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.

*****

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Profile)
The objective of this weekly column — stated not very far above these exact words — is to “recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.” Defining precisely how much “notoriety” a prospect is receiving — this represents a small challenge. For the purposes of the Fringe Five, the author has utilized a (seemingly reasonable) proxy — namely, Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 preseason prospect list (and its subsequent in-season updates). Those players absent from McDaniel’s list have, by definition, not been recognized as one of the baseball’s top-200 prospects. Their omission, also by definition, suggests that they’ve received less notoriety than their more celebrated peers. Having said that, one might make a reasonable counterargument — namely, that the receipt of a $2.3 million signing bonus in 2012 after being selected 12th overall in that same year’s draft — that this might also qualify as an example of notoriety. Relevant to this entry, shortstop Gavin Cecchini both (a) received such a bonus from the Mets in 2012 and also (b) was omitted from McDaniel’s preseason list this year. Notably, he’s been omitted from every top-100 prospect list published by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com since his draft year. He’s been included here this week in recognition of his 2015 season thus far, which is very much the season — by the standards of performance, at least — of a player with future major-league value. Over 177 plate appearances, Cecchini has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 7.3% and 9.0% and produced a .155 ISO in a league where a .115 ISO is average. A very promising line, that — and one he’s produced as a 21-year-old shortstop at Double-A.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
After recording strikeout and walk rates of 39.2% and 5.4%, respectively, over seven starts and 37.2 innings in the High-A California League, the right-handed De Leon has now reproduced almost precisely the same figures at Double-A Tulsa. Regard, for example, his strikeout rate over two starts and 13.0 innings with that club: 39.6%. And now gaze lustily at his walk rate, as well: 8.3%. On a club featuring actual, living wunderkind Julio Urias, the former 24th-round selection De Leon now features the club’s top strikeout- and walk-rate differential — which, incidentally, would also represent the highest such mark among all Double-A pitchers were he to have recorded the requisite number of innings for qualification. Given his totally impressive numbers — which are supported by his totally impressive arm speed, command, etc. — it’s perhaps time to remove him from eligibility from the Five. (If the reader has thoughts on this matter, neither he nor she should hesitate from including them below.) For the moment, the author has utilized this edition of the Five to the end of capturing and publishing the video below.

In particular, this is footage of De Leon’s 11th strikeout from his most recent start — by means, that strikeout, of a changeup.

Junior Guerra, RHP, Chicago AL (Profile)
The salient details regarding Guerra and his career have been noted here before, but also merit repeating. A former catcher in the Atlanta system, this year represents his first in affiliated baseball since 2008. In the meantime, he’s pitched in the Italian, Mexican, and Spanish leagues. Just a couple weeks ago, he made his first appearance ever in Triple-A. As a 30-year-old. His numbers, one finds, are fantastic… Since last week’s edition of the Five, Guerra made two appearances — one in a starter, one in a relief, capacity — during the former of which he produced an 8:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters over 6.0 innings (box). Were he qualified, his 19.7 strikeout- and walk-rate differential would place him second among all Triple-A starters — just ahead of the mark Eduardo Rodriguez produced before he began striking out and not walking major-league batters, instead.

The footage below reveals two promising moments from Guerra’s last start — a slider for a swing and miss to a left-handed batter (suggesting he can use that pitch to neutralize lefties) and then also a 95 mph for a strikeout in the fifth inning (suggesting that he possesses the ability to retain velocity as he proceeds through a start).

Travis Jankowski, OF, San Diego (Profile)
Part of a Stony Brook club that became, in 2012, the first school from the Northeast Region in nearly 30 years to advance to the College World Series, Jankowski was selected during the supplemental round of that same year’s draft — on the strength, his selection, of both his collegiate and also Cape Cod summer league performances. While he’s continue to exhibit excellent speed in affiliated baseball — stealing 71 bases for High-A Lake Elsinore in 2013, for example — the other offensive skills have been slower to reveal themselves in the professional game. This season has been more promising in that regard, however. Thus far, Jankowski has produced both the highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate of his career at any level/season within which he’s recorded 100-plus plate appearances. With just a single home run, he’s still failed to demonstrate what, according to Kiley McDaniel, might be something approaching average raw power. His combination of plate discipline, base-running acumen, and defensive skills, though, might prove sufficient to render him a major-league regular.

Below is an example of the aforementioned defensive skills — a diving catch from late April — with which similar kinds of videos his MiLB.com page is littered.

Joe Musgrove, RHP, Houston (Profile)
A former supplemental-round pick by Toronto out of a California high school, the right-handed Musgrove was sent to Houston in a ten-player trade headlined — if one can really call it that — by a combination of Francisco Cordero, J.A. Happ, and Brandon Lyon. Despite his pedigree and the sort of raw talent that it implies, a combination of injuries compromised Musgrove’s arm speed considerably: as recently as last summer, he was topping out at 87 mph — this, after touching 98 mph (according to Baseball America’s 2012 Prospect Handbook) at the beginning of his professional career. More recent reports suggest that his arm speed has more or less recovered — and the results have more than followed. Regard with your eyes and hearts: following an early May promotion to the High-A California League, Musgrove has recorded 36 strikeouts in 24.0 innings and also zero walks. Once again, the concluding words of that last sentence, in bold for greatest possible emphasis: and also zero walks.

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

Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Double-A Eastern League)
Ryan Cordell, OF/SS, Texas (High-A California League)
Rookie Davis, RHP, New York AL (High-A Florida State League)
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Double-A Texas League)
Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (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 Jose De Leon Dodgers RHP 6 1 19
2 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 5 2 17
3 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 3 3 12
4 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 2 5 11
5 Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 3 1 10
6 Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 2 1 7
Ryan Cordell Rangers OF/SS 2 1 7
9 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 2 0 6
10 Drew Robinson Rangers 2B/3B 1 1 4
Jerad Eickhoff Rangers RHP 1 1 4
Joe Musgrove Astros RHP 1 1 4

We hoped you liked reading The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli!

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

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rangersfan

i’m so glad you guys are using webm now instead of gifs