The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects by Carson Cistulli July 29, 2015 Note: this edition of the Five contains new restrictions regarding eligibility for inclusion. Any player is excluded from eligibility whose name has appeared among the midseason prospect lists of Baseball America, Keith Law, or John Sickels. 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) absent from the midseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Keith Law, and John Sickels, and also (c) 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. ***** Matt Boyd, LHP, Toronto (Profile) It’s possible that there was some concern with regard to Boyd that, after two difficult major-league starts — including one from which he was removed after conceding seven runs to the first seven batters — that he might suffer from the baleful influence of disappointment. His performances in the meantime would suggest that he’s experiencing nothing of the sort, however. Over four starts and 27.0 innings at Triple-A Buffalo since his demotion, the 24-year-old Boyd has produced strikeout and walk rates of 23.8% and 5.7%, respectively, while recording an entirely serviceable 3.44 FIP and 3.00 ERA. Indeed, no starter of Boyd’s age or younger has produced a better strikeout- and walk-rate differential this season across all of Triple-A. His one start since last week’s edition of the Five was excellent, as well: last Friday against Boston affiliate Pawtucket, Boyd produced a 7:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters over 7.0 scoreless innings (box). Willson Contreras, C, Chicago NL (Profile) This represents, after five previous mentions among the Next Five, Contreras’s first appearance among the Five proper. Originally signed out of Venezuela for $850,000 in 2009, Contreras has exhibited some competence offensively since, producing league-average plate-discipline and power numbers in recent years. That’s promising for a catcher — just not promising enough to receive more than a mention within the Others of Note section in Kiley McDaniel’s organizational rankings. The 23-year-old has improved his control of the plate considerably this year, however, recording walk and strikeout rates of 10.7% and 12.4% over his first 355 plate appearances as a member of the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate — this, while also producing an isolated-power figure (.160) markedly better than the Southern League average (.116). Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile) This represents the 23-year-old Cotton’s fourth appearance among the Five this season, moving him into a tie for sixth place on the haphazardly calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard one finds below. His lone start since the most recent edition of the Five (within which he also appeared) was less impressive than the 10-strikeout performance by which it was preceded — and yet, still speaks to Cotton’s promise a major-league prospect. Against the Angels’ Double-A affiliate Arkansas, Cotton recorded a 6:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters over 6.0 innings (box). With that performance, Cotton has now struck out at least a fifth of the batters he’s faced in six of the seven starts he’s recorded at Double-A. Here’s footage of Cotton from his most recent start striking out Angels prospect Chad Hinshaw on consecutive fastballs at 93 mph: Bradin Hagens, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile) Always, when attempting to identify which players are most qualified for any given edition of the Five, it’s necessary to weigh each relevant prospect’s future promise against his proximity to the majors. For whatever the 26-year-old Hagens lacks of the former, he possesses — insofar as he’s currently working as a starter in the Triple-A International League — he possesses as much as possible of the latter. Originally a sixth-round selection by Arizona out of Merced (Community) College in 2009, Hagens was acquired by the Rays this April in exchange for cash. The results — in particular following a mid-June promotion to Durham — have been promising. Over six appearances and five starts against Triple-A competition this season, Hagens has produced strikeout and walk rates of 25.4% and 6.8%, respectively, in 29.0 innings. He features only average arm speed at best, but relies much less on a four-seam fastball than he does a cutter, allowing him to success possibly as a Mike Bolsinger-type. Here’s footage from one of Hagens’ recent starts of that same pitcher very badly fooling White Sox prospect Micah Johnson on what appear to be two breaking balls, both from the same plate appearance: Travis Jankowski, OF, San Diego (Profile) A former member of the Five proper, Jankowski hasn’t appeared here since early June — in part due to performance, that absence, but mostly due his involvement for roughly a month with Team USA in the Pan Am Games. Jankowski returned to Double-A San Antonio on July 21, recorded a 2-for-4 effort (including a triple) that same day, and then was promptly promoted to Triple-A El Paso. Over his first 22 plate appearances in the Pacific Coast League, Jankowski has exhibited the same basic profile he demonstrated in the Texas League — and in most of the leagues below that — featuring a combination of above-average contact skills and plus speed. The question with Jankowski is always one of power, or lack thereof. He has something to offer in the majors without it, probably, but probably only as a terrific fourth outfielder. That said, at 6-foot-3 and with some physical projection remaining, the prospect of Jankowski eventually hitting 5-10 home runs isn’t an absurd one. The Next Five These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated. Jacob Faria, RHP, Tampa Bay (Double-A Southern League) Chase Johnson, RHP, San Francisco (High-A California League) Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League) Matthew Strahm, LHP, Kansas City (High-A Carolina League) Christian Villanueva, 3B, Chicago NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast 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 Matt Boyd Blue Jays LHP 7 4 25 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B/3B 7 4 25 3 Jose De Leon* Dodgers RHP 7 1 22 4 Max Kepler Twins OF 4 4 16 Ryan Cordell Rangers 3B/OF 5 1 16 6 Gavin Cecchini* Mets SS 3 6 15 Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 4 3 15 8 Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 4 1 13 Rookie Davis Yankees RHP 4 1 13 10 Austin Barnes* Dodgers C 3 2 11 *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.