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.

*****

Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Profile)
This appearance marks Boyd’s third of the season within this weekly column — and, in conjunction with some of his Next Five mentions, places him third overall among all players on the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard below. In part, Boyd’s inclusion this week is a product of his most recent appearance, during which the left-hander recorded an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 26 batters over 7.0 innings (box). In part, it’s to note that, among all Double-A pitchers, only the Dodgers’ Julio Urias (ranked fourth among all prospects by Kiley McDaniel this offseason) and the Yankees’ Luis Severino (26th) have posted a greater strikeout- and walk-rate differential than Boyd. Finally, it’s to confirm that Boyd is exhibiting greater arm speed than ever before — and is exhibiting it throughout his starts.

From his second-to-last appearance, for example, one finds this fastball to Trevor Story registered at 95 mph (and quoted by the broadcast team) in the first inning:

Boyd FA 95 Story

In the fifth inning, Boyd was throwing at roughly the same velocity, as this 94 mph fastball — once again to Story — suggests:

Boyd FA 94 Story in 5th

Ryan Cordell, OF/SS, Texas (Profile)
Cordell was featured in last week’s edition of the Five due in no small part to his notable climb up the defensive spectrum. (Or to the left side of the defensive spectrum, depending on how one is orienting the spectrum.) The author is quoting himself when he writes that “after playing mostly right field in 2013, [Cordell] split time between right and center in 2014. This year, he’s splitting time again — not between right and center field, but center field and shortstop.” During just the seven-game interval between last Wednesday and today, Cordell has debuted at yet another position for High-A High Desert — in this case, third base. It’s not more challenging than shortstop, of course, but it not only adds to his usefulness but also probably attests to his athleticism and baseball intelligence. Overall, Cordell was perfect on three total chances. Offensively, he acquitted himself well, also, recording a 4:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio and two homers in 34 plate appearances.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
The combination of a 95 mph fastball and excellent changeup allowed De Leon to transform last year from a 24th-round pick (and recipient of a correspondingly low signing bonus) into one of the best pitchers (first) in the Rookie-level Pioneer League and (then) in the Class-A Midwest one. Presumably, he utilized both those pitches to great effect over the first month of the current season, as well, en route to producing the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential in all of affiliated baseball while playing for Rancho Cucamonga in the Cal League. Curiously, De Leon featured mostly just a 91-94 mph fastball over the first three innings of his Double-A debut last Friday while utilizing hardly anything in the way of his secondary pitchers — and managed to record five strikeouts against 14 batters, anyway. Here’s his overall line from said debut (box): 6.0 IP, 23 TBF, 8 K, 2 BB.

And here’s an example of that fastball — first, to strike out Angel Franco (who’s recorded just an 8.1% strikeout rate this season):

JDL FA Franco SS K

And then, later, to strike out Angel Franco again:

JDL FA Franco SS K 3rd

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
While a lack of “money” has prevented the author from investing very heavily in the world’s various financial markets, that same author has nevertheless developed a collection, as it were, of emotional investments in certain of the fringe prospects who appear in this weekly column. The principles are the same in each case: the success of the prospect is my success; his failure is my failure, too. At the moment, there’s no greater holding in this fictional portfolio than in Angels infield prospect Sherman Johnson. Entering last week, this was problematic: despite possessing a walk-to-strikeout ratio of nearly 1:1, Johnson hadn’t produced much in the way of contact and was slashing just .201/.339/.324. Dismal, that. Since last week’s installment of the Five, however, the returns have been excellent. In the 35 plate appearances during that interval, Johnson has recorded even better walk and strikeout rates (17.1% and 11.4%, respectively). Plus also two home runs. Plus also a .348 BABIP. The result? Johnson’s now slashing .226/.360/.375. Which, that’s not ideal still, probably. Combined with his defensive skills and base-running value, however, it conspires to produce a promising player.

