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)
Bousfield made his debut among the Five last week on the strength of three traits: a walk and strikeout differential of zero, a strong stolen-base record, and positive reports (care of Kiley McDaniel) regarding his center-field defense. None of that has changed in the last week. In 26 plate appearances since last Wednesday, Bousfield has recorded a 4:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio, 3-for-4 stolen-base record, and six starts in center. And unusually for a fifth-round college signee, he’s done this all while playing below the league-average age. In conclusion, here’s a link to a discussion that took place within the comments section of last week’s installment of the Five regarding the correct pronunciation both of Bousfield’s surname and also his nickname.
Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
After appearing in this year’s inaugural edition of the Five, De Leon was relegated to the Next Five last week after leaving a start prematurely and heading to the DL. Since then, however — and since returning to Rancho Cucamonga’s rotation — De Leon has been as absurdly effective as before. To wit, his numbers in two starts over the last week: 13.0 IP, 48 TBF, 19 K, 2 BB, 1 HR, 8 H. Unfortunately, broadcast video exists for neither of those appearances. Courtesy Wilson Karaman, however, one finds some video footage from De Leon’s last start.
Of this probably breaking ball for a swinging-strike, for example:
And of this fastball for another swinging-strike, as well:
Chih-Wei Hu, RHP, Minnesota (Profile)
One is tempted, in light of this 21-year-old right-hander’s family name, either to render that same right-hander’s name into some form of pun or, otherwise, to make an elaborate display of how one specifically isn’t making that pun. In either case, not unlike the eerily active eyes of a Tom Selleck poster you once saw in your neighbor’s basement, it’s impossible to escape the phonetic similarities between Chih-Wei Hu’s surname and a certain English pronoun. Here’s what else one can’t escape: that in four starts and 24.0 innings for the Twins’ Florida State League affiliate, Hu has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 31.8% and 3.4%, respectively, giving him the third-best strikeout- and walk-rate differential among all qualified pitchers at High-A, behind only Jose De Leon (featured below) and 25-year-old Oakland minor-leaguer Tim Atherton. The arm speed, according both to Kiley McDaniel and Aaron Gleeman, is sufficient enough to suggest that Hu isn’t thriving off mere deception.
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B/SS (Profile)
With his appearance here, Johnson becomes the only player to have been featured within the Five proper over the first three installments of this year’s edition of that weekly column. Nor is it entirely due to his performance, specifically. Indeed there are aspects of his statistical profile this year — the positive walk and strikeout differential, the perfect 7-for-7 stolen-base record, the multiple starts at shortstop (in addition to second and third base) — that merit attention. That said, the success of Toronto second baseman Devon Travis also informs Johnson’s inclusion here. Consider: Johnson and Travis were teammates at Florida State. Both were named to the All-Tournament Team following the 2012 College World Series. Where Travis was selected in the 13th round of that same year’s draft, Johnson was selected a round later, in the 14th. Both (clearly) have been regarded as performers rather than actual, legitimate prospects. And yet, one finds that Travis currently ranks 12th among all major leaguers by WAR. This isn’t to say Johnson would replicate that performance were he promoted to the Angels today. In some sense, however, Travis really is Johnson’s major-league surrogate, and his success is, at some level, Johnson’s own success.
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado (Profile)
The batters typically featured among the Five are the sort whose offensive value lies more in their ability to control the strike zone than to create runs once they’ve made contact. That’s probably the case for several reasons, but mostly this one: identifying hitters who make quality contact is easier for scouting-types than identifying those who will produce actual value by means of their capacity to discern a ball from a strike and a hittable strike from a non-hittable one. As such, hitters who exhibit power on contact typically appear towards the top of prospect lists. Story, this season, has produced entirely reasonable plate-discipline numbers (15.6% BB, 23.9% K) for a 22-year-old at Double-A. It’s what he’s done with his contact that’s impressive, however. In 109 plate appearances now for New Britain, Story has recorded a .318 isolated-power figure and .517 BABIP. Those are the third– and first-best numbers, respectively, among all Double-A hitters — marks rivaled only by Carlos Correa, really, which Houston prospect was ranked fifth among all prospects by Kiley McDaniel entering the season.
Here’s mostly unhelpful — and also slow-motion — footage of Story hitting a home run recently:
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Jerad Eickhoff, RHP, Texas (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Jaime Schultz, RHP, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League)
Pedro Severino, C, Washington (Double-A Eastern 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.
|2||Jose De Leon||Dodgers||RHP||2||1||7|
|Matt Boyd||Blue Jays||LHP||2||1||7|
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.