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.

*****

Jace Conrad, 2B/3B, Tampa Bay (Profile)
A 13th-round selection last year out of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Conrad has been absent from the season’s first 10 editions of this exercise due not to any shortcomings on his part, but rather due to how he wasn’t eligible. For the purposes of the Five, the author considers only those players currently rostered at High-A or above — in part because statistical indicators are less strong in the low minors, and in part because it would require an unacceptable amount of effort to evaluate an additional minor-league level. However, the 22-year-old Conrad was promoted last week to the Florida State League, and is a candidate to appear within this column multiple times in the future. Over 241 plate appearances in the Class-A Midwest League, Conrad produced a .190 isolated-power figure* and 21-for-25 stolen-base record while also striking out in just 12.9% of plate appearances. He’s continued in much the same vein with High-A Charlotte, already compiling a home run and stolen base over his first 18 plate appearances — this, while striking out zero times.

*Nearly double the league-average mark of .105.

Ryan Cordell, 3B/OF, Texas (Profile)
This represents Cordell’s fifth appearance among the Five, moving him into fourth place on the somewhat arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard one finds below — behind two players (Matt Boyd and Jose De Leon) who, for various reasons, are now ineligible for inclusion. Of greatest note with regard to Cordell since last week is his promotion to Double-A Frisco. And most promising with regard to that promotion is what appears to be an ongoing commitment by the organization to deploy Cordell at multiple positions. Over his first four Texas League games, the 23-year-old Cordell has recorded starts at third base, center field, and right field. Certainly some of Cordell’s future value depends on his ability to exhibit competence at the first two of those positions. Only some of his future value, though: Cordell’s combination of contact ability, power, and speed would appear sufficient to render him at least a useful corner outfielder, as well.

Rookie Davis, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
The right-handed Davis was omitted from last week’s edition of the Five due not really to any fault of his own, but rather to not having recorded any appearances whatsoever during the week prior to that. Which, it’s not among this weekly exercise’s arbitrary criteria for inclusion that a prospect must have actually played during the most recent week. That said, there are always more deserving candidates than places to be filled, and a lack of new data renders a player’s argument for inclusion necessarily weaker. Whatever the case, the 22-year-old Davis has recorded two starts since last week and acquitted himself nicely in both cases, producing a a 14:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 50 batters over 13.0 innings. The most recent mention of his fastball by Baseball America continues to place the pitch in the mid-90s.

Adam Frazier, SS/CF, Pittsburgh (Profile)
When one typically conceives of a prospect with a wide range of possible future outcomes, the prospect in question is a young, tool-ridden sort without much in the way of baseball-specific skills. The 23-year-old Frazier exhibits a number of those baseball-specific skills — he makes contact at a considerably above-average rate, demonstrates selectivity at the plate, occupies a spot on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum — and yet still possesses at least a wide-ish array of possible futures. In the worst-case scenario, he develops zero more power on contact, whatever he possess of selectivity is rendered useless by major-league pitchers who are unafraid to throw him strikes, and defensively he’s relegated to center field or second and plays whichever of them only adequately. In the best-case scenario, however, he parlays his contact skills and knowledge of the strike zone — plus slightly more physical strength — into 5-10 home runs per seasons while also playing shortstop or an above-average center field/second base. The former of those scenarios is the profile of an organizational sort, called upon in case of injury to the major-league starter and the starter’s replacement; the latter, a three-win player. For the moment, things are promising: Frazier is still playing mostly shortstop while having, simultaneously, produced the highest isolated-power figure of his career — including his three years at Mississippi State.

Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota (Profile)
Kepler’s appearance here among the Five represents his third over the last three weeks. Nor is his presence due entirely, or even primarily, to his offensive exploits. While his overall numbers remain excellent, he actually produced a strikeout rate over the past week roughly twice his established season mark. A more promising development has outweighed the lack of contact, however: Kepler has now made five consecutive starts in the outfield. Slowed defensively this year by arm problems, the 22-year-old German hadn’t previously recorded five consecutive outfield starts since the beginning of May — i.e. roughly two months ago. And while Kepler has exhibited an offensive profile that might allow him to survive as a major-league first baseman, his athleticism suggests that he has the ability to play an above-average corner outfield.

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

Mike Clevinger, RHP, Cleveland (Double-A Eastern League)
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas League)
Matthew Strahm, LHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League)
Alberto Triunfel, SS, Texas (High-A California League)
Mark Zagunis, COF, Chicago NL (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
Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 6 4 22
3 Matt Boyd* Blue Jays LHP 5 3 18
4 Ryan Cordell Rangers 3B/OF 5 1 16
5 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 3 6 15
6 Max Kepler Twins COF 3 2 11
7 Joe Musgrove Astros RHP 3 1 10
Junior Guerra* White Sox RHP 3 1 10
9 Austin Barnes Dodgers C 2 1 7
Buck Farmer Tigers RHP 2 1 7
Chih-Wei Hu Twins RHP 2 1 7
Rookie Davis Yankees RHP 2 1 7

*Currently ineligible for inclusion among the Five due either to (a) promotion to major leagues, (b) appearance on Kiley McDaniel’s prospect list, or (c) author’s declaration.





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

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SF 55 for life
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SF 55 for life

Love Mark Zagunis. Was surprised when the Cubs switched him full time to the OF so quickly, but the bat still looks good as ever.

state the obvious
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state the obvious

He said he didnt want to catch anymore.

Dave
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Dave

Yeah, Zagunis should be appearing in this column every week. He leads the Carolina League in OPS, and leads the league in OBP by *49* points. Other than the fact that he hasn’t learned to use his above average speed to steal bases effectively and his power is only mediocre, there is very little not to love. He could end up being a tweener, not quite as good defensively as you’d like in CF, and not quite as good with the bat as you’d like in the corners, but that’s about the worst case.