Deibinson Romero, 3B, Pittsburgh (Profile)
The 28-year-old Romero received some attention in the electronic pages this past fall as the leading candidate to develop into the next Yangervis Solarte — which is to say, the next legitimately useful player to have been signed out of minor-league free agency. Romero entered the 2015 season with the highest WAR projection among all such players on the strength of a well-rounded offensive profile and the capacity to play third base. He began that 2015 season by offering only more evidence of his value. Over 155 plate appearances with Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate, Romero recorded precisely a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio while also producing the highest isolated-power figure (ISO) among all qualified batters in the International League — this while making 34 of his 37 defensive starts at third base. One notes, however, that much of this entry is written in the past tense. That’s because Romero signed this week to play in the Korean league.

Here, in homage to Romero’s talents, is footage depicting the most recent of his six home runs:

Romero HR

And a slow-motion version of same, for some reason:

Romero HR Slow

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

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Double-A Eastern League)
Luke Farrell, RHP, Kansas City (Double-A Texas League)
Junior Guerra, RHP, Chicago AL (Triple-A International League)
Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League)
Joe Musgrove, RHP, Houston (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 Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 5 1 16
Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 5 1 16
3 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 3 2 11
4 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 1 5 8
5 Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 2 1 7
Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 2 1 7
8 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 2 0 6
Ryan Cordell Rangers OF/SS 2 0 6
10 Drew Robinson Rangers 2B/3B 1 1 4
Jerad Eickhoff Rangers RHP 1 1 4





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

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Happy
Guest
Happy

As always, these are great. Question: now that you’ve done this for a few years, have you ever considered running an article looking back at fringe five leaderboards from years past? I would enjoy that exercise.

Sad
Guest
Sad

He probably didn’t keep records of them, so they’re probably lost to time forever and ever. That sounds like something I would do. Besides, even if he did keep records, I’d imagine there are a few fringe five leaders who never amounted to anything. How depressing.

Ullu Ka Patta
Guest
Ullu Ka Patta

Here’s the 2013 wrapup, some interesting hits and misses among them:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-fringe-five-summary-and-results-and-discussion/

Ullu Ka Patta
Guest
Ullu Ka Patta

My particular favorite, that Joc Pederson was judged to be slightly less interesting than someone allegedly named Jabari Blash, someone who sounds more like a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy reference than an actual baseball person.

Mike
Guest
Mike

to be fair, Jabari Blash is leading all of AA in wRC+ if you drop the qualification to 100 PA. He’s a little old, but he’s not awful!

Mike
Guest
Mike

(also SLG, OPS, and wOBA)

tz
Guest
tz

Also, Blash was a slightly higher draft pick, and probably would beat Joc in the eye test.

From Kiley’s 2015 Mariner’s prospect writeup on Blash:


6’5/225 specimen looks like an NFL tight end and has above average arm, power and bat speed along with average foot speed; he served a drug suspension last year; Blash has improved his feel for the game and will be in Triple-A in 2015

Slacker George
Guest
Slacker George

Jabari Blash is the next hit Snapple flavor.

Joe Mammy
Guest
Joe Mammy

It appears that this man can’t get enough Max Kepler. lol.

I’m not convinced that guy is every going to see an MLB field…
at least not until picture day with his wife and kids.

Jay Stevens
Guest
Jay Stevens

Why not? Genuinely curious.

I’m looking at a guy who was always touted as an extraordinary athlete with great makeup, but who came to the game late. This year he’s hitting .336/.373/.538 at AA as a 22yo — a contact hitter with speed who can play every OF position? Even if he doesn’t develop power, he could be a viable 4th OFer if this year’s jump isn’t dumb luck.

McNulty
Guest
McNulty

I love Carson, but Piscotty and Pederson were not fringe at the time

Wobatus
Guest
Wobatus

In the wrap up for 2013 Carson acknowledged guys had moved out of fringe consideration over the year, like Franco and Pederson. The criteria may have been nebulous, but Pederson didn’t make any of the cited top 100 lists (or even BA’s next 5). He was BA’s number 4 on Dodgers, and Sickel’s number 3. He swas Sickel’s number 113 overall, and he said you could make a case for him for top 100. Technically, that’s right on the fringe, but by mid-year Carson stopped including him.

Heck, Carson had someone nitpicking that Gavin Cecchini isn’t fringe because he was a first round pick, even though he didn’t make any top 150s I saw this year, or ever since he was drafted. He didn’t make Kiley’s top 200. He’s moving up for next year, though.