The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli July 8, 2015 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, Los Angeles NL (Profile) The author has once again here included Dodgers catching prospect Austin Barnes among the Five less for the sort of irrational allegiance Barnes inspires — the sort of irrational allegiance which has compelled that same author repeatedly to enumerate the virtues of Sherman Johnson, for example — and more out of a begrudging concession to the abstract concept of Justice. While it’s possible that there are 30-plus catchers in the world who possess greater true talent than Barnes, it’s also improbable. In over 200 plate appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City this year, the 25-year-old has produced a positive walk- and strikeout-rate differential while also recording a .175 isolated-power figure — i.e. roughly 35 points greater than the league average. His demonstration of contact and power has reached hyperbolic dimensions of late: over his last 51 plate appearances, Barnes has recorded an equal number of strikeouts and home run (two each) while also drawing six walks. The organization from which Barnes was traded this offseason, meanwhile, features the lowest rest-of-season projected WAR from the catcher spot in major-league baseball. Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Profile) With regard strictly to run prevention, the left-handed Boyd’s brief trial in the majors was an unambiguous disappointment. Over two starts, he conceded 11 runs (all earned) in just 6.2 innings. That he recorded all those innings in his first start while surrendering only four of the aforementioned runs leads one to a dark truth concerning his second appearance — namely, that he retired zero batters but allowed the other seven runs. Unsightly, that. And yet, one needn’t purchase or even temporarily borrow rose-colored spectacles to extract some positive signs from Boyd’s introduction to the majors. For instance, his strikeout and walk rates (19.4% and 2.8%, respectively) were wholly promising. Also for instance, he produced swinging-strike rates of at least 20% on both his slider and changeup — both distinctly above-average figures — while also sitting at a league-average 91 mph on his fastball. Moreover, Boyd’s return to Triple-A was excellent: facing the Yankees’ International League affiliate, the 24-year-old recorded an 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 27 batters over 7.0 innings (box). Here’s an example of Boyd’s fastball and slider — to strikeout Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo, respectively: Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile) A few weeks ago, the author voluntarily removed right-handed Dodgers prospect Jose De Leon from the pool of players eligible for this weekly exercise, owing to how the latter had so completely presented his case for legitimate prospecthood. At roughly that same time, other right-handed Dodgers prospect Jharel Cotton was promoted to the same Double-A Tulsa club for which De Leon plays. Since joining Tulsa’s rotation, however, Cotton has outperformed his more celebrated teammate. Consider, by way of example, their numbers since Cotton’s first appearance in the Texas League on June 21: Name G GS IP K% BB% FIP ERA Jharel Cotton 3 3 19.0 25.0% 4.2% 1.87 0.95 Jose De Leon 3 3 17.1 21.9% 12.3% 3.35 4.15 Since the former’s arrival, Cotton has produced a higher strikeout rate, lower walk rate, and better run-prevention numbers than De Leon. Nor is Cotton’s success likely a product of merely of collegiate polish: his fastball features at least average velocity (and usually something better than that), while his changeup is very likely a true outpitch. Adam Frazier, SS/CF, Pittsburgh (Profile) As Messrs. Dolinar and Pemstein have illustrated recently in these electronic pages, the reliability of baseball metrics is best expressed not by a point (i.e. a strict plate-appearance threshold) but by a curve. Among those curves, the one for batting average on balls in play (BABIP) ascends more gradually than most. Even after 400 balls in play (BIP), for example — or, roughly 570 plate appearances, assuming league-average strikeout and walk rates — a hitter who’s produced a .320 BABIP will have that figure regressed over halfway to the league’s average mark of .306, producing a regressed mark of .312. Over the last month, however, Frazier’s performance by this measure has been impressive despite regression. Regard: since June 8, Frazier has produced a .478 BABIP in 89 plate appearances and 69 balls in play. Weighed against an even lower mean of .295 (because the smaller plate-appearance sample naturally includes a greater population of less talented batters), Frazier still earns a regressed .321 BABIP according to the useful calculator supplied by Dolinar and Pemstein. Caveats abound, of course: said calculator is informed by major-league data exclusively and isn’t intended to account for minor-league performances. Nevertheless, what’s evident is that Frazier has exhibited impressive batted-ball skills. And, notably, that’s not historically his top skill as a batter. Rather, it’s his 10.9% strikeout rate over 960 professional plate appearances that has distinguished him most thoroughly as a hitter. Junior Guerra, RHP, Chicago AL (Profile) Despite having been optioned back to Charlotte last Wednesday, there ought not to exist now any less esteem for Guerra’s skills or less optimism for his near future than before his promotion to the parent club at the beginning of June. Over three relief appearances for the White Sox, he exhibited the same basic qualities suggested both by the statistical and visual evidence made available by his tenure at Double- and Triple-A — qualities which a reasonable person remains surprised to find within a player whose most recent employer was T&A San Marino of the Italian League. In 4.0 innings for the Chicago Americans, the 30-year-old Guerra produced an average fastball velocity of 94 mph and swinging-strike rate greater than 10% while also limiting walks . His return to the International League has been accompanied by a return to a starting role and continued grounds for optimism: Guerra has struck out roughly a third of the batters he’s faced over 9.0 innings. Below are two examples of Guerra’s splitter, which he throws at about 86 mph — each accompanied by a slow-motion version and both thrown to Tampa Bay catcher Rene Rivera: The Next Five These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago NL (Double-A Southern League) Cale Coshow, RHP, New York AL (High-A Florida State League) Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League) Matthew Strahm, LHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League) Alberto Triunfel, SS, Texas (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 7 1 22 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 6 4 22 3 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 6 3 21 4 Ryan Cordell Rangers 3B/OF 5 1 16 5 Gavin Cecchini Mets SS 3 6 15 6 Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 4 1 13 7 Max Kepler Twins OF 3 3 12 8 Austin Barnes Dodgers C 3 1 10 Joe Musgrove Astros RHP 3 1 10 10 Adam Frazier Pirates SS/OF 2 2 8 Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 2 2 8 *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.