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.


Austin Barnes, C/2B, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
During the 2010 (and inaugural) edition of their annual trip to the Southwestern desert, the writers for this publication attended a game at Arizona State between that school and Auburn. Over the course of that contest, the author cultivated an irrepressible enthusiasm for the Sun Devils’ second baseman Zack MacPhee, which player — besides doubling and homering from the right and left sides of the plate, respectively, during that specific game — ultimately produced a handsome offensive season by any measure one prefers to utilize. MacPhee was selected in the 13th round of the next year’s (2011’s) draft. Affiliated ball proved difficult for him, however, and he’s now employed by Amarillo of the independent American Association. Also on that ASU team, though, and also selected in that 2011 draft (ninth round) was Austin Barnes. Though he played a smaller role than MacPhee on that 2010 version of the Sun Devils, he’s developed an impressive collection both of offensive and defensive skills in the meantime. After a brief tour with the Dodgers recently, he’s returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City, since which time he’s been excellent, recording a 5:5 walk-to-strikeout ratio and two home runs on 34 plate appearances.

Here’s unhelpful, but perpetually looping, footage of Barnes’ first major-league hit:

And even less helpful, but still perpetually looping, footage of the relevant ball being returned to the Los Angeles dugout:

Gavin Cecchini, SS, New York NL (Profile)
Among the myriad examples of tautology in popular culture, Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green’s proclamation in 2006 that the Chicago Bears “[A]re who we thought they were” is among the most notable. And useful, as well. Eating tripe for the first time, for example, and finding it — on account of it’s literally nothing more than the gross stomach of a gross cow — and finding it nauseous, one might justifiably declare, “It is what I thought it was.” Relevant, is this construction and its variants, to Mets shortstop prospects Gavin Cecchini. Undoubtedly, when New York selected him with the 12th-overall pick of the 2012 draft, they expected that, like many players taken at that point, that he’d develop into at least an average major-leaguer. His omission from every top-100 prospect list since would appear to suggest the opposite: even among players who appear towards the bottom of those top-100 lists, only about a quarter of them eventually produce wins at a league-average rate or better. That said, given his performance thus far in 2015, Gavin Cecchini would very much appear to be who the Mets thought he was. He’s still in possession of a strikeout rate below 10% and ISO around .150. He’s still playing shortstop, still at Double-A, and still just 21.

Rookie Davis, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Davis makes his debut appearance among the Five proper here after being included within the Next Five of last week’s edition of this column. In the meantime, he’s recorded one start, producing a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 21 batters over 6.0 innings (box). To say that the performance was indicative of his season to date appears to be an exercise in total truth, as the following table illustrates.

Dates TBF K BB K% BB%
June 4th Start 21 6 1 28.6% 4.8%
Prev. 9 Starts 186 52 9 28.0% 4.8%

There’s no broadcast video of Davis available yet this year. Here are the facts concerning him, however:

  • Was selected out of a North Carolina high school in the 14th round of the 2011 draft; and
  • Signed for a considerably above-slot $550,000 signing bonus; and
  • Sat at 93-95 mph with his fastball this spring; and
  • Has produced the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential among all qualified pitchers at High-A.

That he’s 22 years old is another relevant detail omitted from the above.

Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Provided the author hasn’t failed miserably somehow, this post has been published at or around 3pm ET on Wednesday — or, three hours after the beginning of the amateur draft’s third day. Assuming about 25 seconds per pick, and starting from the first selection of the 11th round (where the second day left off), it’s likely that, as of press time, the draft is entering approximately the 25th round. Were this 2013 and not 2015, Southern University junior right-hander Jose De Leon would have been selected just minutes ago by the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 18th pick of the 24th round. During that junior year, De Leon produced a competent but not remarkable 73:31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82.1 innings in the SWAC, a conference which itself has produced zero major-league pitching seasons of 3.0-plus WAR over the last five years. This year so far, he’s accumulated an 83:14 mark in just 57.2 innings across both High- and Double-A. Since last week’s edition of the Five, he recorded a single start, posting a 6:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 7.0 innings (box).

Here’s footage of De Leon’s most recent strikeout, from June 5th against Texas prospect Trever Adams and by means of the changeup:

Joe Musgrove, RHP, Houston (Profile)
It’s probably not untrue to suggest that, at least in certain cases, it’s the flaws present in a person’s conduct or in a work of art that help to emphasize that person’s or that work’s strengths. Consider this example from the field of baseball sports: during his June 6th start for High-A Lancaster, 22-year-old right-hander Joe Musgrove walked a single batter (while striking out seven) over 6.0 innings of work. On average, of course, walks lead to more and fewer runs. As such — and on average — they might be regarded as “flaws” in a pitcher’s body of work. What this particular flaw revealed, however, was one of Musgrove’s strengths, in that it was the first walk he’d conceded over six California League starts. Unfortunately, as with Davis above, there exists no broadcast footage of Musgrove from this season. This state of affairs is likely to change soon, however: this week, he was promoted to Double-A Corpus Christi. He completes his tenure in Lancaster with strikeout and walk rates of 36.4% and 0.9%, respectively, over 30.0 innings.

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

Cristhian Adames, SS, Colorado (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Travis Jankowski, OF, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Double-A Texas League)
Max Kepler, OF?, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League)
Cody Reed, LHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina 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 7 1 22
2 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 5 3 18
3 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 3 5 14
4 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 3 3 12
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
Joe Musgrove Astros RHP 2 1 7
Ryan Cordell Rangers OF/SS 2 1 7
10 Auston Bousfield Padres OF 2 0 6

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

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Where did Matt Boyd go? He’s still been terrific.