The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Note: the author recently employed 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.


Jharel Cotton, RHP, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
With both Matt Boyd and Jose De Leon now ineligible for inclusion among the Five — the former because he’s a member of a major-league club, the latter because he’s appeared on multiple midseason prospect lists — the right-handed Cotton now occupies the highest place among all so-called “fringe” pitchers on the arbitrarily calculated Leaderboard one finds toward the bottom of this post. This appearance represents the third consecutive one for Cotton, and he’s continued to exhibit his virtues since the last edition of this weekly exercise, recording 11 strikeouts against 43 batters faced (or, 25.6%) over two appearances. He also walked eight over during that interval — which, that’s not a development which ought to be ignored entirely, but which also must be accompanied by the caveat that strikeout rate, in addition to correlating more strongly with run prevention, also becomes reliable more quickly than walk rate.

Here’s footage from Cotton’s most recent appearance of him not walking, but rather striking out, former Mariner Alex Liddi, by means of a one-strike slider and then high two-strike fastball at 96 mph:

Yandy Diaz, 3B, Cleveland (Profile)
The Cuban-born Diaz has been among the last cuts for several editions of the Five this year and actually appeared in an edition of the column last August, too. Among his virtues is a nearly singular control of the strike zone. Consider: among all hitters at High-A last season who recorded 300-plus plate appearances, Diaz produced the top walk- and strikeout-rate differential (+4.1 points). Consider more: among all hitters at Double-A this season who’ve recorded 300-plus plate appearances, the 24-year-old Diaz is tied for the top mark by that same measure (+2.4 points) with 28-year-old former Yankees prospect David Adams. Among his other virtues, however, has not been power. After producing an .081 isolated-power figure last season (that, relative to a Carolina League average of .124), Diaz had recorded an even lower ISO (.059) leading up to the most recent edition of the Five at the end of July. In the 52 plate appearances since then, however, he’s exhibited unprecedented power, hitting four home runs and posting a .333 ISO. It’s not that one expects Diaz to continue at anything resembling this pace. What the recent spell indicates, however, is that the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Diaz likely has the capacity to translate his reasonable physicality into extra-base hits.

Pedro Fernandez, RHP, Kansas City (Profile)
While the reader is likely awed by the author’s capacity to identify talent in baseball’s margins, the process I employ isn’t all that sophisticated — a sentiment that’s particularly true of pitchers. When attempting to assess a pitcher’s qualifications, I evaluate him mostly just by three criteria: arm speed, fielding-independent performance, and health. The 21-year-old Fernandez is well acquitted by all three measures: he possesses a 94-96 mph fastball, a career strikeout rate of roughly 26%, and has avoided major injury. Originally signed for just $45,000 out of the Dominican, Fernandez was recently promoted to High-A Wilmington, where he’s more or less approximated his established levels in a small sample. Regard: 8.2 IP, 44 TBF, 10:2 K:BB.

Here’s footage from one of Fernandez’s final starts with Class-A Lexington — an example of a changeup for a swinging third strike, followed by that same changeup in much slower motion:

Travis Jankowski, OF, San Diego (Profile)
This represents Jankowski’s third appearance among the Five this year and places him just outside the top-10 players on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard below. Despite certain obvious differences between the two players’ backgrounds, Jankowski’s profile bears some resemblance to Yandy Diaz’s (above) — insofar, that is, as both exhibit (a) above-average plate discipline and also (b) a power tool that appears disproportionately poor relative to the player’s build. Jankowski, for his part, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, but has accumulated just three home runs in 1400-plus minor-league plate appearances and recorded just a .077 ISO during that same interval. What he does possess, though — in addition to that control of the strike zone — is excellent speed. Kiley McDaniel rated it a 70 this past offseason, and Jankowski has parlayed it into 134 stolen bases as a professional and, for example, a top-five speed score among all qualified Double-A batters this season. The 24-year-old outfielder was recently promoted to Triple-A El Paso, where he’s translated his typically excellent plate discipline and some batted-ball fortune into a line of .425/.482/.562 over his first 84 plate appearances.

Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota (Profile)
With this appearance, Kepler now sits in fourth place on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard and second (behind only Fringe Five totem Sherman Johnson) among all eligible prospects. And though he’s been included here with some frequency, he’s produced perhaps his best stretch of play in the two weeks since the last edition of this column. Consider, by way of example, the following relevant numbers accompanied by familiar statistical acronyms: 56 PA, 8:10 BB:K, 4 HR, .340/.429/.787 (.353 BABIP), 3-for-3 SB. Most notable about that line is the home-run figure. Before July 29th, Kepler had recorded just three home runs all season; since July 29th, four of them. It’s not entirely surprising: the German native is just 22 years old and listed at 6-foot-4, 207 pounds. Plus, with his plate discipline, he’s the sort of hitter who’s likely to attack only those pitches he can drive with authority.

On the topic of Kepler’s plate discipline, here’s riveting, looping footage of all seven pitches from his most recent base on balls:

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)
Rookie Davis, RHP, New York AL (Double-A Eastern League)
Joey Rickard, OF, Tampa Bay (Triple-A International League)
Brandon Trinkwon, 2B, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Texas 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* Tigers 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 5 4 19
5 Jharel Cotton Dodgers RHP 5 3 18
6 Ryan Cordell Rangers 3B/OF 5 1 16
7 Gavin Cecchini* Mets SS 3 6 15
8 Rookie Davis Yankees RHP 4 2 14
9 Junior Guerra White Sox RHP 4 1 13
10 Austin Barnes Dodgers C 3 3 12

*Currently ineligible for inclusion among the Five due either to (a) promotion to major leagues, (b) appearance on a relevant 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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7 years ago

Kepler’s batting profile sounds a little like Nimmos?