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.


Rookie Davis, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
There isn’t much to report with regard to the 22-year-old Davis except that he’s appeared within two recent editions of this weekly exercise and has continued, even more recently, to exhibit the same qualities which merited inclusion here originally. A brief inspection of Davis’s curriculum vitae reveals that he:

  • Continues to sit in the mid-90s with his fastball; and
  • Has produced the best strikeout- and walk-rate differential among qualified across all three High-A leagues; and
  • Recorded a 6:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 24 batters over 7.0 innings in his only start since last week’s edition of the Five (box).

A worthy collection of credentials, that.

Jacob Faria, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
The 21-year-old Faria produced a 10-1 record and 1.33 ERA with High-A Charlotte over 12 appearances (10 starts) with that club. Neither of those figures, however, is responsible for his inclusion here among the Five. Rather, his appearance here is due to his performance following a late-June promotion to Double-A Montgomery. In four starts and 24.0 innings, Faria has recorded a strikeout rate of 38.7% against Southern League batters. In part, this might be a product of improved arm speed: while preseason reports (including Kiley McDaniels’ own in these electronic pages) offer a range of 89-91 mph for Faria’s fastball, more recent ones (like this one by BP’s Jeff Moore) place Faria’s fastball in the 92-94 range.

Here’s footage from the Florida State League All Star Game of Faria striking out leadoff hitter and Milwaukee prospect Chris McFarland by means of a curveball:

Sherman Johnson, 2B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
On the one hand, it’s demonstrably the case that batted-ball average is a skill. On the other hand, though, a pretty robust sample is required for a player’s observed BABIP to provide reliable information about his true-talent BABIP. Over 387 plate appearances this season for Double-A Arkansas, Johnson has produced a .272 BABIP. Over the three seasons and 1200 plate appearances before 2015, however, Johnson recorded a .319 BABIP. Even after accounting for the improved defenses one finds in the higher — as opposed to the lower — minors, that latter figure is probably more reflective of Johnson’s batted-ball talents. Johnson’s numbers since the last edition of the Five reveal the sort of performance of which he’s capable when receiving the benefit of batted-ball fortune: over seven games and 32 plate appearances, the 24-year-old posted a .368 BABIP, which — in conjunction with a 7:6 walk-to-strikeout ratio and small collection of extra-base hits — conspired to produce a line of .292/.438/.500.

Jacob Nottingham, C, Houston (Profile)
It’s typically the practice of the author not to consider any prospects below the High-A level for inclusion among the Five. In part, that’s due to the predictive qualities (or lack thereof) of stats in the low minors. In part, it’s due to what might best be referred to as the author’s ungovernable sloth. Whatever the cause, it’s true — and it’s the reason Houston catching prospect Jacob Nottingham has become eligible only recently for inclusion here. A sixth-round pick in 2013 by the Astros, with which club he signed for $300,000, Nottingham has exhibited developing power on contact as a professional while also making enough contact to render the power useful. Over 253 plate appearances in the Midwest League this year, Nottingham produced the third-best isolated-power figure (a .217 ISO, specifically) across all of Class-A. In 63 plate appearances for Lancaster in the Cal League, he’s produced a mark more than 100 points higher than that while also striking out just seven times. More physically impressive than most players who appear among the Five, the question with regard to Nottingham is whether he can stick at catcher. His 37% caught-stealing rate in the minors is at least robust enough not to be the reason he’s moved.

A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston (Profile)
Minor-league first basemen tend not to appear among the Five. That’s the case probably for a number of reasons — like, because advanced hitters aren’t typically relegated to “fringe” status, for example, and also if they are relegated to fringe status, it’s because the promise of any offensive value is overshadowed by their defensive limitations. It’s possible, however, that A.J. Reed is the exception to this trend. Reed is interesting: a two-way player at Kentucky, he won last year’s Golden Spikes Award but lasted until the 42nd-overall pick in the 2014 draft — the latest a Golden Spikes winner had lasted in the draft since 2000, when South Carolina right-hander Kip Bouknight was selected in the 13th round. It’s possible, as Kiley McDaniel has suggested, that clubs were concerned about Reed’s ability to his advanced pitching — and there’s still time for those concerns to be founded. For the moment, however, Reed has just earned a promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi after having produced the third-highest isolated-power figure in the Cal League (behind, in one case, a 27-year-old) while also recording nearly even walk and strikeout rates.

Quality broadcast footage of Reed as a professional is in short supply. Here’s video from last year of Reed homering — which video appears to have been modified by means of an Instagram filter called Drunk Absentee Father:

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

Austin Barnes, C, Los Angeles NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Willson Contreras, C, Chicago NL (Double-A Southern League)
Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas League)
Adam Frazier, SS/OF, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern 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 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 7 4 25
2 Jose De Leon* Dodgers RHP 7 1 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 2 11
9 Joe Musgrove Astros RHP 3 1 10
Rookie Davis Yankees RHP 3 1 10

*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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Robert Kral