the meantime against Mets Double-A affiliate Binghamton and during which he produced this entirely proficient line (box): 6.1 IP, 24 TBF, 6 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 5 H. Moreover, there’s this report from Toronto minor-league site Blue Jays from Away which suggests that, due to an offseason weighted-ball program, Boyd might actually be sitting closer to 93-94 mph with his fastball — which is to say, roughly 2-6 mph faster than his previously established levels.

Here’s unhelpful footage of Boyd using his fastball, whatever the velocity, to record one of six strikeouts from his April 20th start — in this case, against giant Yankees outfield prospect Aaron Judge:

Boyd Judge FA K

Jerad Eickhoff, RHP, Texas (Profile)
A concern with any prospect — but one perhaps most relevant to fringe-types who distinguish themselves more substantially by way of performance than tools — is his ability to produce roughly the same numbers at a higher level than he has at a lower one following a promotion to the former. Multiple pitchers who’ve appeared among the Five — former Miami prospect Brian Flynn, for example, and also Houston’s Thomas Shirley — have made something less than ideal transitions in the past to Triple-A opposition from Double-A. What’s notable about Eickhoff is the relative uniformity between the numbers he’s produced across levels already this season. After two starts for Double-A Frisco over which he produced a 14:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 40 batter in 10.0 innings, Eickhoff made his debut for Triple-A Round Rock this past Friday. The results from that (box): 8.1 IP, 28 TBF, 11 K, 1 BB — which is to say, almost exactly the same numbers he’d recorded at Double-A. Selected by Texas in the 15th round of the 2011 draft out of an Illinois junior college, Eickhoff features both a fastball and curveball that profile as average at worst according to Kiley McDaniel.

Here’s an example of the former, thrown at 94 mph for a swinging strike three, from Eickhoff’s Triple-A debut:

Eickhoff K at 94 High

And of the latter, as well — also from that Triple-A start and also for a strikeout:

Eickhoff K at 77 on CU to Pete Orr

Buck Farmer, RHP, Detroit (Profile)
Much of what the author might have written in this space regarding Farmer, he wrote last Thursday in a brief post enumerating certain of Farmer’s virtues. Chief among those virtues: Farmer’s outstanding swinging-strike rate so far this season. Swinging-strike rate is predictive of strikeout rate, and (at that time) Farmer had produced the highest such mark among all qualified Triple-A pitchers. As of today, he’s produced the second-highest such rate (15.1%) according to Minor League Central. One finds, meanwhile, that the pitcher ranked just above Farmer (Baltimore’s Zach Davies) appears on Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list, as does the pitcher just below him (Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz) and just below that, too (Minnesota’s Alex Meyer).

Farmer’s changeup appears to have been particularly effective. Here’s footage, for example, of Farmer using that pitch to strike out Pittsburgh minor-leaguer Hunter Morris during the former’s most recent start:

Farmer 5th Inning Morris K on CH

And also throwing it as a first-pitch strike to Mel Rojas Jr., whose reaction suggests he probably wasn’t anticipating a first-pitch changeup:

Farmer 3rd Innings CH Rojas Like What

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B/SS (Profile)
With regard to Angels infield prospect Sherman Johnson, what can one say about him that hasn’t already been said by famous Greek poet Homer? A lot, is the answer. Because while Homer has been dead for roughly 3000 years, Sherman Johnson was born at a Tampa-area hospital in 1990 CE. Nevertheless, one finds that no fewer than three epithets applied to Achilles by Homer are also relevant to Johnson: “swift-footed,” “lion-hearted,” and also “son of sleek-haired Leto.” Since his appearance last week among the year’s inaugural edition of the Five, Johnson has produced the following line: 29 PA, 6 BB, 3 K, 2-2 SB — this, while receiving three starts each at second and short for Double-A Arkansas.

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

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (High-A California League)
Adam Engel, OF, Chicago AL (High-A Carolina League)
Jaime Schultz, RHP, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Blayne Weller, RHP, Arizona (High-A California 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 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 2 0 6
Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 2 0 6
3 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 1 1 4
Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 1 1 4
5 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 1 0 3
Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 1 0 3
Dixon Machado Tigers SS 1 0 3
Jerad Eickhoff Rangers RHP 1 0 3
9 Adam Engel White Sox OF 0 2 2
Blayne Weller D-backs RHP 0 2 2

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

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Any thoughts on Phil Ervin of the Reds? Seems like a solid candidate for this series…OPSing over 1.000 coming off a down year after wrist surgery


As a Reds fan I think we could have done much better with our first round pick than Ervin